If you have been following along with the purchase of our house you’ll remember one of the stipulations for the sale was that we remove the septic system inspection contingency. The seller wanted a quick sale and we think he may have been aware there could be issues. After all, he had just bought the house seven months before. This didn’t prevent us from having an inspection, but the contingency removal meant we couldn’t hold the seller accountable should something be found. (By the way, this is debatable I’m told, and we may have actionable recourse.) We also asked for the septic tank to be pumped so on inspection day the septic guy showed up to pump the tank but couldn’t. There wasn’t anything in it to pump. The house had been vacant for seven months during remodeling which could explain the lack of water in it, but there should have been at least a certain level maintained and there wasn’t. That guy’s opinion was that meant there was a hole in the tank. No other symptoms in the system were apparent.
We moved in to the house and have been working our priority list.
It’s been very hot and we have been busy so digging in the back yard wasn’t high on our list of stuff to do and little did we know digging wasn’t going to be a simple task. My husband Bob started one weekend hoping to complete the electrical stuff that needed to be moved but it took several weekends and a lot of sweat, including the purchase of a pick and a mattocks. Our soil isn’t soil really. I found out it should be considered shale. Lumpy, rocky, crusty shale with no real resemblance to fertile soil.
We went ahead and scheduled the inspection and tank replacement based on our hunch. Although this picture was taken during our recent work, it shows the cover of the distribution box and the blue PVC pipe that had been directly on top of the concrete lid. It held cables and wiring and was laid underground diagonally from the back corner of the house to the workshop/former recording studio in the opposite corner of the back yard. So yes, electric was on top of water and it blocked the inspection. In this recent work, our septic guy said that the box appears to be newer than what would have been originally installed when the house was built in 1978. It appears to be working correctly and the leach bed is good too. This was good news.
Digging began early one morning. Considering the size of the backhoe I expected the house to shake and rattle but there was barely a vibration. Are you like me and can barely take your eyes off big machines working? I am amazed at how much control our septic guy had over such a large machine. It wasn’t long and the top of the old tank was in view then he began clearing the area next to the tank…which is not round by the way. They are rectangular. Suddenly the backhoe stopped. I exchanged hand signals with the driver, who for the purposes of this post, we”ll call Wilfred because he reminded me of Wilfred Brimley. Wilfred jumped out of the cab and hopped over to the patio to talk to me through the patio screen.
|“Water” filling the hole from the tank.
“We got a hole,” he said. For a second I thought, duh, of course we have a hole, you’re digging it, then it occurred to me he was talking about the tank. “I can’t dig anymore until the pumper gets here.” I looked down the hole and sure enough water was pouring out of the flat sided tank like a river, filling the bottom of the hole and making mud soup. “Did anyone ever tell you, you got a hole in your tank?”
“We suspected,” I replied.
“That’s a big one,” he said, and we both watched the water running from the tank. I felt both aggravated and relieved at the same time. Aggravated that we find ourselves in the position of replacing a tank in a house we’ve barely lived in 3 months, and relieved to be getting the tank replaced before real trouble could overcome us. Real stinky trouble.
The pumper guy arrived and cleared out the old tank and pumped the bottom of the watery hole, then Wilfred got back on the backhoe to crush the old tank and fill it in a little then finish digging the spot for the new tank. He worked pretty quickly because things were timed fairly close with the delivery of the new tank soon.
When the new tank arrived I was surprised to see it in two pieces. This picture shows the top half being lowered onto the bottom half already in the hole. Wilfred, sitting on the edge of the patio watched then helped guide the big concrete box precisely to match seam for seam. This is a 1000 gallon tank which was determined by the number of bedrooms and the number of people living in the house.
After the tank was in place, Wilfred took back over and began to assemble and connect the new waste lines from the house to the tank and then out to the distribution box. This actually involved getting inside the tank at one point. For about the 5th time that morning I was glad my talents are elsewhere, but very glad for Wilfred’s talents! And by the way, he did them effortlessly and with great skill.
The last part of the job involved filling in the holes and then hauling away the excess contaminated soil. How long had the tank been leaking and why, and what caused the hole in the concrete wall? There isn’t a way to guess those answers. But they most certainly had been there and hidden a while. There were no symptoms apparent during the peripheral inspections required of the seller. He had provided a clear report from an “expert” who walked the field and saw no evidence of failure and what lay below the ground.
Now we have a new septic tank and know the work below the ground is good work. This was permit required work and was inspected so it meets or exceeds code requirements. The electrical lines have been fixed and will be properly laid and hooked up to our new electrical panel with properly routed circuits. With a workshop about to be put into production on still more projects, this is good news too.
What comes next? Landscaping!