The Crap Alarm

There aren’t a lot of alarms in my house that I want to hear.   I’ve written previously about the annoyance of false smoke alarms:  when my smoke alarm goes off, it’s usually because of an insect in the sensor, not because my house is burning down.

But the Crap Alarm is a different story.

We have a float-based alarm on our septic system that sounds a shrill horn when the water in the septic pump tank reaches a certain level.   I’ve only heard this alarm go off once before:  when the power was out for 3 days and we’d been flushing the toilets with water from the hot tub.  When the power came back on, the Crap Alarm was screaming, understandably, because it hadn’t been pumping for 3 days.  After 30 minutes or so, it had caught up and we were off Crap DefCon 1.

Last week I went down to the basement to try to do some manly carburetor stuff (tangent: several days later, this attempt turned into an epic fail).  Before I could even get the cover off my weedwacker, I heard a loud buzzing horn.   I followed it to the septic alarm, and declared, logically “Oh shit*.”   I went upstairs and decided that it was finally time to call and have my system pumped.   The system was last pumped in 2008, and I was a few years past due already.   The alarm didn’t cease after a brief period.  It was still going the next morning.  I had a poop problem.

A little background:   my dad has owned his house for 25 years.  He’s never had his septic tank pumped.   My wife and I live in a house with a massive septic system sized for many more than the two of us who live here.   Thus, I was under the false impression that as long as we were under-using the septic system’s capacity, and as long as it was functioning properly, that we didn’t actually need to have it pumped every few years – that this was just a line of crap* that the Septic Lobby feeds you to get you to keep them in business.

But when my Crap Alarm goes off, I find religion, and I’m not messing around.   I called the septic company and they said they’d be there the next day.     I got out the map of our septic system and went out with the measuring tape to go on a sort of treasure hunt to dig up the proper spots.  It was like looking for buried treasure, except instead of trying to find gold, all I was trying to find was crap.   So I’m like Captain Jack Sparrow, following a shit-treasure map and digging holes in my yard.   I have 2 1500 gallon tanks connected in series, and a 400 gallon pump station after them where the pump and alarm are.   The liquid then gets pumped about 50 yards across my yard and up a hill to my leach field.

Anyway, I managed to locate the middle portal on each of the septic tanks, and I also dug a hole to the pump station.  I was sweating bullets, as my wife encouraged me, “You should be thankful it’s the summer – imagine trying to dig this up in the middle of the winter!”    The septic guy finally showed up at 7 pm (this is the next night, now), just as we were eating dinner.  The guy is a piece of work – a true master of his craft (Shit Doctor?), and the kind of guy who I immediately trusted.   As he’s walking up, I go out to meet him, and he says “was the breaker on the pump tripped?”   I just stared at him…  “The girl on the phone didn’t tell you to check the breaker?  If the breaker gets tripped, you can just flip it back, and I can go home without charging you.”   Well, the girl on the phone failed to mention that, and it turns out the breaker was tripped, but that wasn’t the problem – the pump was indeed hosed, as SD found when he pulled up the cover of the tank.    He ranted about the guys who had done the install of the system: they’d put the pump management box under the cover inside the tank – so that you have to dig it up if there’s a problem.   He called them butchers, and explained to us that he’d get us all fixed up and up to current code.   Unfortunately, current code meant putting the control box on a grey post above ground.   That was a no-go, as this was in the middle of our lawn, but he said he’d be able to hook us up with a ground-level plastic-cover box that would still meet the regulations.

I told him that we hadn’t had the tank pumped in 5 years, and he took a look in the septic tanks.  First he checked the second tank, which was fine, and explained that we didn’t need to have that one pumped.  The first tank was in “you waited too long” status, but not a problem – he said he’d come back and pump it in the morning.

“So, ummm, can I, uhhh….”  I kinda wiggled my eyebrows at him.

“Yeah – you can take a crap right now, Boss.  You have about 150 gallons of space left in the first tank.  If you use that up by tomorrow morning, you have bigger problems that you need to have taken care of.”

“Thanks – all I want to know is that when I flush the toilet the poop is gonna go away.” I explained.

“It will.”  He reassured me, and was on his way for the evening.

The Shit Doctor returned the next morning, telling me that the pump was backordered for 4 more days, but that I’d be fine since he was about to empty my first 1500 gallon tank.   After pumping the tank and re-wiring the pump station, he was on his way, and returned last night to install the pump.   We tested the alarm, everything worked well, and now Mrs. Dynamite and I are back in business – free to take angst-free dumps to our hearts’ content without fear of backing up the system.

Total cost was:

$345 to pump the tank

$975 for the pump install including rewiring everything to a new ground-level box

$150 for the collar that raises the lid of the main tank from 2 feet underground to 4 inches underground for easier access in the future.


Smoke Alarm Batteries and Statistical Impossibilities

An “Entry Level”  Toilet



*septic pun

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