Most people think that all septic contractors are the same. That our only difference is the price. And this cannot be further from the truth.
Competitor who is much cheaper decommissioned this septic tank and hooked up this house to city sewer. Reason for this was the client wanted to build an addition over his septic system, which is not allowed, so hooking up to city sewer was required.
Septic tank was not decommissioned correctly, and now the client wants to sell his home.
Home Inspector climbs under the house to inspect the crawlspace and sees that the footing for a support beam is about 4 inches lower than the beam. Indicating that the ground beneath the footing is sinking. This was a red flag to him. It didn’t take long for him to realize that there might be an old septic tank down there collapsing. He said it was time to refer the experts.
Which is where we come in. I removed the plastic off of the area. You can see a crack in the dirt around the area of the lid of the septic tank. It’s a 6 foot diameter sinkhole, which is the diameter of the septic tank precisely.
The client saved $1,200 by having the cheaper competitor hook up his house to city sewer. But now the floors need cut in the house, so flooring contractors will be involved. General contractor as well. Then the tank redug out, tank mechanically collapsed upon itself with guys with jackhammers. Finally to be filled with pea gravel and recovered with dirt.
This will be in the thousands of dollars. I don’t have to do the math for you on this one.
When hiring a contractor, check online reviews, check with friends and neighbors, check BBB.org, look at how long has the company been in business.
Client is selling his home. He’s not having any problems, but he needs a real estate inspection so he can complete his transaction to the new buyers. The client thought he had done everything right. Made sure that there was an opening for when his tank needed pumped. Unfortunately he didn’t put in enough access holes into his concrete pad. It took two hours of running the concrete saw and the jackhammer to get into the lid of this septic tank.
These things can be avoided if you hire a licensed septic tank contractor to advise locations of all of your underground components.
If you searched this up, I hope you can learn this expensive lesson before you start pouring concrete.
This post will probably apply more to real estate agents and home flippers. If you’re in the Clark, Cowlitz, or Skamania County areas, there have been drastic changes at our treatment plants.
Treatment plants is where we dispose of the septic tanks when you order them to be cleaned.
Homeowners need to be aware too, but most of the time, homeowners usually know better.
The treatment plant will only accept wastewater if it has the “Three P’s”.
paper (Toilet paper, no flushable wipes or hygiene products)
Now what does this mean to real estate agents and home flippers? It means that if the contractors are washing their tools down into the septic tank, when it comes time for the pumping, the load will be rejected by the Wastewater Treatment Plant.
Now all flippers and real estate agents will say, “I have never heard of that?” And you would be correct. This rule came to us December 1st, 2018. To be implemented immediately.
So we arrived at a house on friday the 14th. Real Estate transaction. Real estate flipper is flipping the home. Every contractor that worked their washed all of their tools down the drains and into the septic tank. When we arrived we could see that the water had turned white and chemical smells were coming out of the tank pretty bad.
We decided not to pump the tank at this time. Because if we did, that truck would not be able to work for the next week as we tried to find a place that will accept this mixed load of hazardous material and human waste. We cannot shut a truck down that long. What do we do with the driver that can’t work? I hope you can understand the predicament we would have put ourselves in if we had pumped that septic tank.
Now we have a place in Portland, Oregon that will accept the load. But cost is not known at this time. I have to discharge the load with them and they need to run samples on the sewage to find all of the chemicals in the sewage. Once they can identify the chemicals, they have a process to remove each one. Once the chemicals are removed, the load can go to the treatment plant.
We have to remember. The treatment plant is a living device. The plant operators sole goal while working, “Keep the bacteria alive and healthy.” Outside of that, if there’s hazardous chemicals in the truck. Load is denied.
Now what does that mean for garbage? Diaper wipes and hygiene products. At this time the plant will still accept those, but at a higher cost of labor and potential of us having to enter our tanks to remove it.
You see, our trucks were designed to handle the “Three P’s” , just like our wastewater treatment plant. We just have a 4 inch valve at the back of our trucks, and gravity takes it out of our trucks, and into the plant. If there’s garbage, we have to empty into a screen/garbage separator. And it’s not cheap. According to the plant operators, diaper wipes broke a $25,000 auger screw two months ago.
Hello there septic system owners. This blog post is about trees and what they do to your septic system. But in this case it’s just the septic tank that stopped working. They can do all sorts of damage.
This client has been warned for many years. 10 years ago roots had started infiltrating the seams of the septic tank. At that time the client was told it would be a good idea to cut the trees down by the septic tank. But client saw “Root Kill” for septic systems.
So here’s a little education on septic systems and root kill additives. Root kill additives are meant to be put directly into the drainfield. Flushing them down the toilet, into the septic tank doesn’t do any good. None of the additive will reach the drainfield. It’s even on the package to add it directly to the drainfield. And it does work when applied to the inlet line going to the drainfield, from the septic tank.
So for over the next 10 years this client added Root Kill into her septic system by flushing them down the toilet. The roots continued to grow without the client knowing. Until one day the system stopped working. Below we tried to break up the roots a little bit with tool called the crustbuster. Of course it didn’t work, but I was willing to try anything to not have to go inside this septic tank. But it did mix up the sludge on the floor so the vacuum truck to suck it out, and I wasn’t wading up to my knees in sewage.
Now the client wasn’t backing up just yet. But was selling their house. During a real estate inspection for the buyer, we removed the lids and saw the root damage. The buyer could see that these roots couldn’t possible be good for the septic system, and could see that the roots have stopped the whole tank from working as it should. Buyer decided that he wasn’t going to purchase the home until the problem was fixed. Now here’s a little lesson on Real Estate Transactions. Once a problem has been discovered about anything, the seller and the Realtor must disclose this condition to any trying to buy the home. So needless to say, most people would not buy a home with a septic system in this condition.
So now comes time for the repair. We had to take a shovel and chop a hole through the roots to get a hose to the bottom of the tank. The pumper sucked out the best it could and then it’s time for “Confined Space Entry”.
We have the canopy set up as it’s raining pretty bad. We have a tripod set up. This is what lowers me into the septic tank and pulls me out. I wear a harness that connects to that tripod. I have blowers pushing fresh air down to me, and I wear an air monitor that monitors the air I am breathing. Anything goes wrong the guy manning the tripod would crank me out of the hole.
Once lowered in you can see the damage it created.
I was down there for two hours. Cutting roots with shovels and pretty much wrecking my sawsall. But they needed to come out.
About half way during this procedure I did need a break. This job is the worst root job I have had to this date. I spent over 2 hours down there, and it was exhausting. I can feel it in my body now about 18 hours since this job happened. I am sure to be sore.
So when your septic technician let’s you know that you should remove plants/trees/shrubs, he/she is trying to save you money. Because even though this is a “Job”, or maybe even “Job Protection”, it’s one that none of us want to do. We are also trying to save you money. This expense. This tree root removal job cost the client about $1,600.00 and could have been avoided by simply removing the trees. And make no mistake about it, if they don’t remove these two trees, we’ll be back. Because the trees know that there’s free water right there and fertilizer.
Most important is that this is a job none of us want to do. It’s really gross to be wading around sewage with creepy crawly worms and stuff, spiders, and everything else you can image. I for one came out a different man then when I went in. I may need therapy to help me forget this job. It was a nightmare.
Here’s another story for the “I cannot make this stuff up file.”
Let’s talk fees for a second. Our “Service Call Fee” is $125.00. That fee get’s our truck on site and starts working for emergencies. But then we go by the hour plus parts until we are done.
There are other guys out there that’ll do a $75.00 service call.
We lose some work to this problem over the phone. One needs to understand the difference.
So let me set up this senario that happened yesterday.
Client calls up a service call by competitor. It’s $85, super cheap. But when they show up to replace a 2 foot section of pipe underground was bid out at $1,200. And it’s only 24 inches underground.
Client didn’t call me because that’s something I don’t really do. It’s the pipe between the house and the septic tank called the “Transport Line”
Client calls me up and asks if I do this type of work, I say no. Not really. But he tells me the bid, and my jaw drops. That can’t be right, I must be missing something.
I told him I would do it. But be prepared it could cost $600-$800 dollars. I’m shooting from the hip here, as I am not there looking at it.
I arrive. Service Call is $125.00 to get there. I dig out the line, 1.5 hours of labor. 2 fittings and a section of pipe and bentonite clay, was about $50.00. We used the client’s own gravel to bed the pipe.
His bill was under $400.00. Still far under my “Over-the-phone-shooting-from-the-hip” of $600-800.
And way super less expensive than the $1,200 bid from competitor.
Food-for-thought. $125 service call isn’t that bad anymore.
This homeowner did not want to divert water by digging rain drains and ditches. Super nice yard, didn’t want dug up.
One option is to trench the water to off of the tanks and direct water downhill. Frenchdrains work great for this too. But in this case, the homeowner’s yard would have been destroyed to his house as that’s where the raindrains are, down hill.
So we chose another alternative means to divert groundwater and rainwater off of his septic tank.
This is another option, put in a dry well to a pump. This is a rough backfill, because the area is super soppy. It will need cleaned up better when dryer weather is back.
This system just sits plugged in and waiting. Costs nothing to run when water levels are low. But when water levels come up and it starts raining hard, the pump will kick on and send the water away from the septic.
This septic emergency was because of lack of maintenance.
This client was under the impression that you never need to pump the septic system, unless it’s giving you trouble. He adds septic tank additives every months. It’s never giving him a problem before.
Unfortunately, over 8 years, it completely packed with solids. All a septic tank does is separate liquids from solids and allow liquids to enter the drainfield. If the septic tank get’s too full, it will allow solids to enter the drainfield, and cause it to fail. This homeowner thought he was taking very good care of his system. No garbage disposal. Doesn’t flush any garbage at any time. Just toilet paper. Added septic additives. He was shocked to see that the system is now failed. It filled up with water, and the drainfield could not accept any water, and backed up within minutes of pumping the septic tank. Now the entire system will need to be replaced with a system that’s up to code.
This septic system failure could have been easily avoided by cleaning the septic tank every 4-6 years.
Estimated cost of system replacement $8,000-$13,000 if county allows replacement. The county may require city sewer hook up because it’s close. Estimated cost to hook up to city sewer $18,000 to $25,000. Estimated cost of pumping a septic tank every 4-6 years $380.00.
Here is an example of what a video of a septic inspection for a real estate transaction where a video is required. This buyer called us to inspect this system and didn’t know where the components were, and this house was Bank Owned.
This inspection cost this buyer $135.00, “Cowlitz County” rate. No additional charges to find the tank, nor dig it out. Although, this lid was super duper heavy, and I required the homeowner’s assistance to get that lid off.
The video attached is a video of a Nu Water Aerobic Treatment Plant by Enviro-flo.
The reason we need to have this level of treatment was for the stream and high ground water in this area. We need to protect our surface and ground water from contamination. The neighbors well is pretty close as well, so in order to have a home this close this homeowner agreed to have annual maintenance to this system.
Now annual maintenance does not mean it needs pumped out every year. It just needs monitoring to ensure that we are not contaminating surface and ground water.
We take DO (Dissolved Oxygen) measurements. This tells us how much Oxygen is dissolved into the water for the Aerobic Bacteria. A low DO reading would indicate that something was wrong, and I would need to diagnose what.
We also take a Turbidity measurement as well. Turbidity is a measurement of how much particulates are in the water being released into the drainfield. It is measured in NTU or Nephelometric Turbidity Units. Basically our meter passes light through the sample as is able to tell how much light makes it to the receiver. If the sample is foggy, it will be a high reading. In this case, it’s near drinking water. .77 NTU or less than 1 NTU.
This system here is Level B treatment. There is no Disinfection unit to clean or take care of, because this site didn’t require Level A Treatment.
Also, this system is functioning perfectly. And will continue to do so as long as it is maintained. It is normal to pump out the first two compartments every 2-3 years or so. As to not have excessive solids build up in the plant.
Also note: this is a wastewater treatment plant. Not too unlike a commercial plant like your city wastewater treatement plant. The commercercial plant has operators there 24 hours a day 7 days a week monitoring it’s levels and ensuring the community and the environment that it is releasing pure water into the rivers and streams.
This client’s plant is a “Residential” version of the “Commercial” plant. It is agreed that once per year should be okay for maintenance. But make no mistake about it. This system was very expensive and will not “Self Clean” or “Take Care” of itself.
The repairs to a plant that is neglected can reach 10’s of thousands of dollars. And 100% of the time, the client won’t know damage is being done, until it’s too late and toilets no longer flush, or sewage is backing up in the yard.
Annual inspections only run $110 dollars in Clark County, Wa. All of our rates are clearly posted on our website at http://www.firstcallseptic.com/rates/
If anyone has any other questions or needs advice, please feel free to send me an email, or leave a comment here.