Answering Your Septic System Questions

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Good morning Jim, I have to agree with several other folks, this site is the best on the web, made more useful because this important topic is one not familiar to many.  I'm a chemist by background, and enjoy your common-sense scientific explanations, but this topic also involves some 'handiness' some of us 'laboratorians' lack.  Thank you for taking the time--not surprisingly you appear to be in MN!  Mike H  Illinois  

Just wanted to let you know that your site rocks. I just let a deal fall through on an unbelievable property because the jerk (seller) would not let me have the septic inspected before the closing dateÖ your site totally reaffirms my beliefs and I feel better than ever I stood my ground. Thanks for a great website. Eric

Mom, Dad, We've got problems!

Mr. Von Meier: Thank you for your prompt replies. The information you supplied will prove to be extremely valuable. This is the first time I consider the internet to have provided really useful information.

I have a very important question...My 3 year old flushed $700.00 down the toilet...Is there any way to get it back..? Please respond soon..Thank You!!

Yes, I can help you...for a finder's fee.

HOW MUCH.....smile???????

Just kidding. I would remove the toilet and see if it is in the trap. Also open any traps further down the line. If not then start by opening up the inspection cover in the septic tank. There is a good chance it will be floating, then hook it with a coat hanger. If you don't find it floating then maybe it is still some where in the waste pipe. I would put a strainer over the end of the inlet pipe (in the tank) and start flushing water down the drain. If that doesn't do it try a snake or have your pumper jet the line. If it doesn't come out then ask your pumper to try pumping the tank carefully.

I would probably cut down your 3 year old's allowance. Today's kids are not very good with money anyhow. Let me know how it comes out...Jim

Well you are just a sweetheart..Can't thank you enough...Thank you again so much..you even cheered me up with your comments...Lisa

DO YOU HAVE A QUESTION ABOUT YOUR SEPTIC SYSTEM? E-Mail it to me by clicking here and I will answer it as soon as I can. If don't get back to you within 5 days I may have missed it so try resending it. 


Over the last few years I have received hundreds of emails from people that like the way I deal with the pinheads and I just got a fresh one that I think you will like...so here are a few for your reading pleasure:

Why would it not be acceptable to route the washing machine effluent away from the septic tank - say to a hole in the ground?  RR

Could you drink it?  No...because it is contaminated with soaps and even parasites and viruses and it needs to go through the treatment process.  

Jim  

Do you know the difference between ignorant and stupid?  Explain why a soap is a 'contaminate'.
Where do the parasites come from?  Do you think the "treatment process' kills viruses?
You could drink it.
Thanks pal

Ignorance is absence of facts...stupid is lacking the intellectual capacity to comprehend the facts.

Contaminates are items that create an adverse reaction to a host. 

        Soaps are a "contaminate" to humans because:
They will act as a surfactant.  In other words, it moves things through the human host so fast you won't have time to make it to the bathroom (more on these effects in a minute). 

        The more aggressive soaps, like those containing bleach, can chemically damage your body and yes, even kill you.

Soaps are a "contaminate" to the environment because:

        They have nutrient value and if these nutrients make it into a body of surface water (as they inevitably will) they will encourage plant and algae growth (a major problem in our coastal areas).

Soaps, because they generally act as a surfactant, will move parasites and viruses out of the washing machine to the point of discharge and if you are simply discharging to a hole those parasites and viruses have the potential to be spread through direct contact (children playing in it) or indirect contact (dogs rolling in it and transferring it to you when you pet them) or mosquitoes breeding in it (transfer occurring when the females feed on a mammalian host...by the way, mosquitoes have killed more people than all of the wars put together). 

As far as the source of parasites in washwater; babies/children/pets have been known to occasionally to have accidents that soil clothing and blankets with vomit and feces...even adults have had bouts of illness (or excess alcohol) that generate soiled items that require laundering.  But these parasites and viruses can also come from people blowing their noses on their sleeves or even the act of robust flatus can transfer these little items.  And for those people that are stupid enough to consume soap, well, you get the picture.  

However these critters are no match for the hostile environment in a proper soil treatment system.  Why by the time that effluent travels two feet through proper soil they are killed either through electro-chemical processes, mechanical means or they are consumed by bacteria and amoebas that naturally exist in soils.  And guess what happens to that soap...it is converted to inert organic elements.  Bonus round. 

Oh, and there is also the fact that without the dilution factor soaps will damage the soilÖbut I wonít go into that. 

And that is why you don't want to simply discharge washwater to a hole in the ground. 

So what are you...ignorant or just plain stupid?
 
Jim

And here is a classic

I wrote you last week about my septic tank problems. You told me to do this tune-up. Having my tank and leechfield cleaned is going run $175. The filters are going to cost me $300 and that septic seep stuff is another $50 and you don't even garentee this will work. Then I would be out $500 and still need a new system. What kind of advice is that. You are full of $&(#.

Oh yes, I remember your email. In fact I still have a copy. You are the pinhead that boasted, "I gotta real good deal on my septic system when i build my house 8 years ago because the contracter misunderstod me and put in a bigger system than the law requiered and i didnt approve it." You also stated, "I saved a lotta money by not having my tank pumped because I use XXXXX that I flush down toilet once a month."

In fact, the entire gist of your correspondence was about what a cheap clod you were and how you took actual glee in chiseling people and taking shortcuts. Per your assessment of my advice: It was just that, advice. And free advice I might add. No one is saying you need to follow it. And since avoidance of capital expenditures is paramount to you, I would think you would have appreciated the method of which I suggested you proceed. I suggested you start with the CHEAPER processes first rather than, god forbid, you should have to pay for a total replacement. Even if the tune up doesn't work and you do need to replace part or all of your system, you will still be able to use the filters so all you would be out is $200. I would much rather put up $200 to see if I could save $5,000. But I guess you are too stupid to see that. Would it make you feel better if I paid for this? I think you can guess where I would suggest you put that proposal. And to be totally frank, I hope your system is shot and the next contractor gets even with you for skinning the first contractor. By the way, you should start using spell and gramer check you acehole.


Here is a more normal email

Dear Jim, I saw you on a TV program about 3 years ago talking about septic systems. What really caught my attention was when you were talking about the damages washing machines do to a system. I have 4 children (5 if you count my husband) and do lots of laundry. I got one of the filters for the washing machine but my husband made me send it back saying it was a gimmick. Last year our 5 year old septic failed. We had brown, stinky water in the yard and basement. I did a search on the net and found your webpage. You gave me several suggestions to try but my husband would not even listen. Instead he went to the home center and started buying chemicals. For months he kept buying and pouring this stuff into the toilets. It did not work.

Eventually the environmental officer learned of our failing system (I think the neighbors complained) and told us to have a new one put in right away. Because we have a small yard we have been forced to put in an elevated sand mound system. The cost about $13,000. When I asked the septic man what caused our system to fail he said because we do too much laundry and the lint plugged it up. He even showed us how this stuff was coating everything. I gave my husband a big "I told you so!" but he still wonít allow me to put on a filter. This really set us back and I donít want to replace another septic system. What can I do to protect this system? N. J.

divorce your husband...or take him out to the backyard and rub his face in the old system (like a puppy that just had an accident on the carpet). maybe he will get the picture because you are right, lint from the washing machine is one of the big reasons systems fail. i hate to say this but your situation is not unique. a husband or wife will want to take care of their system but the spouse opposes many of the steps they want to implement. men seem to be entrenched in the old days and ways...if the toilet flushes it must be working and if it ainít broke, donít fix it. and anytime someone suggests something like pumping the tank or putting filters on the system they figure, "You are just trying to get me to spend money so it has to be a scam" and say no dice. women donít want a filter in their laundry room because it doesnít match the decor or donít want to talk about septic systems in the first place, "Thatís my husbandís area...talk to him about it."

Americans in particular are an innovative lot and are known for looking for short cuts. go back a few generations...in the 20ís and 30ís people didnít have a lot of extra income and you had to make do with what you had...sometimes just putting one meal a day on the table was a major accomplishment so you didnít waste money on frivolous items and you fixed what you had yourself. with the prosperity of the 50ís and 60ís, we got to the convenience stage...automatic washers, toasters, microwaves, dishwashers, etc. and we expect things to be easy...and when it came to the septic systems, no one wanted to be bothered. But this is why there are so many problems with failing septic systems, very few people have bothered to learn about them.

however the news is not all bad. more people are starting to realize that a septic system is part of the home and needs to be taken care of. this is why many of the systems going in over the last 10-20 years have the potential to last indefinitely...we have learned how to design systems better and many people are getting smart, they are learning and willing to take care of their systems. the fact is, if you want your system to last, you donít overload it with water and chemicals, you donít put things down the drain that are non-biodegradable, you have the tank pumped and inspected on a regular schedule and you protect the soil from getting plugged-up with solids by using filters to keep these solids out of the drainfield. these things are so obvious that most people slap their foreheads and say they should have thought of this themselves...but there will always be the obstinate, contumacious, stubborn, implacable, inexorable, intractable, reckless, pinheads that think they have all the answers and will not listen to anybody. of course these are the same people that smoke 3 packs of Lucky Strikes a day for 30 years then say the doctors are full of it when they tell them they have lung cancer.

Per your problem/solution: start taking your laundry to a laundromat, or get ready to tell your husband "I told you so" again, or put a filter on the washing machine and tell him "tough"...you are going to be needing it more than ever because you are going to be washing more bedding because one of you is going to be sleeping on the couch until he starts treating you as an equal partner (capable of making rational decisions that affect the household) instead of a domestic servant that needs his permission to make a purchase. Good luck...Jim PS. The last i heard women had the right to vote and everything.


If you are building, buying, or have a home with a septic tank system, do yourself a favor and take the time to learn about your septic tank system. It won't cost you anything, but it could save you thousands of dollars, protect your environment and prevent serious health problems! A properly designed septic tank system can treat waste water better than most sewage treatment plants, at a fraction of the cost to you, and can last indefinitely. But you have to learn how to use them properly and take steps to protect them. The biggest problem with septic systems is, no one has bothered to teach people how to use them. A septic tank system is no different than your car or VCR, use it wrong, it will break. There are things you should be aware of when it comes to septic tank systems...Like when and how to pump a tank, types of cleaners you should avoid, what never to flush down the drain, etc. And as for the magic elixir everybody tries to sell you...forget about it. There are no short cuts. The only thing that will prevent a system failure is, knowing how your system operates, common sense, maintenance, and taking preventative steps to protect your system.

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