Saturday, February 15, 2014

Black water

Our home's previous owner - self-portrait in the garden
Rural living! Wide open spaces. Natural beauty. Wildlife. Most people who embrace the rural life find its beauty worth the minor inconveniences. Rutted roads. Deer in the garden. Occasional power outages. Septic tanks.

In mid-December, we asked our housecleaner Rosa to clean our grown son's bedroom, in preparation for his holiday visit.  That was when we discovered the first eruption of the shit geyser in the basement.

Our son's room is on the daylight side of our home's lower level. It has its own bathroom, and a private entry. Since he's left home, we hardly go in there unless preparing it for a guest, so I'm not sure what day the septic tank backed up, belching sewage up through the toilet. By the time Rosa found it, the flow had dried, leaving a foul residue pasted onto the tile floor.

$500 and a plumber seemed to solve the problem.  He snaked the roots out of the main drain line, and advised us to have the tank pumped soon.

Christmas came and passed without incident. On New Year's Day, the shit geyser came back.

My son walked into his room to find an ugly puddle spread on the floor, soaking the bathmat, and oozing out into the bedroom. Like something in a horror movie, the toilet itself gaped in its alcove, dark splatters around it and wraith-like drapings of shredded toilet paper clinging to its rim. I tiptoed through the sludge and peeked at it.  The trap was clogged with thick, liquid sewage.

Whatever the blockage was, it forced any water going down the main drain line  to regurgitate up until it encountered the lowest outlet in the house - our basement toilet.

My husband took the shortest shower on record, while I observed the results. With a kind of horrified  fascination, I watched the brown water rise slowly, slowly to the rim, watch a meniscus bulge above the white porcelain and then cascade like a Niagara down the curved bowl to the floor.

It was New Year's Day. No plumbers on duty. What could we do?

I threw a couple of bathtowels down to stanch the flood and we went out to lunch.

The next day, the plumbers pumped out the tank. The news was bad. Repairs estimated at $4000.

The good news, though, was that, with an empty tank, we had six months to do the repairs. Time to get the money together.

So it was a big disapointment when the shit geyser came back just before Valentines Day.

Felipe, the plumbing company's septic tank expert, is out there now with his helper, digging up our back yard. He snaked a little camera down into the tank and showed us the image from inside. Something is blocking the outlet that leads out of the tank into the leach field. He's pin-pointed the spot where the camera thinks the blockage is, a concrete D-box that may have failed, but he has to dig down to examine it.

As he was explaining this, I just remembered. The previous owner of our house, the man who built it, left us a full set of blueprints. In the upper basement, I found the crumbling page that showed a diagram of the septic system.  Felipe's flag in the garden matched the spot on the drawing showing the D-box. It showed the pipes leading to the two leach tanks.

As Felipe looked at the drawing, he looked closer and then he smiled at me. "Your tanks are thirty feet deep!" he said. "Five feet diameter, thirty feet deep! You know how good this is? You put a system like this in today, it would cost...." He looked at the sky, unable to calculate such a fee. "To drill that far down and dig?"

Then he smiled. "We get the pipe clear and get you back into these tanks, you'll be good again for a lifetime."

The man who sold us the house was a potter and a sculptor in clay. Overlooking the garden, we found a self-portrait-in-clay bust when we moved into the place. The face is turned down to view the slope, and the patio. The leach tanks lie beneath the stone pavers.

Thank you, Mr. S, for your foresight. I'm crossing my fingers, but I think we'll be allright soon. Yes, it will cost some money, but the old system is still good.


smalltownme said...

Oh, ugh, nasty! But it sounds like Felipe knows his stuff and how lucky that you have blueprints! Many times we've wished we had blue prints. Like when we had to have our sewer line replaced... And what is that mystery light switch for?

smalltownme said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
knittergran said...

I'm glad the problem is on its way to being solved, and your story reminded me of long ago, when our older daughter was four years or so old. We were having our septic tank emptied, and when the truck arrived, our daughter and her friend decided it was an event. So they took their dolls outside, sat down at the picnic table, and waited for the big event. A couple of whiffs later, they ran back inside.

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

Oh, poop!

Karen (formerly kcinnova) said...

It was tremendously awful to have our tank opened up and pumped out in order to sell our home in NoVA. I was very, very lucky to not have a problem in the drain field... and you are very, very lucky to be right on track with a problem that is fixable!
I can just see that horrid fascination as the toilet overflows...