Sunday, March 16, 2008

It all starts with the septic tank...

Why is it, when you buy an old house, the shit tank is invariably first thing to fail?

Actually, in our case, it was the second thing to fail, since the first thing to fail was the well valve. That's simple enough, though. If you know where your well is located, that is. Thankfully we have a wonderful neighbour who used to live in our house many moons ago, as a small child, who was willing, able, and capable of finding the old well. Anyone can tell stories and point fingers, but Mr. Lefebure was really able to pin-point it. Fixing a well valve is not really an issue, providing you can find it, that is. It's simply a matter of digging, which gives one the opportunity to see heavy equipment dangerously close to the picture window in the kitchen, and also see copious amounts of mud in places where there used to be a driveway. But it's in the past, and precedes digital photography, so all that's left are memories, and real photos creatively assembled in an album we laugh over. Mostly. Sometimes we cry too, but then they're tears of joy in knowing we'll never have to go there again. May the well valve be one of those places.

But I digress. We're here for the septic tank. And what a tank it was! When it was finally hauled away, a process that took far too long, I actually walked to the end of the driveway and waved. For a very long time. Probably longer than was appropriate, but then again, the shit tank saga was an entire tome in our lives.

I think the dog noticed it first. The bubbly, slimy, stinking mess. Let's face it: we were in denial, okay? And denial is not a river in Egypt, as the saying goes, no, it's a river of shit right in our very own back yard. Our first tip-off was the septic tank lid, which was curiously made of plywood. Lesson number 1) Beware of septic tanks bearing plywood lids. During the home inspection, Eric was assured the septic tank would "last forever", and I'm sure it would, just not in its vocation as a septic tank. Our first step was to empty the damn thing, which is, once again, simple enough since we're not actually doing it. It's easily accessible, and the shit truck can even stay conveniently parked on the road. Keep that in mind when you're designing your new home and yard.

So this is what we were dealing with. It wasn't leaking, it wasn't overflowing, it just wasn't working, that's all. If you're very perceptive, you've also noticed the tree in the picture. Here's a helpful hint for you new homeowners, those not yet fluent in septic-ese and leads me to lesson number 2) Trees DO NOT belong on top of septic tanks, nor anywhere near your drainage field. Capiche? This is the stuff septic nightmares are made of.

Not ones to do things half-way, we installed not one, but two, yes TWO tanks. Remember I mentioned someone was anal ? Well, I wasn't joking.
Ain't she a beaut? I swear, you haven't lived until you've watched a shit tank expertly being lowered into the ground. The level of satisfaction you feel...simply cannot be described. I can wax philosophical about this ad nauseum, but suffice it to say it's One of the Great Moments in Home Renovation. Being able to flush one's toilet with the knowledge that, several thousand dollars later, one's eco-conscience is clear is a great feeling.

But we're not done yet! And you, the uninitiated, thought that was the end of my story! Not even close! Apparently, the town doesn't like our septic tanks. Also apparently, they don't have an option, since there is an entire development near our house with non-conforming shit tanks. We're looking at options and buying stocks in our local septic tank cleaning company, since we're now emptying our shit tanks with an alarming frequency, since we don't have a drainage field! In this day and age of environmental wisdom and know-how, you'd think the government has a plan, but they don't! Some solutions are unacceptable, and our only legal option (that shall remain nameless), was. We're not into installing something that resembles a giant kitty-litter box in our back yard. No way. In the meantime, the system we're looking at was approved by the government, and here's what was done:

A company called Bionest Technology retrofitted the secondary tank, and once filled with their proprietary media, the secondary tank becomes a sort of breeding ground of good bacteria which helps break down all the coliforms and bad stuff lurking in the septic tank effluent. From this secondary tank, which is aerated to increase the breakdown and efficiency, the waste water goes to a tertiary tank (read: more heavy equipment, more mud) where a Trojan Technologies UV system does it's job.
The UV system is installed in the round tank above. Very simple in it's operation, the UV tank essentially disinfects the remaining waste water before it's discharged into the ditch. A high-level float-type alarm notifies us of any problems, as does another alarm if the UV light burns out. The system is efficient, clean and takes up less space than your regular drainage field. In our case, the clay in our local area does not permit us to use a standard leach field, since clay is impermeable, hence the above fiasco.

All said and done, here's a view of the entire system:

Note the precisely laid PVC drainage pipe. The treated waste-water is pumped to the ditch from here. The water gets tested once a year, and our coliform count is so low, and the water so clear that some municipalities might be jealous. Now if only local laws would permit me to water the lawn with it instead of discharging it, the system would be perfect.

That, my friends, is how Muddy Acres got it's name. And maybe one day I'll own a lawn...maybe one day in the near future. A girl can always dream, can't she?

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