My experiences in building a breathtaking home for as little money as possible.
Friday, January 21, 2011
10. Well and Septic System
There is no public water service to my lot, so we had to dig a well. The neighbors on both sides of our lot were always bragging about how their wells were only 150-180 feet deep, and produced over 100 gallons-per-minute. Naturally, I figured that if my well were halfway between theirs, surely I'd be in the same aquifer. I picked my spot and contacted a well-drilling company. When the contractor arrived with his rig, he said that my chosen location was a bit too far up the hill, and suggested a lower spot which would make it easier to get his truck into position. So they set up and started drilling. All morning. 200 feet, 300 feet. 400, 500, 600, 700 feet. Mid-afternoon, the contractor said he was sorry, but it looked like that site just wasn't going to produce anything. He felt bad that he didn't use the site that I had originally chosen. We agreed that if we didn't hit water by 800 feet, we'd try a different location. (Of course, I'd still be charged for the dry hole.) But we didn't have to, as about 50 feet later we had a gusher. It pegged the flow meter at 100 gallons per minute, and we all breathed a sigh of relief.
For those who aren't familiar with wells (as I wasn't), a well is known as artesian if water constantly flows out of it without being pumped. That's what we thought we had at first. It's not really an ideal situation, because the constantly seeping water makes a permanent swamp around the well-head. But after a few hours our water level settled down to about 14 inches below the surface, which was perfect, according to the contractor. We capped it off for the time-being.
About a year later I had a pump put in, a monster 5-horsepower variable-speed job. A year after that, I hooked electricity up to it for the first time, and started pumping water. At first the water had an overpowering sulfer smell, which diminished to merely unpleasant after flowing for a few hours. I've been told by water-quality experts that I can get pure, odor-free water from the well, but I'll need a powerful filtration system. Great, more unforeseen expense.
The sand filter, before burial.
Then there was the septic system. Once again, I hired a well-known local contractor, who proceeded to install a rather complex system. This consisted of two 1000-gallon concrete tanks, a pump, a sand-filter area, and a leachfield. There were various delays, so this took a few months to complete. Eventually, everything was installed and buried. Except for the inlet opening into the first tank and a couple of plastic manhole covers, you'd never know it was even there. All that was needed was a quick inspection before I could make the connection to the house.
Well, nothing is ever that easy. The inspector found that the inlet into the first tank was about 2" higher than the sewer outlet from the house. We all know what doesn't flow uphill, so there were two options. First, we could do some major excavation, removing both giant tanks, dig the holes a little deeper, and re-bury the tanks. The contractor was barely getting by as it was, and that kind of effort and expense would have probably driven him out of business. I just couldn't do it to him.
The only other option was to chip out the foundation wall to expose the sewer line, rework the pipe to exit the house about 6" higher, and pour new concrete around it. So that's what I did. It took a couple of weeks to jack-hammer a hole big enough to work in, cut and re-route the sewer lines (There turned out to be two of them), and repair all the damage to the concrete wall. I managed to do it without cutting any of the horizontal foundation rebar, but working through those little holes felt like building a ship in a bottle.
The new angle of the line from the house to the septic tank inlet is more than adequate to allow normal flow. It was a lot of effort, but everything is working fine now.