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Small Cabin Forum / Off-Grid Living / Septic: black water holding tank filling ridiculously fast
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# Posted: 16 Feb 2020 09:29

Hi everyone

My husband and I are new to the Cayamant area. We purchased our 4 season cottage in September of 2019.

We knew the owners had just replaced the septic tank (3 months previously) when we purhased. We were given all the documents at the time of sale, including a municipal septic inspection sign off, so we opted not to do our own septic inspection.

The septic installed has black and grey water separated. The black water is a holding tank. We came up for 3 weekends before winter in 2019, and in the third weekend the septic alarm went off. We knew it was unusual and called a company to come clear it out but we didnt know who to go to in order to figure out why it filled so fast considering the tank was 3 months old.

Now it is Februrary and again, we have been here 3 weekends and the alarm went off again in the middle of winter.

I'm hoping some of you can help direct/guide us on where to go as this is the first time we have a septic! Here are my questions.

1) can we get the tank pumped in winter?
2) what steps do we need to take to figure out what the issue is and get it resolved?
3) does anyone know a trustworthy professional in the Cayamant/Gracefield area they can refer us to?
4) since the municipality inspected the unit to ensure it was installed properly less than a year ago, are they liabel at all for whatever the issue is?

Thanks to anyone who is willing to take the time to help guide us I'm the right direction!!

# Posted: 16 Feb 2020 10:30 - Edited by: ICC

Quoting: Cottagerocks
The septic installed has black and grey water separated. The black water is a holding tank.

The black water is a holding tank, so it does need to be pumped out as it fills. What does the grey water do? Is it a separate tank that actually leaches into the ground? Do not confuse septic tanks with holding tanks. What is the capacity of the holding tank?

There is probably nothing wrong with the system. I have family with a cottage that uses a holding tank system. It needs pumping out almost monthly in the busy time of the year. It's not a true septic system. Septic systems have leach fields. That would be an area on the ground where vehicles can not be driven --- sometimes the ground will be marked and have signs to not drive there.

The septic tank operates full and waste biodegrades in the tank. Treated water slowly flows out into the leach field when water is added to the septic tank. True septic tanks may need a pump out infrequently just to get rid of solid matter that settles. A holding tank like yours needs to be emptied out as the waste water does not have a leach field.

There are many places in "lake country" where the water table is too high to permit a septic tank to be installed.

To reduce pumping frequency with a holding tank all you can do is reduce the quantity of water flushed. Is the toilet a low flush model?

The sales agreement should have disclosed this process.

# Posted: 16 Feb 2020 11:32

Sounds about normal to me,. the only source of water is from you. Its not like coming in from a neighbor or rainfall. Make sure no toilets running etc. I know a person who lives on salt water and they have holding tanks and its just done on a routine service like garbage pickup. Its just 2 of them and about every 3 weeks. So you lolligag in the shower? How about wet down, shut water off, lather up, then rinse. Install low flow shower head. Washing clothes uses lots of water too. Cleaning dishes in sink, is water just running as you rinse or do you turn it off and on?

You are going to have to figure maybe a pick up every 2 weeks should do it.

# Posted: 16 Feb 2020 13:20 - Edited by: jhp

Holding tanks can be anywhere from 200 to 2000 gallons, just look at your documents to see what size it is. From there you need to calculate how much water you're sending to it.

If you're used to city water service, or even a private septic system with a leach field, you will probably be surprised to see how much water you really use. With city service it just "disappears" and with a private system everything but the solids will eventually filter through the leach field and return to groundwater.

A traditional septic might need to be pumped out every couple of years if it's just the solids. But a holding tank only, especially if it's catching shower water, laundry, etc yeah you might need to pump it out once a month depending on how big it is.

Two people taking a 10 minute shower under a low-flow 2GPM head is 40 gallons a day, 280 gallons a week, or 1120 gallons a month.

A modern toilet flushed 10 times a day is about 350 gallons a month. One load a week in a high efficiency washer is another 120 gallons. In short, yeah it wouldn't take long to fill up even a very large holding tank of a couple thousand gallons.

I'd say scrutinize your water usage - instead of installing a low flow head, like toyota_mdt_tech said, probably consider installing a quick shut off for $5 valve so you can get wet, lather up, rinse off, and get your 20 gallon shower down to like 2-3. Consider switching to an outdoor shower in the warmer months if you can.

To answer your questions, sure you can get the tank pumped in the winter, you just need to make sure the access hatch is clear of snow and they can get to it. Unless you have a toilet running constantly or something it doesn't sound like there really is any issue to fix. Finally even if there was a problem, the municpality isn't liable for anything, they're just there to make sure the system is compliant as far as how it is installed per code/regulations, not how it is performing.

They care that it is a properly sized and designed system, meets standards for the soil type and water table, that its located so far from drinking water sources and that sort of thing.

# Posted: 16 Feb 2020 21:23

I had an issue with my holding tank filling faster than I thought, turned out to be a slowly leaking toilet, couldn't tell till I put a little food coloring in the tank, it showed almost immediately in the bowl.

# Posted: 18 Feb 2020 07:42

What feeds the black tank? Just the toilet? The shower and sinks? How many gallons is the tank? Is there a crack in the tank and high ground water or the lid off and allowing surface water in?

A holding tank is prob the worst type of "septic system you can have. I bet paying to have the tank pumped will get real old and expensive quick. How much does a pumping cost?

Here a 1,000gal costs roughly $350

# Posted: 28 Feb 2020 02:36 - Edited by: SpyingOnMyKeystrokes

Quoting: ICC
It needs pumping out almost monthly in the busy time of the year. It's not a true septic system.

How expensive is a pump out like that, typically?

# Posted: 28 Feb 2020 08:15

Quoting: Brettny
Here a 1,000gal costs roughly $350

In my area, new housing areas in water sensitive areas use holding tanks, no septic or sewer and its like garbage service, pick up either 2 weeks, or a month depending on your usage. My brother in law lives in one of these areas and the cost is cheaper than normal sewer service. But the truck is in the area daily, alternating on pickups (not everyone does the same day like garbage service) so the truck is always in the area daily. Holding tanks have riser lids, easily accessible.

# Posted: 28 Feb 2020 09:57

maybe just me but I always find it kind of rude when someone comes here, posts a question, gets a bunch of input and never comes back again to read them. Or if they did couldn't be bothered to even say thanks.

# Posted: 29 Feb 2020 20:58

Quoting: FishHog
maybe just me but I always find it kind of rude

Yes, because the answer will also help others or let us know the issue is/was resolved and closed, so we dont keep trying to help or know what worked for the fix.

# Posted: 29 Feb 2020 21:10

Missed it by 3 posts. Thanks. $350 sounds insanely expensive (or maybe a really good business I could start! LOL), especially if you're not using a black and grey water system. I don't pee in the shower, so that could probably be turned into water for a garden, like an earthship.

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