Saturday, April 17, 2010

Plumbing woes

Back during that week in early mud season when the ground was at its peak saturation, we got a bit of water in the basement. Nothing unusual about that: if you live in Vermont, no matter how you build a house, water's going to come in if you happen to be in land that carries it, and the only way to avoid it completely is to be somewhere else. (And as the dry land all got sold off years ago, there's not much to buy to build on.) So you just keep things that can be water-damaged off the floor, and for a few days in March, your basement has puddles.

This year, this was complicated a bit by the fact that our leachfield and septic system was in need of pumping out. To what extent this is caused by the leachfield being saturated generally, and to what extent it's normal, is uncertain to me. Everywhere I have ever lived with a septic system, someone who pumped out the tank thought that the septic system was filling in too fast and might need to be rebuilt, and someone else who built them said it wasn't. Sometimes I wonder if it's more of that issue of wet versus dry land: the only land you can build on these days is wetter, more ledgy, and generally less able to support good drainage than the land that the old-timers are used to. But maybe not. No one ever really knows for sure. So I just get the thing pumped out every 2-3 years and that's that. We got it pumped out about a week after the puddling.

In addition to the normal puddling there was one place where water came from above, from the point where the water softener's regeneration and purge circuit pours out into the outgoing septic line. This only happened one time, it hasn't repeated, so it seemed certain that it was caused by the septic system being full.

Yesterday, we had our regular annual servicing on the water softener, and the instant the guy started flushing the pressure from the system, it started to spill out of that same pipe, quite vigorously. After talking with him for a while, he concluded that there must be a clog in the trap where that pipe feeds in, and that every time the water softener regenerates (every few days), it'll pour water out onto the floor like that for hours. He's so certain of this that he disabled the regeneration for now.

However, it has been doing that regeneration normally all along, and it hasn't spilled at all, so far as I could tell. I'm not down there every day, but I've been down there several times, and there wasn't even a moist spot, let alone the kind of puddle that would be left from the huge spill he predicts. So it's one of those cases where a perfectly functioning system happens to be fatally flawed in a way that was there all along, but only noticed the moment you get routine maintenance done.

What's worse, the trap in question is all affixed with glue, with nothing that can be unscrewed, so the only way to even confirm there is a clot, let alone clean it, is to cut into the pipe with a hacksaw, then put a collar in when done to reaffix it all. No idea yet if I can add in a collar that lets me unscrew it for the next time, but I doubt it (seems like we'd have to cut into it in two places for that to work).

This is a typical plumbing experience for me. If there was ever a bit of infrastructure I want to fade into the background and never think about, it's plumbing. Most of the time it does, but when it doesn't, it always insists on being in complete defiance of logic, for maximum frustration.

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