Surprise Septic Tank!

So on Tuesday we’re getting ourselves ready for the work day and the kids ready for their school day when a truck pulls up with an excavator on a trailer.

The view out the kitchen window Tuesday morning.
The view out the kitchen window Tuesday morning.

Uh-oh. Chuck wasn’t kidding when he said he would dig today.

Right now we are waiting on a Heritage Alteration Permit (which in our case is mostly a formality) until we can apply for a building permit. However, the engineering department won’t let a Building Permit be issued until we get done what we promised we would: install a new storm sewer connection. We have put the money in already, now the city crews have to do their thing on the City side of the property line (we will connect to it after the new foundation is done). Only they can’t do their thing until we tell them how deep and where exactly we would like the connection to be. Are you with me?

That is why, even though we will not be ready for at least another 6 weeks to start work, there was an excavator at our house on Tuesday. We need to give the city a depth so we need to know if there is anything we’re going to run into when we dig the basement deeper.

The perimeter drain leads to the fence just behind the firehydrant.
The perimeter drain leads to the fence just behind the fire hydrant.

While I was at work the excavator dug at three corners of the house. In the front yard he found where the perimeter drain connects to the existing storm drain. Daryl said it was blocked. I didn’t think the perimeter drain connected to anything and I’m not surprised it was blocked.

At the opposite corner of the house–the corner that started all the trouble, the one beside the bathroom– the excavator found a buried treasure. A concrete box. Chuck was pretty sure it was a septic tank. They stopped digging. He said we should probably empty it before they dig any more. I don’t blame him.

When I got home I found three corners chewed up and some tracks leading around the house.


And I found the mystery box.

This is what I found when I came home from work.
This is what I found when I came home from work.

I had never seen one, so I had no idea what I would find when I started digging.

We have no record of a septic tank anywhere, but it makes sense there was one. When Leanne’s grandfather built the house in 1923 they used a well for water and, presumably, an outhouse. When running water became available, the shed addition was built on with a back porch, a kitchen pantry and a bathroom. There was no municipal sewer yet, however, so they needed a septic tank.

And this is definitely a septic tank–probably about 80 years old.

Definitely a septic tank--NOT a hot tub!
Definitely a septic tank–NOT a hot tub!

DSCN2600But don’t worry, that poop is very very old and not smelly at all. Really! The reddish colour comes from the rust of all the tin cans that were in the larger tank. Other treasures I found were various glass vessels. It was like an archeological dig!

Dave the father-in-law said that the roof of the septic tank would have been wood, which explains the chunks of old wood I found. The tanks were clearly filled in with dirt and other stuff that was lying around–a time-capsule of sorts–and then disconnected.

It was fun discovering the various pipes, not knowing how a septic tank works, and guessing where they lead.

The thin pipe entering the tank from the top of the frame is probably a drain pipe from the gutter above. I thought it would lead to the house but it turned upward and stopped.DSCN2592

I dug under the wall and was reminded just how crazy it is that the wall hangs out over the concrete foundation wall. This is one of the issues we wanted to solve when we started talking about renovating the bathroom.

DSCN2595DSCN2594The diagram of a typical septic tank tells me that the big pipe entering the big tank on the right is the in pipe where the “black water” enters and the one on the left leads to the septic field. That seems weird to me, but I didn’t have the time or energy for more digging that day.

Maybe I can wait until there is an excavator on site.

The sewer pipe that is crossing horizontally above the tank in the photo was a bit of a mystery, until I looked inside the house. Here is the basement door and the other side of that wall after I covered up the holes I dug.DSCN2601
Here is the concrete wall and the wall that hangs next to it, (completely unsupported).DSCN2602
Follow that wall to where the main part of the basement opens up and you will find this concrete sink. It is high to allow it to drain down into the septic field(?). Leanne’s grandmother, Anna, was short however, so there was a high wooden platform placed under the sink when we moved in so that she could reach the taps. I don’t know where it is now.DSCN2604
We always wondered where the water from that sink drained! Now we know a little more at least.

Published by

James Rowley

James lives in Maple Ridge, BC, Canada with his amazing partner, Leanne Koehn, and their two amazing kids in their beautiful house. He studied Science and English Literature at the University of British Columbia where he met Leanne. He also studied acting for a while at Studio 58 in Vancouver. He works as a teacher of English and curriculum writer for new Canadians.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *