Gransnet forums

Ask a gran

Septic Tanks

(26 Posts)
tiggers Sat 10-Aug-19 07:14:10

Dear All

We have always been on mains drains.

Considering moving to a property without. Septic tank instead.

Need some advice please.

If you have one, does it make the garden smell periodically (depending on weather/temperature etc), how often should it be emptied? Have been told you cannot clean your toilets using bleach and that you have to use special sort of loo rolls.

Any useful information on septic tanks and related "fors and againsts" would be most gratefully received.

Thanking you all in advance.

Calendargirl Sat 10-Aug-19 07:48:51

We lived in the country when I was younger, always had a septic tank. Used ordinary toilet rolls. My father used to say a good septic tank would break down the solids ( sorry if you’re eating) using the bacteria produced, which is why bleach is not helpful as it stops the bacteria working. If it’s properly sealed and working well shouldn’t need emptying too often, maybe every two years? But depends on how many live at the property.

Nowadays a search online should give useful information. Being on mains sewerage is obviously more convenient, but many people live in rural areas and manage perfectly well with a septic tank.

Hope this is helpful.

🚽

Calendargirl Sat 10-Aug-19 07:52:41

Also meant to say if it starts smelling, probably needs emptying! Years ago, septic tanks were dug and bricked out and concreted in. My husband says now they are big plastic containers sunk in the ground. Times change, so depends on how old your prospective tank is.

EllanVannin Sat 10-Aug-19 09:01:43

Known as " jobbie bashers " in Oz.
On my first visit in the early 80's I encountered one of these things. The tank was in the garden of a bungalow which belonged to my D's ma-in-law and one day it went wrong. I don't know what happened as I'd been out shopping only to return to the front garden littered in toilet paper. Wet tissues strewn over the shrubs and gladioli's.

I found it amusing and started to laugh, having visualised an explosion ( methane ) and when the chap from the sanitary department came to fix it I was still stifling laughs because ma-in-law had sausage rolls in the oven and had dared me to ask the workmen if they wanted one !

M0nica Sat 10-Aug-19 09:17:38

Our French holiday home has a septic tank. The most important thing to do is check that the septic tank in this property meets all current legislative requirements governing septic tanks and is large enough to cope with the effluent from the property it serves when that property is fully occupied. Possibly an inspection and report from a suitably qualified engineer might be a good idea.

We had our septic tank replaced about 10 years ago because it was insufficient in size and had a new one put in that met every legislative requirement. In France it has to be inspected and given a certificate of approval every 5-10 years. The body doing this has the wonderful acronym SPANC

As far as using it goes, we use it much as we would when on mains drainage as at home in the UK. Usual toilet paper, we use bleach, but I do check all cleaning materials I use just in case they are not recommended for septic tanks, but so far so good.

In the 10 years since the new system was installed, we have had no problems of any sort with ur system, despite pretty heavy use in holiday times for six weeks at a time.

We have been told the system needs pumping out about every 15 years. Longer, for us as it used far less than normal over a year.

M0nica Sat 10-Aug-19 09:18:19

Forgot to say, we have never had any problems with odours, even in the hottest weather.

chocolatepudding Sat 10-Aug-19 09:35:17

We moved to a cottage in rural East Anglia nearly 40 years ago and had to adapt to a septic tank. I asked at the council offices for advice and was told use just a little of everything - bleach, detergent, Flash, shampoos. No sanitary products, biological washing powders or bubble bath - and I would add no wipes or baby nappy liners. If you have to have the tank emptied then throw a dead cat or chicken into the empty tank to get things digesting again. We never had to have the tank emptied so I must have got it right.
After 7 years the neighbouring mill was converted into flats and our drains were connected to a new larger septic tank which serves 15 households. I won't bore you with the number of blocked drains we have suffered as we are the lowest point on the system and therefore the first to notice. I would still say no biological washing powder, no sanitary products or wipes, use a little bleach and dilute well. Good luck!

Luckygirl Sat 10-Aug-19 09:41:35

I cannot remember the last house we had where we did not have a septic tank! All that is needed is to be a bit careful with the products you bung down there and all should be plain sailing. We had ours emptied only once during 25 years at our previous property; and once here.

We did once have to do some repairs when a spreader pipe got blocked, but that is very rare. We got some guys to dig it up and there came a moment when the blockage was breached and a huge fountain of s* shot up in the air in a fountain. My OH's comment was: "It's not mine; it's all hers!", pointing to me - what a gent!

sodapop Sat 10-Aug-19 09:41:42

Most rural properties have them in France tiggers. If properly installed and maintained they should not smell and require minimum maintenance. Bleach is not advised and there are cleaning products specifically for septic tanks. There is quite a lot of legislation about these in France but I don't know about the system in UK. They are an effective way of disposing of waste if you are not on mains drainage. Not cheap to install though.

tanith Sat 10-Aug-19 09:41:56

A dead cat I hope that was said in jest!

Welshwife Sat 10-Aug-19 09:44:30

Our septic tank is a very old one and we have in fact three systems here - a tank for the loo, a grey water system for house waste water from sinks etc and a third system for rainwater which goes directly into the ditch outside the garden. Our system has been checked a number of times and has always passed the new EU checks and works very well. I never put any bleach products in the loo and I only ever buy white toilet paper and not the very thick quilted type. Any out of date yoghurt or similar does go down there as that helps with the activation.
The newer fosses are for all the waste water in the house and will accept bleach products etc. If the fosse is a plastic one it needs to be sited sensibly as if in an area where there is a lot of traffic they can be caused to collapse - we know people who bought a house where the fosse was just outside a barn which became converted to a garage and the fosse was under the drive into the garage and it did collapse!!!
Our fosse has no smell and when the lid is off it is remarkably clean. One which is used for shorter periods rather than all the time can sometimes cause problems as the earth around the pipes becomes dry and does not distribute the water so well for a while.

Bordersgirl57 Sat 10-Aug-19 09:46:39

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

NotSpaghetti Sat 10-Aug-19 09:48:58

We had a new tank in a rented rural house in the very late 90s. It replaced the brick type with a massive “flask”. It looked like a huge ball with a longish funnel. Nothing was done (to my knowledge) to “prime” the tank but it was fine and never emptied in my time there.
Never had any smells - not even from the brick one.

aggie Sat 10-Aug-19 09:49:49

Not a jest Tanith it starts the bacteria necessary for the workings

M0nica Sat 10-Aug-19 09:58:52

No need to use dead cats these days, there are suitable activator powders that can be purchased form a suitable supplier.

In France where many rural properties have septic tanks they can be bought in every supermarket. Because, as a holiday home, ours gets only intermittent use, we sling the contents of a couple of activator packets at the beginning of each visit. As i said, we have never had a problem with it.

ecci53 Sat 10-Aug-19 09:59:11

We have lived with septic tanks for many years, with no problems. There is no smell, you can use any normal toilet paper and normal amounts of bleach. Don't put anything like wipes or kitchen roll down the toilet. We don't put fat or oil down the sink, as it can be hard for the bacteria in the tank to digest. Our last but one house had a Klargester, which is a sewage treatment system, and we were told not to put oils or fats down the sink then. I see that some people have posted not to use biological soap powder but I don't see why not. The enzymes in that would help with the break down of solids. We get ours emptied every 2 or 3 years, probably could go longer, though.

Framilode Sat 10-Aug-19 10:01:23

I have lived in 3 properties with septic tanks. No problems as long as you are careful what goes down the loo. No wipes or sanitary protection.

No problem with smells. I do use a limited amount of bleach but flush a special biological tablet down the loo every month.

Our present septic tank is one of the older ones and we tend to get it emptied about every 18 months. I am not sure if this is neccessary but it gives us peace of mind.

I did once live in a house with a cess pit and that was a nightmare. We had smells in the bathrooms from that and it needed emptying every couple of months at £60 a time, and this was in the 90's. I would never have a house with a cess pit again, but septic tanks are no problem.

Carillion01 Sat 10-Aug-19 10:05:37

Not found any problems in the time we've lived in France but the fosse was checked before we moved in and good advice was put live yoghurt down the loo once a fortnight and only use double thickness loo roll, nothing thicker! Has worked perfectly so far... Five + years

tiggers Sat 10-Aug-19 12:02:31

Thank you, one and all, so very much for your helpful comments.

I did, however, have to cover our elderly cat's eyes when we read the advice of how to start up the tank's digestion process. Feel sure she would have voted for sending in the chicken!

It is all alien territory to us and think that an expert inspection of the tank might be advisable, to see if it is actually "fit for purpose", not knowing its age etc. It might just be money well spent.

As the saying goes - "buyer beware".

Again - thank you all for taking the time to reply.

WOODMOUSE49 Sat 10-Aug-19 14:23:49

We have had ours for 30 years but are super careful what goes down the drain. No bleach. It will kill the good bacteria needed in the septic tank. This means anything with bleach in it such as kitchen sprays etc. No fats or grease.

No smells and it's never been emptied. If you are careful what you put down the drain holes you never need to have it emptied.

Good link - quick read too.
www.wte-ltd.co.uk/care.html

tiggers Sat 10-Aug-19 22:25:00

Thank you for the link Woodmouse49 - very useful information.

Fennel Sun 11-Aug-19 11:46:57

We had one in France too. It was an old concrete version but worked well. The more modern ones have a sand filter bed which is the most expensive part.
At first we did have an occasional bad smell, and were advised to extend the pipe which releases the fumes well above the roof. Which solved the problem.

Davidhs Sun 11-Aug-19 12:32:18

A septic tank does need emptying every couple of years depending on the use of the house, if you are buying a house make sure the drainage system is working properly.
A 50 yr old system is highly suspect and the last thing you need in a new house is a drainage system that does not work, your surveyor should check that. Installing a new treatment plant is going to be £10,000 on a house of any size, and a neglected old system is a good bargaining point.

More modern houses might have a “Klargester” type treatment plant, again it needs servicing periodically, at present water authorities don’t routinely check private drainage systems but in the future that may well change

Fennel Sun 11-Aug-19 15:46:45

tiggers
I think you should find out from the seller what type of septic tank it is, when it was installed, when it was last emptied etc. Some people say they should never have to be emptied.
The possible laws mentioned by David only seem to apply if the tank drains off into a fresh waterway.
www.kingspan.com/gb/en-gb/products/wastewater-management/septic-tank-regulations-2020-guide
The french rules were more comprehensive but sanctions were rarely applied. The problem was too widespread.
Cereal farmers used to spray their fields with the contents, but this was stopped by the EU some time ago. I remember going to a meeting when this was told by the Maire and the farmers weren't happy about it.

M0nica Sun 11-Aug-19 15:50:29

Fennel, the French are getting much stricter over the application of the rules regarding septic tanks. That was why we had our, admittedly, undersized one, not that it caused any problems, replaced by a new larger regulation compliant one.