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Newbie to septic tanks and it's overflowing!

 
Stuart Smith
Posts: 46
Location: Tuscany, Italy
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Hello all!

Not only a newbie to septic tanks but also to the forum, be gentle.

My wife and I have just moved to a new life in rural Italy to try and live out our life in a more sustainable and responsible way and have recently been introduced to this forum as well as Permaculture and have devoured info on it since then and can't wait to try out so many things so will be back here regularly from now on.

So, since buying the house we've been busy clearing the land we live on a hillside in the foothills so our land is terraced, we have only just found where our septic tank is as it was so overgrown and have found that it's overflowing and smelling quite badly obviously.

We had some Italians here to look at it with a view to pumping it but they have said we need a new tank and it needs to be nearer to the house, also said that the rain was affecting it and hence the tank was getting too much water.

My knowledge of septic tanks is zero as in England i was always connected to the main sewers.

Any help or advice GREATLY appreciated, thanks in advance.
 
Bill Erickson
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Posts: 760
Location: Northwest Montana from Zone 3a to 4b (multiple properties)
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Stuart, welcome to Permies! Drinking from the firehose is an awesome thing!

I'm curious about these, "some Italians" you had out to your place. Were they septic tank clean out guys, plumbers or something else? Did they do some kind of inspection with a fiberoptic borescope system that showed video of a collapsed system there or just they opened the cover and, "tsk, tsked" while shaking their heads?

Myself, I'd be very suspicious of the later, but listen to the former. If it is the latter, then I would just go with a pump out and see what happens with the system. If it is badly overflowed, it may actually need a new leach field built as the old one is clogged with fecal matter/gorp. This is a bad thing to me. But, no matter what, yI would get that thing pumped out so that I didn't have fecal contaminated liquid flowing across my property, mostly because of the bacterial side of things and flying insects. Cholera and diptheria are real things.
Once I had the tank pumped out, I'd get an inspection of the leach field pipes done to see how they are doing. You may need to go with a new system - at that point I'd be looking at a composting toilet system - if allowed by local law.

Either way, I would be verifying the bona fides of the folks with the wild eyes and "you shoulding" me.
 
Stuart Smith
Posts: 46
Location: Tuscany, Italy
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Hi Bill,

Thanks for the reply!

These guys are the local pumping guys, thought I'd try them first before going further afield.

As for inspection, they looked at it from the house, two terraces up, about fifteen metres away I'd say and decided there and then we needed a new one before asking to go closer.

The riser (i think that's what it's called) had risen just that morning and one guy trod on it which caused a load of water and 'matter' to gush out from the top, he then unscrewed a smaller lid from which solid matter of a soil like consistency pushed up through.

From what I can tell there has been a long channel dug in the ground from the tank in one direction, half way along which a concrete box is sitting over the channel with a removable lid but the channel is bone dry,I assumed this was where the water would soak away.

It doesn't look like the tank has a wall around it, just buried in the soil, is that good practice? This Italian said that we were in danger of a land slide the way it is right now.

Is it worth me digging around a bit to see if the exit for the water is blocked for starters?
 
Bill Erickson
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Posts: 760
Location: Northwest Montana from Zone 3a to 4b (multiple properties)
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Stuart,

Sorry about the late response, my work life has gotten in the way a bit. But to answer, Oh MY! That does not sound good at all.

A septic system is basically a cistern that is designed to contain black water so that the solids and the liquids get a chance to separate and then allow the liquids to drain away into what is called a "leach field", where this liquid leaches deeper into the ground. Basically containing the mess, for dispersion and disposal. The thing about a tank is that depending upon the size, usage and plumbing issues from a house, it may need to be pumped biannually to every 5 to 7 years - depending upon size, usage and plumbing issues (running water into the drains). The septic tank is generally buried within 3-5 meters of the home and the leach field extends from there. Sizing of the leach field is dependent upon local requirements for the size of the tank installed.

This is a very dirty job to be messing around with, believe me. But it does sound like the exit from your septic to the leach field is clogged or the leach field has failed in some way. This is often fixed by digging out a new leach field, which I have helped with for two times in my life. It is smelly and nasty, but in the end, the system goes back to working, you just have to keep the tank pumped of the major stuff (lots and lots of liquified poo) every few years or so.

You can try self remediation, but be prepared to get nasty. What is likely fecal matter pumping up out of the ground from this "riser" thing you are talking about. I don't know what is meant by that, although some tanks have an easily accessed service port. My current tank is buried under about a foot of soil with a solid concrete lid on it, no riser, but I do know others that have them.

Not sure why they are talking landslide if the only nasty wet is right around the tank area - can you get another opinion from someone else on how bad this system has become? But remediation is needed as soon as possible. Figure out what the system currently in place is and get it pumped ASAP and then figure out what the fix needs to be after that.



 
S Bengi
Posts: 1355
Location: Massachusetts, Zone:6/7, AHS:4, Rainfall:48in even distribution
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Winter is the rainy season so things will be better in the drier summer months when things will be more serviceable.
Clearing the plants uphill, probably made it worse, because now you have no buffer to help the water soakin/transpire before hitting your flat-ish drainfield.

Going forward with either a new or retrofit-ed system I would send your grey water from the bathroom/kitchen sink + the shower/bath + laundry area to a infiltration basic and only send the toilet water to the septic tank.


 
Scot Schmidt
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Location: Middle of Idaho
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S Bengi wrote:

Going forward with either a new or retrofit-ed system I would send your grey water from the bathroom/kitchen sink + the shower/bath + laundry area to a infiltration basic and only send the toilet water to the septic tank.




If you could do what Bengi said and then maybe follow your pipe and find the end, if it is sespool, then cut your pipe five feet or so from the end. I did that and the spring rains and snowmelt don't affect the flow anymore. The soil gets stacked and then won't drain, then with added moisture you get a double whammy.
 
Stuart Smith
Posts: 46
Location: Tuscany, Italy
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Hi guys,

Thanks all for taking the time to reply to me.

I've since had a sexond firm come to look at it and they got straight in and pumped it out!

They said that the tank hadn't been installed well and suggested i put a service hole/cap in one place on the pipe between the tank and house for them to clean easily next time but they seemed to do a thorough job, using a high presssure hose in every pipe accessible.

I inspected the tank yesterday and the water is sat at the exact level where it drain out to the leachfield, so either i was lucky with my timing and it will start overflowing again soon due to blocked exit or failed leach field or we're back on track and working again, will know either way soon!

Our tank is about fiften metres from the house downhill, the land in front of the house is terraced as we live on a hill/mountainside and the land was terraced centuries ago to make farming easier, the tank has been buried into one of there terraces, on the terrace above they found another much smaller tank or receptacle that the waste must flow into before it gets to the tank, any idea what this could be? I've looked for diagrams of tank set ups online but found nothing like this.

Also I'm planning to grow redd grass on rhe leachfield now that its clear to help with soil aeration and take up of rhe effluent, any experience of this?

Thanks so much again!
 
Stuart Smith
Posts: 46
Location: Tuscany, Italy
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...almost forgot, definitely going to take all grey water oit of the system, only black into the tank if i can help it.
 
S Bengi
Posts: 1355
Location: Massachusetts, Zone:6/7, AHS:4, Rainfall:48in even distribution
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You have a two tank system, the 1st one holds the sludge, the 2nd one could be a aerobic tank that enriches the water with oxygen, allowing "good" bacteria out-compete the smelly bad ones. After this it is possible to install a pump to send it to a perlite/sand mound above elevation if needed due to high water table.

 
Mat Smith
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Location: Gold Coast Hinterland QLD, Australia
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Sounds like you have a 2 tank septic system like we have here on our acreage property. We moved in at the end of last year, so a steep learning curve for me on septic too.

We have the 1st tank closest to the house. It basically allows the solids to settle out to the bottom. When more solids and fluid enters the tank, the tank is now 'overfull' and the excess runs out the pipe at the high level of the tank into the 2nd septic tank, which is at a lower level.

As this fluid enters the 2nd tank it again settles out any solids remaining, and as this tank is effectively now 'overfull' the excess flows out the pipe at the high level of the tank again and into a seepage pit (which is lower than the 2nd septic tank), and has grass growing on top of it. The grass then puts the excess nutrients to work, and any extra moisture soaks down into the earth. We have several seepage pits on the property, and you can tell exactly where they are due to the extra green grass!

The top tank will have the most solids in it, so will definitely need an inspection, and sounds like it will need a pump out too.

Good luck.
 
Stuart Smith
Posts: 46
Location: Tuscany, Italy
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Thank Matt/Bengi!

Understand now what my two tank system is doing! Feel much better about it all now,having never owned a septic tank before opening up random inspection lids didn't help in the slightest.

So from I understand now the fact that I had fecal matter squeezing out from aroind the manhole on the second tank means it was even more full and worse than i imagined!!

Anyway, I had a sexond bunch of guys around who this time arrived in their pump truck and without question emptied both tanks, pressure washed all pipes they could get to, recommended i installed one extra access cap on the pipe feeding the first tank and left me with a clean empty tank!!

A few weeks on I've added started enzymes and the sodden ground around the second tank is completely dry now and draining away without problem, we've had guests staying the last seven weeks so double to demand but still, zero problems so i guess we're sorted!!

We're justb waiting for some wath tanks to arrive next week so that i can replumb the grey water in a couple of these for use on the garden!

Thanks all so much!!
 
Rebecca Norman
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To help reduce the load on your septic system, here are some ideas that come to mind:
1) If there's a garbage grinder in the sink, remove it, and don't send food bits down the sink. Instead carry them to a compost heap.
2) Make sure that none of the materials going down the toilet are synthetic -- I think it's possible that some fancy tissues have synthetic fibres along with paper.
3) Removing some of the greywater should reduce load.
4) Of course a composting toilet would reduce load incredibly but that's a big step.

It's possible, since you bought the house recently, that the previous owners had either been putting inappropriate things down their drains, and/or they hadn't had the tank pumped out for years and years. It sounds like your green / conscious lifestyle has a good chance of treating your system more gingerly and making it work well again.
 
Feidhlim Harty
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Hi Stuart,

If you'd like me to copy and paste the septic tank inspection section of my new book into an email, just let me know. It's brief, but may be able to offer some additional information. I'm at reeds@wetlandsystems.ie if you'd like to follow it up.



 
Stuart Smith
Posts: 46
Location: Tuscany, Italy
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Hi guys,

Thanks for the posts!

I'm sure you're right about our previous owners Rebecca judging by the rest of the place and how they've gone about things!

I fully plan to put a compost toilet outside somewhere although only for me, definitely a step too far for my wife!

And thanks for the very kind offer of the inspection info Harty, I'll be sending you an email soon!
 
Mat Smith
Posts: 125
Location: Gold Coast Hinterland QLD, Australia
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Feidhlim Harty wrote:Hi Stuart,

If you'd like me to copy and paste the septic tank inspection section of my new book into an email, just let me know. It's brief, but may be able to offer some additional information. I'm at reeds@wetlandsystems.ie if you'd like to follow it up.




That sounds very useful!
 
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