Running a French Holiday Gite in Rural Brittany

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Smelly septic doubles my plumbing woes

Suffering snakes, not only has the swimming pool sprung a leak but now the septic tank is playing up as well.

Strictly speaking its not the septic tank itself but rather electric pump that's in the concrete sump chamber immediately after the septic tank, but its all smelly so who's splitting hairs about the precise problem?

Because of the geography of our garden, and to be more precise, the French regulations as to the various distances that the septic has to be from the neighboring property boundaries, the septic tank (where all the water waste from the Gite goes) was installed underneath the end garden but the sand filter bed had to be installed under the top garden, a distance of some 30m from the tank itself.

The system itself is simple, all the waste water goes into a large 5000 litre tank, the solids are broken down and decomposed by microbial action, and the liquid floats off into the concrete sump chamber I mentioned earlier.

In the sump chamber is an electric pump and when the liquid level reaches a certain height the float arm on the pump causes the switch to come on, the pump to start, and the liquid is pumped up to the sand filter bed.  Gravity does the rest, the liquids are filtered as they percolate through the sand and eventually run out of the bottom of the filter bed through a pipe into the drainage ditch that runs beside the road.

The whole system has to be designed properly, inspected when installed, certified as being to standard, and re-inspected a year later to ensure it is functioning properly.  Allegedly the water that eventually drains out into the ditch is safe enough to drink - but personally I'm not trying it!

So much for the theory, unfortunately after several years of working fine, I noticed soon after he'd arrived at the Gite that the neon light indicating that the power is supplied to the pump wasn't illuminated - meaning no pump and a lot of liquid going nowhere.

Problem quickly found, the trip switch for the electric supply to the pump had tripped out. Flicked the switch back on and went to inspect the pump which by now was working fine, pumping out the liquid and evacuating the sump chamber.

A few hours later I noticed the electric to the pump was off again and lifting the lid of the sump I noticed it was completely submerged.  When I flicked the trip switch back on the pump this time didn't start working. Rats.

Having to delve into the septic tank sump isn't the best of jobs although it's not quite as bad as you think it might be. I try to hold my breath whilst unscrewing the joint on the pump and lifted it out to let it dry out.  Leaving the pump inverted to help any liquid drain out I returned back a bit later to prove that the pump is not working at all any more.

No un-necessary baths, no using the dishwasher or washing machine, I need to go out tomorrow and buy a new electric pump and I don't want any more foul smelling liquid to deal with than is absolutely necessary.

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