Well, all that changed last week, when during the course of some fairly routine and minor bathroom renovations, the whole issue came (ahem) to the surface. Within the space of a day, the cost of the internal improvements was eclipsed by the unplanned expenses outside, my back yard and garden were transformed into a smelly version of a mining site, I was introduced to a whole new subculture, and I learned more than I really wanted to about post-flush events.
But fear not. I do not propose to share my new-found knowledge. The above account is merely to introduce the subject of yet another scam to which the innocent public can easily fall prey.
It goes like this:
- Householder notices unpleasant smell (or worse) indicating the septic system may be malfunctioning.
- Householder calls trusty plumber, whose exorbitant fees are more than justified by some of the jobs he has to do.
- Trusty plumber fiddles around with long bendy rods, plungers, and other mysterious items and announces that "The system must be blocked". Householder nods nervously, thinking back over what could possibly have been introduced to the system to block it, and by whom.
- Trusty plumber disappears into the garden and starts stabbing crossly at the ground until he eventually finds the long-buried concrete tank.
- Said tank is then excavated (usually by apprentice plumber), with blithe disregard for any plants or paths in the vicinity.
- Having refreshed himself with the householder's tea and cake while the apprentice worked, the plumber now rolls up his sleeves, lifts the lid off the tank and investigates.
- The householder, faint with horror and embarrassment at what might be discovered, has retreated to a quiet darkened room to await the verdict.
- Plumber returns, wiping hands ineffectually on dirty rag, and announces "I found the problem. Your tank's full. You need to get it pumped out as soon as possible - I'll arrange it if you like." Weak with gratitude at not being invited to come and see for themselves, the householder accepts.
- Huge smelly truck duly arrives the following day, a long wide-bore hose is unfurled, and distressingly graphic noises over the next hour or so indicate that the household waste is finally leaving the property.
- The large account is promptly paid by the grateful householder, who is then left to spend the rest of the day re-burying the tank and trying to restore the garden.
- Repeat every few years as required.
Here are the true facts, which I learned from someone who opted out of this lucrative arrangement:
- Provided the system is working correctly, a septic tank for a 2-person household should not need to be pumped out any more frequently than every 10-15 years if at all. For a larger household, the interval may be as short as 5-7 years, but no more often than that. So now you know.