Running a French Holiday Gite in Rural Brittany

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Written a very large cheque - new fosse in August

I've just written a very large (40% deposit) cheque for installation of a new fosse septique for our holiday home and have in the process completely cleaned our French bank account out (hence having to transfer some more money from the UK to my French bank account with Moneybookers).

Like most of rural France (in fact pretty much everywhere outside of the major towns and villages) we're not on mains drainage at our Gite and instead have a septic tank system - fosse septique. Despite what you might think it's been pretty trouble free in the four years we've had the house but as we're now starting to convert the second house and need to connect up additional toilets, toilet and showers it's time to get things expanded and replaced.

There are basically 4 parts to our existing fosse:
  1. Connected to the kitchen sink is a bac degreaseur (fat trap) that's basically a concrete chamber amount 2 feet across and 2 feet deep that all liquid from the kitchen sink (and dishwasher) goes into, the fat settles off it, then the liquid drains into a ditch on the other side of the road.

    I once made the mistake of trying to clean the bac out by removing some of fat and disposing of it in the rubbish bin. It was an absolutely horrible job scooping congealed fat out (using the kitchen colander), it stank to high heaven and my arm and the colander ended up being covered in sticky white fat. It took three goes in the dishwasher to get the colander clean (and I wasn't popular as a result!) and two showers for me, and even then my skin still smelt for a day or two afterwards!
    Morale of the story is to leave the fat trap well alone, it seemed to work properly so best not to fiddle!

  2. Next is the main fosse tank. Ours is a concrete chamber sunk underground by the boiler room. It's about 1 metre in diameter across and about a metre deep and is divided roughly two-thirds/one-third with a concrete wall that goes up to the top and has a large hole in it about 40cm down. Both toilets drain into the larger of the two chambers.

    The process is quite simple. Solids (and liquids) from the toilet flush into the larger chamber and then microbes present in the waste break down the organic material (including toilet paper) into a liquid and a residual crust that floats to the top. The liquid waste from the toilets and the bacterial process flow through the dividing hole in the fosse into the second chamber and then out along a drain pipe into the water collection chamber (part #3).

  3. The water collection chamber is simply a 2 foot wide by 2 foot deep concrete chamber that both the liquids from the fosse tank drain into and also the bath, handbasins and shower all drain directly into (i.e. they do not drain into the fosse tank, only into the collection chamber). The collection chamber simply holds liquids prior to them draining away in the soakaway bed (part #4) as when you empty the bath there's a lot of water to get rid of quickly and the soakaway bed may not be able to cope with such a volume arriving all at once.

  4. The soakaway bed is where all the liquids drain away. There's different models, some drain into a ditch at the side of the road, some have a long series of perforated pipes to disperse the liquid over a large area, and some are simply a gravel pit dug in the ground.

    I've never dug enough holes in the driveway of our Gite to work out what ours is but I have a strong suspicion that it's simply a gravel pit which over time has got compacted down not least of which because the soakaway bed is (as far as I can tell) under the driveway where we park the car.

So in a couple of weeks time all this is going to be removed and replaced with a brand new, guaranteed for 10 years, Euro-standard approved fosse.

I'll try to scan in the plans for the new fosse so that I can then show you more properly what's going to be done.

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