Yesterday morning I noticed a very small bit of ice just uphill from the wood chipped area we are planning for a food forest on the South side of the house. I thought it was a little odd but ignored it and moved on with my day. This morning I looked out at the same area and noticed a much larger area of ice. I decided I better investigate. I realized before I ever went outside this was downhill from our septic and figured there must be something wrong with that system. This is the first home we have ever had that did not have a municipal sewer system so septic is something new to us and I was not at all sure what I was going to find out there. I bundled up for the temperature being in the teens and headed out to take a look.
Sure enough there was a soggy smelly mess to the downhill side of the septic. I thought I would head uphill to look at the leach field to see if that was a problem as well. I walked up through the field and everything up there was dry. I knew we had a pump tank on the output side of the septic tank to pump the sludge uphill to the leach field so I figured that pump must be broken but I also knew we had an alarm in the basement that was supposed to sound if the pump stopped working and the water level in that tank got too high. A check of the alarm showed it was reporting all was well. I figured I was in over my head here so I better call our septic guy.
I rang up Brian Pile who had performed the inspection of the system last winter when we were purchasing the property and told him what was going on. He explained that he would guess the problem was a clogged outflow filter on the 1500 gallon tank and as soon as he said it the memory of the inspection came flooding back to me. Having never had a septic system before I made a point of being on site when Brian did the inspection so he could explain the system to me. I now recalled his careful explanation of the 1500 gallon septic tank followed by a 400 gallon pump tank to pump uphill to the leach field. I recalled him carefully removing the filter in the 1500 gallon tank outflow pipe and explaining to me how to hose it off every 6 months and that if I did not do so it would eventually clog and the system would back up. I also recalled the conversation with Sarah that we should put this on the calendar so we did not forget. I did not, however, actually do this and here I was with my oversight as the likely culprit in this mess. I thanked Brian and hung up to try to fix the problem.
Once I got the covers off the tank it became clear this was the problem. The pump tank was fine but the septic tank was full all the way to the top and overflowing. I had to get creative and dirty to remove enough of the content to get to the filter and allow the water to begin flowing again. This involved a 5 gallon bucket, a drain snake, a crow bar, and a tine cultivator; it was not a pretty sight. It took a long time to drain back to where it was supposed to be but at the end of it all there was little damage other than the need to do some laundry and a small bit of overflow in the yard. Things could have been much worse. At least the tank is low enough that the overflow occurred at the top of the tank and did not cause everything to back up into the house.
In hindsight there were some signs the last 2 days. We had some slow draining sinks that should have tipped me off but I ignored them, maybe that is another lesson learned but not what I intended here. Lesson learned #2 is always maintain a property maintenance schedule and stick to it. What I mean by that is write it down and constantly consult it. Know when common tasks like heating system filter changes or tractor oil changes need to be done and do them as needed.This seems like a simple thing and we meant to do it but somehow in all the things we had to do with the move this one got lost in the mix. I feel pretty dumb for having missed it but as I said there is no real damage and I have learned my lesson.