I Was Rattled ~ Septic Redo

About two weeks ago Armando was working on defining the left side of the driveway. He was digging a trench, pouring a foundation, and laying a row of blocks just as he had done on the right side of the driveway. While he was mixing concrete, we had a power outage. No power/no water pump. No water pump/no water.

Armando is nothing if notĀ resourceful. The drainage ditches have run dry so there was no water there. And the little underground stream that in the rainy season fills the concrete cistern in the side of the mountain was dry too. But he remembered that there was water in the yet-unused septic tank; we filled it to keep it from popping out of the ground.

He removed the lid, leaned over, and dipped a five-gallon bucket into the tank. Startled by something, he pulled his hand out quickly. “There is something in there!” he exclaimed in Spanish. Of course, I immediately thought it might be Jimmy Hoffa or some similarly distasteful discovery. Then trying to lighten my first thought my mind went to, “What is it Lassie? Did Timmy fall down the well?”

Turns out, it wasn’t an object in the tank, but only the tank itself. Even though we had back filled with topsoil and not the expansive clay, the tank still gave way to the pressures of the soil and the high water table. The tank was crushed and split.

I was distressed. I didn’t want to dig up the whole mess and start over again. I was really rattled. How rattled? When Cynthia does the laundry, she dissolves some OxyClean powder in warm water then adds it to the washing machine. Yesterday she left the solution on top of the machine and it played quite a tune as it rattled during the spin cycle. I was this rattled:

I don’t know why, but that video made me smile.

After some discussion, we decided to remove the plastic tank and build the local tried and true concrete block septic tank. One benefit of all of this is that we can make a much larger tank and not have to pump the tank for a long time. Tank pumping is expensive, $300 to $500 seems the average here.

Wanting to beat the rainy season, the next day we started the redo. The tank was filled with water that would have to be removed. Also, we knew that we would be working on the project for two weeks or so, and every morning we would have to bail or pump hundreds of gallons of water from the pit. I decided to bite the bullet and buy a pump. I should have done it back when we were fabricating the columns to set the containers on.

I made a quick trip to town and bought a portable, gasoline engine powered water pump. Chinese, $236. I also bought some PVC pipe fittings and a couple lengths of pipe. Back at the job, the pump worked like a charm and emptied the tank in just a couple of minutes.

Whenever a new tool is brought to the job, the guys have a great time. Here, neighbor Ricardo stopped by to check out the excitement. We were all pumped.

After pumping, we started digging. While the guys dug, I made a tripod for a hoist, like for back yard car engine pulling in the old days. Even when we had the tank empty and dug free, the hoist just pulled the tubes into the ground and the tank stayed put. Eventually we dragged the tank out with a tow strap hooked to the Honda.

The other side was crushed, too. We're going to cut the tank at the first rib to make a swimming pool for Armando's young son.

Then the guys set about digging a larger pit for the new concrete block tank. They decided to work barefooted because the clay stuck to the rubber boots and it was just too arduous to work. I told them they should be paying me for the foot beauty treatment, and I offered to let Armando bring his wife to enjoy the spa too. For some reason he thought she would decline my generous offer:

As they dug, the men kept a rock nearby so they could bang the shovel on it. The clay soil stuck to each shovelful like glue. Finally, after four days of digging, we got to the point where we could set rebar and pour the floor:

Next came the walls. I noticed that Armando’s block work was much better than on the shop. I mentioned it to him, “Good block work, Armando,” and he said it had to be stronger because he didn’t want his work to collapse!

Here’s the repello in progress, inside and out. Outside, they worked their way up with the repello a few rows at a time as the blocks were laid.

And finally the roof. We installed a few 2×3 steel carriolas as joists and placed scrap pieces of roofing metal over the joists.

Here’s the finished roof. After the concrete cures a bit, I’ll remove the Styrofoam block, place some plastic over the hole, and pour the access hole cover for future pumping and inspection.

Now the only things left to do is to remove the forms, make a hatch cover, back fill around the tank with sand, move a lot of the dirt to low spots in the driveway near my shop, and spread the rest of the dirt over the tank to make grade.

After finishing the roof on the tank, we quit for the day. I had been wanting to investigate lock options for several of the doors in the new house, so I Googled my search. After watching a YouTube video on electric door strikes, a screen came up with other videos to watch. I was tired and wanted to sit a while longer so I clicked one. It turned out to be the Ukraine version of the TV show X Factor. It was so entertaining that I watched several of the performers and killed an hour. Cynthia pulled up a chair, too. Here is our favorite act:

That’s all for now.



7 thoughts on “I Was Rattled ~ Septic Redo

  1. I got this comment from my neice via email:

    “Hey Unk & Cyn, thank you for the beautiful Ukrainian You Tube clip. Joy has no language, yah?”

    Yes, joy is a good word to describe the vibe in the video. I loved the performer when he knew he had nailed it. I also loved the quick shots of the reactions of the judges and the audience. I’ve heard that Ukraine is a wonderful place to live.

  2. Jimmy Hoffa; so funny. Four days of digging; not so funny. Glad it all turned out well. BTW, we’re done having the steel beams put up in our basement. I often wonder what it would have turned out like if Fred had been in charge… šŸ˜‰

  3. fred, why did the tank collapse? was it not designed to be a septic tank?
    (apologies in advance, you’re now part of my research chainā€¦i’ve got foundation questions too but i want to read thru more of your blog first:))

    • Hi Dee,

      Yes, the tank was an official septic tank. We have a high water table, and I guess all the lateral pressure from the water and clay just crumpled it. Maybe I missed something when back-filling around the tank — I’m making this up as I go! But I’m happy with the larger capacity tank that we hand built and all the pain and extra work we had to go through is now just an amusing memory! Good luck with your planning and have fun. Fred

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