Running a French Holiday Gite in Rural Brittany

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Septic sorted

I'm pleased to say that after my prior adventures with the electric pump and the wrong plumbing joints that resulted in a face full of "stuff" and then a very dodgy body afterwards, I've now fixed the septic tank properly.

Mind you it wasn't without a little more excitement during the way as I'd noticed that there appeared to be a leak in the pipe that went up to the filter bed, resulting in a flow back of effluent when the pump switched on.

I'd suspected that the pipe had cracked, maybe because of settlement of the ground, but I firstly had to expose the pipe joint to find the problem. This required digging a hole nearly 2 feet in depth down beside the sump chamber to get down to where the pipe went through the wall of the concrete sump chamber, which is where I had seen the leak emanating from.

Quite a bit of digging later through some rather soggy and probably polluted soil and I'd got the joint where the non-return valve in the sump chamber was connected to the 40mm pipe up to the filter bed.

Only the pipe wasn't connected at all. 

The pipe joint hadn't failed, the pipe hadn't cracked as I thought it might have done, but in fact the joint in the pipe that was supposed to have been glued with solvent weld glue had in fact never been glued together at all - there was absolutely no sign of any solvent weld glue on the joint at all.
I can only surmise that the joint had been dry assembled and then forgotten to be glued. Over time with the electric pump running the joint had slowly vibrated out until there was quite a deluge of liquid coming out of the joint - and I suspect that this may have contributed to the demise of the pump as well.

So, dried everything off, cleaned all the joints and glued it properly back together.  Waited for the glue to dry and checked for leaks - all perfectly dry.

Filled the hole in next to the sump chamber, put the lid on the sump and I can now happily ignore the septic system again!

Next job though is the swimming pool.

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Monday, July 30, 2012

Learnt a new French word today - unfortunately

After yesterday's posting where I wrote about using the new electric pump to empty out the sump chamber on our fosse septique (septic tank), finding that the pipework fitting were a different size, and getting a face full of liquid sewerage whilst trying to hold the joints together, I got up this morning and had to reach for the English/French dictionary to learn a new word.


(You can look it up yourself as to what this means in English, but it's not all that difficult a translation)

3 trips to the bathroom before breakfast was over so I quickly got in the car to buy something for the Diarrhée and a screw fit joint adaptor for the pump so I could install the pump properly.

The pharmacy in nearby Brehan was very helpful and one packet of Imodium tablets later I was sorted out; the plumbing joint took much longer to solve and took more than one shop before I managed to find a joint that would fit the pump.

Back at the septic tank we connected up the pump to the existing pipework, turned it on and watched the liquid all get pumped out to the filter bed.

And then 5 seconds later I started seeing waste liquid draining back through a hole in the side wall of the concrete sump, partially filling the sump up again. Hang on, this isn't supposed to happen, the pipework is all sealed and although I've not glued the joints together yet I shouldn't have had as much leakage as we were getting.

Nothing for it but I'm going to have to dig down to expose the 40mm waste pipe from the sump to the filter bed. with the volume of liquid draining back into the sump I guessed that the pipe must have cracked so I need to find and fix the problem.

Only challenge is that the waste pipe is buried about 18 inches underground so it's a fair bit of digging required to find where the broken pipe is. Spade and trowel in hand I started digging ...

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Saturday, July 28, 2012

Plumbing progress (sort of)

After my last two blog postings I've made a bit of progress with the plumbing problems - the leaking pool and the dead septic tank pump.

Next morning I drove to Pontivy about 20 miles away from the Gite. There's a large dedicated plumbing merchant there so I was sure that I'd be able to get a new pump there.

Well the plumbers merchant wasn't successful, if they had submersible pumps I couldn't see them, and I certainly didn't feel confident in asking for one in French!

BricoMarche opposite however did have a small selection of suitable pumps, both pumps for clean water and foul, the latter of which would accept small particles in the water. Made in China of course and I bought the last one on the shelf.
BricoMarche also had some swimming pool patches including some that claimed to be adhesive under water so I could apply one without having to drain the pool. Bought a packet of these patches as well.

Back at Gite we briefly tested the new pump in the swimming pool before taking the lid off the septic sump to install it into its new home.  Disaster though, the screw thread on the outlet pipe on the new pump isn't the same size as the old one, it's about 3mm different so the new pump won't simply fit onto the existing waste pipe that leads up to the filter bed.

Meanwhile the sump is getting pretty full with smelly liquid and I need to do something about removing some of the liquid from the sump and lowering the level at least temporarily.

Hit upon the idea of connecting up a piece of flexible pipe that we normally use to connect the pump to the swimming pool, I could use this to temporarily connect the new sump pump to the existing pipework and pump some of the liquid out of the chamber and into the filter bed.

In hindsight this was a bad idea.  Concept was ok in principle but basically the flexible pipe didn't fit all that well.

Liz stood by to plug the pump into an extension lead, I lay down and tried to simultaneously lower the pump into the concrete sump whilst at the same time tried to hold the flexible pipe in place at both the top and bottom of the pipe. Unfortunately this juggling act requires 3 hands whereas I only have 2 ... so when the pump was plugged in and roared into life the bottom end of the pipe wasn't being held in place, the pressure of the pump blew the pipe off the pump and I got face full of liquid sewerage. 

Yuck, yuck, yucky.

Dried myself off, managed to get the pump to empty the liquid onto the grass and left it at that.

I couldn't even take a shower on account of all the shower water would have ended up in the fosse which would have just added to the liquid level I would have to deal with tomorrow.

The swimming pool leak can wait for another day ...

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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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Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Leaky pool problems

Having arrived at the Gite on Saturday evening, and doing our customary walk around the gardens, mainly noticing how much everything has grown in the garden (necessitating more gardening work for Liz), we saw that the pool level was down considerably, only about a foot depth of water in it. The water level has now well below the pump inlet and fortunately the pump had been unplugged so at least the pump wasnt running dry.

Shirley had told me that when she'd done the previous changeover (a week prior to our arrival) she's noticed that the pool level was down and thought that the guests having had little children had part emptied the pool so they could play in it.

Finding the pool in the same half-empty state I surmised that Shirley hadn't had time to fill it on the prior changeover so I unwound the hose and filled the pool up again.

Next morning I walked round and round the pool to see if there were any leaks in the side of the pool, and was pleased not to find any.

However the next day I noticed that the pool level had dropped again and it was then that I saw water bubbling out from under the bottom edge of the pool. Toby then found a small black hole on the bottom of the pool about a foot in from the edge.

Rats, we've got a leak in the swimming pool.


Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Beautiful crossing to France

On Saturday we set off for a 2+ week holiday in our Brittany holiday home, and it looks like we've found the summer sun at last.  We crossed over with DFDS (a very reasonable £74 for a peak summer return trip), and as we stood on the deck of the ferry it was Toby who noticed it first that we could see the hills of the French coast opposite on the other side of the channel.

I can't think of when we last crossed over in such perfect conditions, there was hardly any swell at all and as we sailed over both the UK and French coasts were visible all the way.
It's a bit small on this picture taken as we were disembarking in Calais, but if you zoom in to the harbour entrance you can see the famous white cliffs of Dover some 22 miles away.

So far in our holiday the weather has held and it's been really hot and sunny. I'm even getting a sun-tan!

And FYI, this is how the photo got uploaded with the Blogger Android app direct from my phone - yuck !

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Sunday, July 08, 2012

Caught out by Spam comment (for once)

Blogger logo
Over an average week I get two or three Spam comments on this blog, and pretty universally they are obvious for what they are - sometimes random words with embedded links in them, text often with poor English, or more recently they've been along the lines of "this is a really interesting article, your Blog has really inspired me".

Fortunately I am impressed by the Google spam comment filter which almost never mis-categorises a genuine Blog comment as spam, but conversely seems to always correctly identify the rubbish and remove it from the Blog so that all dear readers don't have to wade through it and we're just left with genuine Blog comments.

Of course I always have the administrator option to change Google's idea of what comments are spam or not, so I try to keep in the habit of marking Spam comments myself which I hope continues to "train" Google as to what is good and what is not.

But today I have to admit that I was fooled by the comment I received on the Blog and thought it was genuine.

Here it is:
Hi, I think your site might be having browser compatibility issues.
When I look at your website in Ie, it looks fine
but when opening in Internet Explorer, it has some overlapping.
I just wanted to give you a quick heads up!

Other then that, great blog!
Feel free to visit my homepage ... mens wellington boots

(I've removed the link that was on the wellington boot text)

Well sad to say I did actually go and check the Blog looked OK in Internet Explorer (and it does) before I realised that this was yet another bit of Spam ... and Google had correctly categorised it before I'd had chance to do so.

Nice try Mr Spammer but even if I'm more easily fooled, Google is just one step ahead of you!

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Thursday, July 05, 2012

Surfing whilst sailing .. or clicking whilst crossing?

Recent news in from Irish Ferries that Wifi is now free to all passengers on their Irish Sea crossings.

Having a quick comparative look at the other ferry companies to see whether they do Wifi or not, as I blogged about in 2009, NorfolkLine (now DFDS) offer free wifi to their passengers, and Brittany Ferries offer free Wifi in their port buildings but charge onboard the actual Brittany Ferry boats (at a rather steep £4 per hour or £8.50 for 3 hours).

Condor seem to only have Wifi in the Jersey port (but its free) and LD Lines seem to offer Wifi onboard the boats that Transmanche ferries operate (Côte d'Albâtre and Seven Sisters), but not the boats that sail under the LD Lines company name.

Surf's up !

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Tuesday, July 03, 2012

"Here's my alcootest", officer

It's been pretty well covered in the UK news, on TV, radio and the press (even my father phoned me up to warn me), but just in case, you may have missed that one of President Sarkozy's parting acts was introduction of a new breathalyser law that came into effect on Sunday last - 1st July 2012.

Craig over on This French Life has a link to the official French decree and warns of the incoming requirement, which is that by law you must carry an unused single use breathalyser in your car at all times and be able to produce it on demand.

Because the requirement is for the breathalyser to be unused, the general advice is that you should carry two breathalysers with you, in order to be sure that one hasn't been used.

You can of course pickup a breathalyser on the ferry on the way out to France (I think they were circa £6 each), or you could buy one on ebay UK (for about £4), or when I first looked they were on sale on ebay France for about £3 - but repeating the search today I couldn't find any at this price - just search for ethylotest or alcootest.

Alternatively you could wait until you get over to France and pick one up in a supermarket. You will probably pay around €1 to €1.50 each.

The French Police have advised that up to the 1st of November they will not be enforcing the new law and will just reminding motorists of the new obligation, but it does make sense to buy one (or two) soon to protect yourself from the Gendarmes.

Finally a reminder that this law and all other details of what you need to carry in your car whilst driving in France as well as helpful hints and tips for motoring in France is on the updated Driving in France page of our website.

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