Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Great Septic Tank Hunt

Life here is just dandy. We found the septic tank and had it pumped out this morning. I now know way more about cesspools, leech fields, septic tanks and vaults than any nice woman should be forced to learn.

I have never lived in a house with a septic tank. I just figured plumbing was plumbing. You pushed the handle and woosh, everything worked. I have been living in a fool's paradise, with a flush toilet. Spring/summer cleaning needed done. I did it. I washed everything in the house not nailed down. A couple of weeks passed. We had guests. They took showers and needed laundry done. No problemo, right? Wrong. Problems, big problems. Apparently the extra water and soap I used doing massive amounts of laundry, and then cleaning house like a mad woman for company, killed off the few bacteria still left alive in our system. And our system was full. Over full it turns out. The guests put stress on the failing system, and it failed. Hello hotel. Gad, how embarrassing.

Okay so we needed the system pumped out, no problem right? Problemo. No one knew where the septic tank was. The information we were given when we bought the house was incorrect. In fact we were outright lied to. We were told the system was on the southeast corner of the house and had been pumped out three years ago. We plunged rebar in the lawn (per advise of the septic company) looking for the tank until we were about dead. We found enough big rocks to build a nice size fireplace, but no tank. I called the county planning office. Mistake. According to their records our old house did not have a septic tank it had a cesspool and, "Cesspools were outlawed in this county in 1981 and you will have to put in a septic tank. We're not sure where you'll put the tank as the only place for it on your small lot is too close to your water line." What is a cesspool you ask? According to the county planner, "A cesspool is a privy without a top. It is a big hole lined with railroad ties and filled with rocks. Railroad ties are placed over the cavern and covered with dirt. The main drain from the house runs into it. The old timers always planted two lilac bushes over the top of it. These were good little systems and can work for years. But when they fail you have to back fill them and put in a septic tank. Do you have any big old thriving lilacs side by side?" Yes, we do. Probably at least fifteen feet high. Shit. No pun intended.

Mark and I went outside and stared at our bushes. They are a wonder. No wonder. We wondered what to do. Mark had a brainstorm, we would call the former owner. We would ask him what exactly he had had pumped out just before we bought the house, and where this pumping had taken place. Mistake. The former owner was jovial and glad to hear from us. "I see you are fixing up that little rental I sold you" he said "it looks great." Where is the septic tank you had pumped out just before we bought the property we asked. "I never pumped out anything" he said "I think it has a cesspool." We told him his real estate agent had put in writing that the house had a septic tank on the southeast corner. He laughed. "That guy" he said "he could sell wool to sheep." Mark hung up on him. We stared at each other some more. How much money do we have in the savings account he asked. Not enough.

I am not sure how this would have turned out if the neighbor had not come over a couple of days ago while we were outside. He volunteered to lend us his lawn aerator. Said it was much more effective than doing it by hand. (The rebar you know.) We told him our problem. "The septic tank is right next to the garage" he said "Howard put it in in 1996." Who is Howard we asked? Turns out he owned the house before the former owner. "I can show you where the tank is and where the pump out lid is." And he did. We called Howard. The system had NEVER been pumped out. Fourteen years is some sort of record.

This is the end of the great septic tank hunt. We have an empty vault, we met some nice people and we know why our lilac bushes are the best in the neighborhood. All's well that ends well.

Love Bea