About that septic tank #5

When we first moved in, we knew that the cottage had a working septic tank, it did not however conform to new regulations and we had been made to sign when we bought the cottage to say that we would replace it. We did plan on doing this but it is a huge expense and other things needed to take priority. For the meantime, the toilet flushing was working and in some mystical way, the water from the shower, basin and kitchen sink also magically disappeared. For a while at least.

The first sign of trouble was that the shower and basin kept blocking up, so Tom decided to try to dig away at the front of the cottage and find the pipes. We had no idea where it was they went to and what had caused them to block up. After a lot of digging in different possible locations Tom struck gold by putting the pick axe through the toilet pipe. “Ahh. Erm, slight problem” he told me, “I just need to pop to Mr Bricolage for some stuff”. I did not enquire as was busy working but when he returned I went to see what he was doing only to find him taping a margarine lid round the pipe, wrapping it round with gaffer tape and then spraying it with this “Nothing will get past me” spray he had found. He left the whole thing uncovered so we could check it was working and not leaking and I have to say, bodged or not, it did the trick. So, back to the hunt for the elusive sink and shower pipes (Maybe now is a good time to point out that we did not actually know where the septic tank was either, when asking the estate agent she had waved vaguely and said over there somewhere) Eventually Tom found the pipes and by following them, found the septic tank. They ran over the top of it in a solid run and then into a hole in the ground further down the garden. Whilst this epic dig was going on we came across a number of important archeaological finds. A shoe, lots of syringes, endless glass bottles, bits of asbestos roofing, more shoes and a sheeps skull. After what seemed like a month but was probably only half a day, he found the source of the issue, blocked pipes full of earth and tree roots so he cleared those out as best he could and re-filled the holes (minus the shoe, bottles, syringes and sheeps skull). All was well once more in the world of drainage. Until the loo stopped working properly. We had already decided to minimise flushing as we knew there was a likelihood that the tank may be full, we had no idea how full it was when we moved in but the previous owner only came here on holiday a few times a year so we hoped it was not too bad, but we were careful anyway. (Living in a caravan and having to regularly empty a cassette toilet into a septic tank had taught us to be frugal with water). However, the level in the loo was rising and was not lessening, even after a bit of plunging and encouraging words it remained higher than it should. Flushing was not the answer as with each flush the water got higher and threatened to spill over the top.

Tom took his trusty spade and began to dig around the area he knew the septic tank was. As he dug he began to notice the earth was quite squishy and the closer to the top of the tank he got, the squishier the earth. I do not think I need to say more, I believe your imagination can fill in the gaps. Suffice to say the tank was not only full but had exploded out the top. Yuk yiuk yuk. Emergency phone call to Jean-Michel our neighbour, to ask if he knew who could empty our fosse. Within half an hour Daniel, the nearest farmer, had appeared with his tractor with a huge digging bucket on the front. Tom by this time had raced off once more to Mr Bricolage to get some new shower and sink pipes, we had to cut the old ones to access the tank. So Daniel and I had the delighful job of taking the grease trap out of the centre of the tank. Words fail me here, other than to just say yuk again. He then stuck the pump in the tank and started pumping out to the bucket of the digger. This seemed to work well at first until the pump blocked so Daniel and I cleared it and then made a cage out of some netting to act as a filter. By this time Tom had returned and was following Daniel’s orders to keep refilling the tank with the hose pipe and “stirring” the whole thing like some revolting stew with a big stick. Eventually the tank was half drained so we stopped there and put the now cleaned grease trap back in. Tom filled in the hole after putting boarding over the top of the tank and fixing the shower and water pipes, after this was done it all looked much neater and we flushed the loo a few times, all working well. The garden however was another matter, it was covered in unmentionable yuk and we had to corden it off for a few weeks to stop the dogs helpfully digging in that part of the garden, gradually though and with much hosing and the help of some rain, the whole mess sank back into the ground and normality was returned. Until the next time…

These blogs are just short excerpts of much bigger chapters! I am currently working on getting a book publiished about our journey so far in order to assist funding for the Earthkin project. If you would like to be informed when the book is available, please subscribe to our newsletter, thank you.

8 Responses

  • Oh the joy of the septic tanks! Nothing compares to being up to your armpits in sh ould I say more? You haven’t been the owner of an old country cottage in France unless you have had at least one experience of watching unmentionable ‘bits’ floating around in a slowly rising pit of muddy coloured slurry, knowing full well that it isn’t mud that you’re looking at!

    They say life’s experinces are all character building – what sort of character is gained from poking human waste about I’m not quite sure but you’ve built that part of your character me dears, then there’s the roof and the other renovation parts, you must be nearly fully built in character!

  • You should try one of those outdoor toilets that you convert to compost. Looks very interesting, uses no water at all and is apparently the greatest fertiliser.

    • The next venture Meg will be an earth ship home or similar eco build, so yes, a composting toilet will be part of that. Not easy to put one into an existing stone built cottage but when starting from scratch is much easier so that is our plan 🙂 x

  • Try sitting on a port a loo, in a gale , in the dark , spitting with rain, damp toilet paper rolling away, whilst staying in a beat up old caravan, whilst we did up our first house in France! Hilarious but not to be recommended!! ??

    • Oh yes, I have not forgotten the joys of porta loos and buckets in wonky caravans! Such hilarious memories to have and no, not recommended but so funny for us both to look back on! xx

    • Yes Pamela, endless “face-palming”! I will self publish in an e-book and paperback version, that is the plan anyway. Aiming for beginning of next year.

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