My Septic Guy
We have been having trouble with a sewer/stinky home perm smell in the bathroom closest to our drain line, as you may have read here. It took me a few days to determine that the bathtub in the kids’ bathroom was draining slowly because some dunderhead was not using the plastic hair trap I bought at Wal-Mart. This pissed me off to no end; a plastic hair trap/drain cover is a two-dollar and fifty-cent answer to a two-thousand dollar problem. We thought we had beaten the stank by un-clogging all the downstairs drains and making sure the P-traps (thank you, Deja!) were working. We were wrong.
With trepidation, we dared the back yard and lifted the lid on the second chamber of the septic tank to find that it was overflowing, which would explain the darker soil near the cover. Oh my. A full second chamber could only mean a few things: (1) the baffle was clogged; (2) the septic pump was fritzing; or (3) worst of all … our drain field was clogged. I immediately jumped online and researched septic companies in our area. Goebel Septic came out on top for its A+ Better Business Bureau rating and customer reviews. Goebel it was!
Somehow, we managed to get to this past Monday, the earliest appointment available, without our system backing up into the house. The kids drove up The Gorge Amphitheatre to see Black Sabbath during the weekend, so the only liquids and solids assaulting the tank were mine. (I also avoided Taco Bell and did no laundry.) Like all Poopreporters, I anticipate a septic company’s visit with both wallet fear and morbid fascination. What would my septic person find in the tank? Socks? Taco Bell? Jimmy Hoffa? Luckily for me, the only aberrant items in the tank were a few batteries.
As Septic Guy performed his smelly but honorable job, I asked question after question, taking notes of all that he said. I was lucky; Septic Guy was extremely nice and knew quite a bit. Besides, he was wearing a Duck Dynasty shirt his wife and kids bought for him; how bad could he be?
The main issues with our tank were that it was full, as was the outgoing baffle. Once Septic Guy rinsed the baffle out, water began to flow into the drain field easily. And then he cocked his head to one said, and said, “Huh. I believe your pump is still running.” He opened up our pump and began to smile. “This is the luckiest thing that your tank is full and you called,” he said. “Your floaters fell off.”
In case anyone does not have a septic pump, here is a very basic description of what it is and what it does. A septic pump makes sure that water does not back up into your house, mainly areas below ground level, like your basement, if you have one. We had a basement growing up on Pennsylvania, and when rough storms knocked the power lines, the extra rain coupled with a defunct septic pum always, always left us with anywhere from two inches to a foot of water in the basement.
The septic pump has sensors in it that look like the things in the back of your toilet tank, the balloons that rise with the level of the water and tell your toilet the tank is full (ballcock? hehe, ballcock). If the water rises to the first floater, the pump will turn on and pump the water. If the pump is broken or not working for some reason, the water level will continue to rise in the pump. It will then reach the emergency floater, which will set off an alarm in your house. If you live in a housing area with many other houses, and you constantly hear some ridiculously loud beeping or buzzing, it is probable that someone's house is unoccupied and their septic tank alarm has been set off. I hate that noise.
Part of my pump was “running dry” because the floaters had fallen off their set places. Septic Guy told me I must be the luckiest customer he has had in some time, because the pump was running continuously but had not burnt out. Had the tank not filled up when it did, I would have been paying for a new septic pump and a tank emptying. We both think the stupid zip tie a previous company service agent had used to re-tie the floaters up had just broken in the past couple of days. Since Septic Guy was not certified to deal with the electrics of the pumps yet, he put in another order for someone to come out later this week and install a permanent floater-hanger-thingie. Whatever; it’s better than worrying about zip ties that will rot out in two years.
As it stood, I paid for a regular 1,500-tank pumping, a few bucks for the county septic dumping fee, and tax. The second service order will be minimal according to my formal price quote. Goebel has an excellent reputation, unlike some of the septic company scam artists in our area, so I am not worried.
Septic Guy then told me something that piqued my interest: “Your tank isn’t breaking down stuff like it should.” We started talking about what types of water usage goes on with us, and what types of stuff we put into our tanks. He even mentioned anti-bacterial soaps and medications, such as for high blood pressure. All of this led to our discussing Rid-X and other options to keep the septic bio-load up to par.
Here is some of the new information I have now, regarding septic tanks and their ability to break down solids, like poop or toilet paper. Any of the following can be a cause for a tank’s needing a little more help in that area:
1. owning large or multiple fish tanks and performing frequent water changes using a siphoning system like the Python.
2. living with someone (or yourself) who takes medications, such as those for high blood pressure.
3. using anti-bacterial soaps or products.
4. doing large amounts of laundry.
5. flushing bleach into your drains, due to clogs, laundry, or any other issue.
6. excessive use of drain cleaners.
7. having running toilets or faucets, i.e. having a constant excess flow of water going into the septic tank.
The beneficial bacteria supplementation can come in one of many forms. While Septic Guy recommended that I use Rid-X every month for the first six months that the tank was filling up, I found that I could save a ton of money and use what the old plumbers swear by: a big old cake of bread or brewer’s yeast. This made sense to me as a aquarist. If I have to make large water changes due to a tank infection or crappy water, I always add Bio-Zyme powder. The powder is comprised of beneficial bacteria starter. Once it gets wet, it takes roughly 24 hours before the bacteria starts aiding in the nitrogen cycle that all aquariums rely on for life.
According to Septic Guy, our large fish tanks, excessive laundry burden (thanks to the three young people siphoning my youth) do give us cause to use a product that increases the beneficial bacteria in our septic tank. Recently to boot, I was forced to make multiple water changes in our 75-gallon Amazon tank because of a tremendous infection and subsequent red and green algae blooms. I must have used close to 300 gallons of water in a three-week period on the fish tank alone. I have not mentioned how much toilet paper my teenage daughter uses, either. Jesus.
But here is something else interesting that he told me about Rid-X: “Rid-X is great for when a tank is recently emptied, or when you might have experienced some bacteria dilution, but it can ruin your drain field if your tank is already full.” When I asked him why, he said that the toilet paper and scum on top of the tank can sneak into the drain field because of the excess breakdown and pass to the drain field. Once these types of solids enter your drain field, you are looking at a major problem.
Finally, here are some important maintenance practices to keep in mind regarding your septic tank:
1. Believe it or not, RV toilet paper is horrible for your septic system. It breaks down so well that it can sneak past the outgoing baffle and enter your drain field. This can clog it. Ouch! Septic Guy recommends a decent two-ply that is not quilted.
2. Pull the outgoing baffle out of its holder at least every six months and hose it out. Ew. He recommended that I get some rubber gloves and to be very careful when hosing the solids out so as not to let them drop into the baffle's resting place; if they did, then they could sneak into the drain field.
3. Flush NO fats, oils, or greases down your drains. The “FOG” ingredients, as he called them, can only be removed by special enzymes that usually only professionals can get their hands on. In fact, flush nothing but poop and pee, and in the rare, Jagermeister-infused occasion, barf. FOG material contributes to the scum layer on top of the effluent (see the video link below), which can hinder proper biological decomposition.
4. Adding to Number Three, do not flush tampons, pads, hair, or flushable wipes. Do not flush condoms.
5. Have your tank drained roughly every three years. When your septic guy comes, ask him to check out the floaters in your septic pump. At least have your tank looked at every three years.
6. If you do find yourself doing much more laundry than normal, or if you have to increase your water usage, septic tank-wise, for any reason, consider proofing some yeast and flushing it into the system before you go to bed.
7. Check all of your toilets and faucets for leaks. Even the slightest constant running of water can dilute the bacterial in your septic tank.
8. Check your septic pump every couple of months. Make sure that the floaters are in place. If you have no idea what to look for, bug the hell out of your septic guy the next time you call him out, like I did.
9. This is my personal addition to this list: If you are going to have your septic tank serviced or drained, be smart and research the local companies before choosing one. When I researched the companies who serviced our area, I found that two of the companies had amazingly bad ethics. One company’s Yelp reviews page was 40 comments long of people describing bait-and-switch tactics: company septic guy arrives on site, uses a camera to show customer a clog, says he must come back in order to fix it better, and then returns with another septic guy who quotes triple the original quote. Most of the reviewers said they decided to use another company and paid one third of the original quote to have the issue fixed. Another company gave worthless one-year guarantees that had hidden fees. Ten minutes on the internet could save you hundreds, even thousands, of dollars.
I am sure that many of you have advice to add. Please do so!
Finally, here is a link to a great video that describes how your septic system works. It runs less than four minutes.