13 May 2009

... And Then the Sky Fell In

No, really, I had the best intentions of posting here Monday and yesterday. Monday I worked, but it wasn't an insane day. However, Monday night the septic tank backed up into the house.

Yeah. Thank goodness our plumber (thank you Josh!) installed a relief point outside. Smittywife took a bath Monday night, and when she pulled the plug to drain the tub, the water didn't go anywhere. Then the toilets started to bubble. Then water started to fill into the sinks. She put the plug back in real fast, and I went outside and opened the relief pipe, and water poured out of that thing. The pipe is just outside the house, and is an upward-pointing pipe attached to the septic line. It's lower than any part of the water system elsewhere in the house so it can be opened any time there's a potential backup--and it's a convenient point to add septic treatment and such.

So this pipe points up. I unscrew the lid, and water shoots up about a foot high. This is 2.5" diameter pipe here so a vertical foot of water is nothing to scoff at. This was a potential disaster.

I was supposed to work yesterday but of course I stayed home to have septic tank people come out and look at the system. Now, since we moved in here we've had some issues. It's an old system--the house was built in at least 1938, possibly earlier, and the septic tank, which is hand-built, dates from that time. So we're talking about a 70 year old septic system. Lord knows how well it's been cared for in the past (probably not so well, at least under certain owners). Occasionally we'd find that when one toilet was flushed, another would bubble. Several months ago we had the tank pumped and the septic line snaked; the snake revealed a significant belly in the line, where over time the cast-iron pipe had sagged enough to restrict water flow to perhaps half the pipe.

About six weeks ago we went ahead and had a new septic line installed by Carolina Septic. They also pumped the tank again (not a good sign that it needed it) and replaced about ten feet of drain line out the back of the tank into the drain field; the previous line had been crushed at some point in the past. They said to us then that the system looked fine and shouldn't give us any more problems for several years (a tank should be pumped every five years or so, even though you can go much longer without having to; pumping that often helps prevent solids from clogging your drain field lines). They said that when they replaced the drain field line, it "soaked up [the water in the tank] like a sponge." Like a sponge, direct quote there. System was in good shape and wouldn't give us an more problems.

Uh-huh. Until Monday night, of course. (We did get a small warning shot; a couple days before the toilets bubbled as the last of another of Smittywife's baths drained out, but we had a busy weekend and didn't think much more about it.)
So Carolina Septic came out again. Both guys who came out asserted that it was probably the drain field, that the drain field was probably clogged, and that they had known that would be the case after the last time they were here. I said, no no, you told us the system was in good shape. No, they said, we knew the drain field was bad. I said, you told my wife it soaked up the water like a sponge. They turned their heads like confused puppies.

So Carolina Septic lied to us. Either they lied when they said the system was in great shape six weeks ago, or they lied yesterday to make themselves seem smarter. Regardless, we insisted they check the septic line for a clog. Which they found. But after removing said clog, the tank just filled up. Didn't drain. So, indeed, the drain field is shot.


That's not exactly cheap. Of course Carolina offered to fix the field for us, at a cost of about five grand, not money we have or plan to have any time soon. We got another estimate (I'd list his name here but I can't remember it) for less than half that--and of course as soon as I started talking to him about the system, he said, now who'd you have out here to do this? Carolina Septic, says I. Oh. I don't like to tell you this, but you're dealing with the wrong folks there. You know he's not even licensed to do this work, all he's licensed for is to pump tanks.

Really? I need to check into that, but... really?

This guy is probably sixty and says he's been doing this work for forty years. I'd like to check references but his comment was, I'll come in here, do all this work in one day, and when it's done you won't have any more problems with it at all. Period. I don't like coming back to a job.

Of course there's also the possibility of getting hooked into the sewer utility. I'm awaiting a callback on that. Could be as cheap as twenty-five hundred, or it could be worse. We'll see. Given the amount we'll be spending, it may be worthwhile--or not. If the sewer system backs up into your house, well, there's usually no relief valve for that. There are good points to having septic.

Anyway. So that's been the continuing excitement in Smitty's World the last couple of days. I was able to clean the kitchen top to bottom yesterday--although, mysteriously, this morning the milk jug had leaked half its contents into its little compartment in the door. I don't remember poking a hole in it yesterday, and it's been in the fridge for a week without leaking. At least its designated compartment is water-tight so I didn't have to clean the whole fridge.

Now I'm not at work again, and have plans for the day--digging up part of the front yard for a vegetable bed, cleaning the living room, doing a big load of laundry, and putting a screen in the bathroom window. With luck I'll get another post written, too!


Lucky Bob said...

That sucks man. Of all the houses I've lived in or had family live in most or all were on sewer. If the line was installed right and doesn't have a tree growing next to it we almost never had stoppage problems. Plus it makes it a lot more reasonable to install a garbage disposal.

Smitty said...

Oh, you'll like this: the original septic company suggested that if we weren't going to do the work for a while, I should go under the house and tap the drain lines from the kitchen sink and the washing machine and run a length of pipe the hill a ways and just let the grey water daylight out there somewhere. Sound familiar? I considered it, but why cut our nice less-than-a-year-old drain lines for a temporary fix?