Septic Tank Troubles


My sister house sat for us while we were away in Honolulu and she may well never agree to do it again as she had a bit of a rough week here! The loss of two chickens is a stressful enough event for someone who is chicken-sitting, but she also had to deal with a septic tank that backed up. Gross.


She started texting me in Hawaii to say that the plumbing was backed up and then all the fun facts started rolling in; there was sewage backing up into the sauna/storage and downstairs shower, none of the plumbing could be used in the house, and no one knew where the septic tank was actually located. And neither did I! I was blissfully in the dark about septic tanks and how they work… when she started telling me that the tank was full and needed to be emptied I was like “Is that something I am supposed to be doing? Emptying the septic?? ‘Cause I’ve never done it.” And apparently the previous residents never did either, because septics should be ok to last for a few years without pumping. We’ve only been here 1 year so it was a huge collection of waste from the last tenants and us. BARF.

My sister called a plumber who helped to locate the tank… conveniently located half under the planters we built last summer. Oops! So some of the planters were removed by my sister’s boyfriend who very kindly dug out the access to the tank, saving us about $200. They then coordinated a pump to come from off island to take away the waste. $441 later we had a clean septic tank and functional plumbing just hours before we got back home and things were back to normal. Well, except for the sewage smell in the house and the waste I had to scrub out of the shower base and off the concrete floor downstairs… welcome home!! Oh, you’ve been up all night on a red eye flight and are exhausted? Too bad, you have to stay up to scrub poop. HAHA.


Some things that we learned: With only two people the septic tank should only require emptying every 5-7 years, so we are now good for a while. We need to not flush anything other than toilet paper (including those cleaning wipes that claim they are “flushable” – they ain’t!) We now know where the tank is and have to do some reorganizing of the yard to keep access to it free and easy, it might be a good idea to locate this before you start any outdoor building! ***When you buy a house with a septic it is probably a good idea to include a condition that the tank be pumped by the previous owners before you take possession – save yourself a headache and a $500 bill.

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Thankfully we don’t have much stuff in the house that we aren’t currently using somewhere, so our small storage area didn’t have anything in it other than the underlay from the downstairs we were intending to reuse and a fan for use in the summer. The underlay is ruined now, but we can still use it as a weed suppressant under our new garden planters so it’s not landfill bound. We also know that in future when we install a sauna in this room we need to keep the floor material something that is easy to clean (like tile instead of wood) because if there is another septic back up this is the first room to flood! YUCK.


    • I’m kind of glad we weren’t home when it happened, does that make me a horrible person? haha. Seemed like an easy fix, thank goodness nothing had to be replaced… people around here are saying that to replace a faulty septic field (where the excess water filters out under the lawn) can cost up to $20,000! Guhhhhhhhhh

  1. Oh yes septic tanks are fun. We just replaced our leach field this year. You can help it function better, also, by flushing a cup of yeast into it once a month, and never using harsh cleaners like bleach. I hope that helps you with you new sewer arrangements.

    • Oh my goodness this was such a gross experience. Is it horrible I was glad when I got the call I was laying in the sand on Waikiki beach and the sewage smell was hundreds of miles away? LOL My poor sister. hahahaha. I will definitely try the yeast trick! Thank you!

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