With modern comforts we seldom think about what it was like before…. As a history refresher, say 1930-1940’s here in Appalachia there was no, or few outdoor “privies” to deposit human waste. I had asked an old-old timer what did they do. He replied: “ We used foot boards”. It seems that the footboard was a panel that you carried outside and back in the trees to keep your feet dry. The pigs cleaned up the mess in time.
President Roosevelt in the 1930’s had started a rural “Outhouse” building program for the folks who knew little but what their ancestors did, and were unaware of the need for sanitation to reduce and/or eliminate typhoid, cholera, and other common diseases, now only found in Mexico hinterlands and south. From my last viewing of that area before the drug lords took over, there was filth everywhere, and people were always sick.
It does require education and time to train people of any culture on sanitation. Now we can discuss the modern septic system, but first let us mention the city sanitation system supporting tens of thousands even millions of people.
The city system is an interconnecting system of pipes from every toilet and every drain in every house and every building that runs into a larger pipe that eventually meets in a collection center. Simply put there are settling ponds, sand filter ponds as the refined precious water is passed on and ultimately chlorinated. Then it is pumped back to the peoples potable water use.
Waste contaminated water is recycled. However the harmful bacteria is filtered and killed; there does exist a growing problem in that anti-depressant chemicals have been detected in the water. Recently there is a concern for the amount of estrogens in the water as well, which is effecting men and young children in their glandular process. This is being addressed, but you must consider the massive process involved. If your water rates go up-you know why. In the mean time you could take a water sample to a private water testing service and have the (1) test for harmful chemicals and (2) learn about filtering solutions. A basic test for city, or country water approval measures coliform bacteria from fecal contamination. This is insufficient. I might add that many new subdivisions are placed on old farmland, which adds to risks of fertilizer run-off, especially with well water systems. Spring houses, although romantic are really dangerous which mostly depend on surface run-off water.
There was a movement in the Clinton Administration to re-do the entire sanitation system by using black lights for sterilization but I suspect that the cost was prohibitive. What ever evolves, you the consumer connected to the necessaries will pay and pay.
Those of us who have moved to Back2theLand.com may have an outhouse still in use, but for the most part when you are buying property already built, or plan on building a house, you will be required to have a septic system and leach field installed. There are problems attendant with this system that we will address, and may save you some thousands in future expenses and major headaches.
The Septic System works this way: When you flush “black water” from the toilets, or “gray water” from the sink it all runs into a common large pipe and this connects to a large underground tank. Older houses will have a concrete tank in two pieces placed like a clamshell, one inverted above the other and cemented together. The water from the house runs in, fills the tank to a level “standpipe” which is the out drain. The standpipe out drain is about level with the house drainpipe, but the inside the tank pipe has about a couple of feet down into the liquid.
The tank accumulates waste that floats above the standpipe under the water level and this waste now called sludge starts to be eaten by bacteria from the bottom blanket of waste sludge. This filters down to the bottom of the tank and accumulates over time.
A properly operating tank, be it an old concrete tank, or a newer fiberglass type tank needs to be at least 1000 gallons, some larger in bigger households. Your Water Department who authorizes your permit to install a septic system will tell you what size you need and where you can place this tank.
The RULE is that you can deposit only human waste black water and septic approved toilet paper made for decomposition. The major problem is that people deposit in the toilet indigestible paper towels, feminine hygiene absorbent products, diapers, tile cleaners, and toilet bleach chemicals. This kills the digestion process. Your tank will back up into your household pipes if you do not view the digestive process by bacteria as a living-breathing helpful process.
When the black goo backs into the house you can telephone a septic tank pumping service. Those households that disrespect the septic tank service and continue to dump paper towels, chemicals and the like down the toilet will be pumping quite often- at several hundred dollars a trip. A properly maintained digestive process will not have to be pumped out for many, many years, although as advice from the professionals recommend at least pumping it out every 3-5 years with a large family.
When the tank is pumped the service will inspect the standpipe and the house drainpipe. These can be wire cleaned by a “snake” if necessary and/or replaced if broken by heavy equipment driving over the pipes run length. It is advisable not to garden over a septic system including the leach field because of bacteria being pulled up into the plants and equipment digging up pipes and weight crushing pipes.
Were I to buy an established house I would require that the septic tank be pumped and inspected. If I were to purchase an old house with an old system, I would want to inspect the “distribution box” also.
Running from the standpipe in the septic tank is the “effluent liquid” black water toxic bad – keep your fingers out of stuff. It drains on a gravity feed down an incline to a smaller concrete box about 3’X5’X 2’ deep with a removable cover. This is the distribution box, that if level will take this effluent and distribute it equally into two or more underground pipes to dissipate into a gravel backfill.
The construction of the leach field design has changed over the years. Originally in this locale a front-end loader just dug out a rectangular hole below the grade of the septic tank, drain ceramic tiles were laid across the pit half filled with gravel. When the “clays” as they were called were laid out they formed pipes for the effluent at each couple of feet to leak effluent into the gravel. In later years they now use plastic slotted drain field plastic pipe, covered with a plastic weeping sock that does the same thing, although separate backhoe trenches are usually installed for effluent drainage.
Once all is covered with soil this is a good clean waste disposal system that should last more than fifty years; some longer- some shorter.
The location of the leach field is critical as I have seen some that lie in the high water mark of creeks and rivers which implies when it rains, these fields just fill with water and clog up. You want your house and your septic system to be on a hill not at riverside.
Your septic tank, if a concrete model, probably has two square “man hole” covers. If the tank is near the house it may collect water from the eves. If you have gutters insure the run off is away from the underground tank. Install gutters on the eves. If the septic tank is diluted with rainwater it does not work. Plan on more expensive pumping.
We discussed that paper towels, feminine products, diapers, and chlorine toilet bowl/tub cleaners are a NO-NO. They will destroy your tank’s digest ability of the human waste and specially made digestible “safe for septic systems” toilet paper. Chlorine cleaners will reach the leach field and destroy that too as there is some digestibility therein.
If your washing machine is connected to the septic tank, have a new drain put in and make a dry water tank, in ground, and away from the septic tank, say, 55 gallons to dissipate the washer water. Most modern soap powders used in washing machines use chlorine. Some newer more expensive powders for modern washing machines use safe products for septic systems. Read the instructions and warning labels carefully.
Many people fall prey to the Septic System bacterial additives to cure their real or imagined septic tank fears. If you follow the above advice and the system is digesting you need NOT add anything. Human waste has its own bacteria to digest. I will admit when I was a young lad and worked for a Septic Tank pumper-installer person he added 2 ½ lbs of Bakers Yeast –per- to start a 500-gallon tank. If you already have a working tank it is unlikely you need an additive. Flush with care.
If your showers drain backs up around your feet you will need some bleach and water to wash your feet outside. To clean the tub, or floor, you wipe up the mess with the bleach and water and dry it- do not flush it down the toilet. Rewash your hands with bleach water that are now infected with coliform bacteria that can make you and the family very sick. Put the towels in a plastic bag for disposal.
One last tip: After you have dug your tank hole, run a trench down the middle and outwards towards a low spot or over a cliff. Place a slotted drain plastic pipe in this trench and cover with gravel. I have learned to do this when burying tanks in the ground. If the tank is empty when in the ground and it rains, the tank will pop up. Therefore if there is an underlying drain, the rainwater cannot push up causing more work and money. Quite often the house owner does not have a water source to fill the tank immediately so this leaves an open tank until he fills it with weight. The drain can be a consideration. Also if you are in a cold north place, place pea gravel around the sides of the walls so that it is not crushed inward when the ground freezes.
God Bless America
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