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Our cottage septic system – a ticking time bomb?

22 May

Most of us haven’t thought about our cottage septic system – I sure haven’t, I don’t even know where the tank and leaching bed are. But I’d say we had better start thinking about it.

A conventional septic system includes a tank, an effluent filter, and a leaching bed. Wastewater travels to the septic tank, where the solids settle to the bottom of the tank. There, anaerobic bacteria take over and break down the organic matter. The effluent filter keeps these solids inside the tank while liquid flows into the leaching bed. There it’s filtered into the ground, and soil bacteria kill pathogens and continue to treat the water.

In most cases, repairing a septic system will cost between $2,000 and $25,000. Replacing one can cost about $6,000 to $40,000—depending on the system’s size and location. Septic systems last for 20 to 30 years if they’re well maintained.

Ours has got to be at least 20 years old, has never been maintained or pumped out and we don’t even know where the lid of the tank is! Uh-oh.


Here are ways to keep our septic system from imploding.

1. Know where it is (we don’t)

It may sound obvious, but it’s important to know your system’s location and have easy access to its tank and leaching bed. Avoid driving, parking, or building on or near any part of the system.

2. Conserve water

Excessive water use overloads septic tanks and prevents solids from settling on the bottom. The solids get pushed into the leaching bed where they cannot be filtered out effectively. The clogged soil will not accept more water and backups can occur. The cottage does not have an unlimited water supply.  To save water: Flush only when necessary, tell guests to be conservative with their water use, run the washing machine only when necessary. Maybe we could install a low-flow toilet and high-efficiency taps and shower heads?

3. Flush organic only

If it isn’t human waste or toilet paper, don’t flush it. Flushing paper towels, disposable diapers and wipes, condoms, sanitary napkins, tampons, facial tissues, coffee grounds, grease, and such will quickly fill our tank and clog the system. Septic systems cannot digest oils, grease and fat. Poured down the sink or toilet, they congeal in pipes sometimes plugging them.  All oily waste should go out with the garbage. Even if a product’s packaging claims that it’s flushable, don’t.  No, really – DO NOT!

4. Use biodegradable cleaners

We need to stop using heavy-duty cleaners (especially those with bleach), and all antibacterial soaps. These products kill the bacteria that keep the system running effectively. Use biodegradable products for tasks that involve frequent water use (such as washing dishes) and NO fancy shower gels.  Some household chemicals can be eliminated or reduced and some can easily be replaced by suitable substitutes, for example:

  • Automatic Bowl Cleaners – do not use.
  • Deodorant Soap – Use regular soap – Not antibacterial
  • Hand Soap – Use regular soap – Not antibacterial
  • NO Chlorine Bleach
  • Dishwashing Liquid – Use only completely biodegradable & Not antibacterial
  • Laundry Detergent – Use only Liquid & completely biodegradable.

5. NO chemicals!

Never put paints, solvents, pesticides, gasoline, or other toxic chemicals in our system. Flushing even small amounts of paints, solvents, thinners, nail polish removers and other common household compounds (or pouring them down the drain) can poison the organisms that break down organic material. Don’t flush any medication either. Not only will these kill the beneficial bacteria in the tank, they will also end up in the groundwater.

6. Keep trees and shrubs away – I think we have a problem here

The roots of trees, especially aggressive species will travel as far as needed to get to water. Roots can plug up and wrap around distribution pipes in the leaching bed, causing all sorts of damage.  We need to identify the limits of our system and make sure we have properly cleared the area.

7. Insulate our system?

We should think about insulating the pipe running from the cottage to the septic tank to prevent freezing during the winter.  And while we are at it, I wonder if we can’t insulate our whole water system a little better – not only from cold but also from animals and UV.


10. Inspect and pump – I don’t ever remember this being done

Generally, a system should be inspected and its contents pumped out by a professional every three to five years (or when the tank’s volume is about one-third full).  


A boat rack to save our backs!

13 Nov

Think about one of the worst jobs to do at the cottage…carrying the boats and canoes up and down the hill has got to up there at the top of the list.  Well, I have an idea that could save us a whole lot of effort and a bunch of space in the shed!

How about building a boat/canoe rack right down by the water?  The old, moss covered deck down by the lake is going to have to come down soon as it is rotting and will soon fall down.  I haven’t seen anyone use it in years.  That might be the perfect place to build a sturdy boat rack  to store our boats.


Cottage Life has a great article on how to build a boat rack, complete with step-by-step plans and a full materials list.


We might have to slightly modify the lower cross arm to accommodate the Laser but this could be the  answer to having the boats accessible to the water at all times, even when you come to the cottage alone.


Strategically placed hooks could also provide a place to hang those towels, cover-ups, life-preservers and other things you take down to the lake with you but don’t want to leave on the ground. 

The roof would keep the elements and tree debris off the boats in the summer and we could throw a big tarp over it in the winter.


Part one of the project would be site review (will the area where the old deck is be suitable?) and site preparation (tearing down the old deck).

Part two would be building it.  We could attempt it ourselves…but I think we might be happier with the result if we had someone a little more skilled do it for us.  Perhaps the deck builder?


Well,  what do you think?  Love it?  Hate it?  Think we should do it?  Put it off till another year?  I’m always looking for feedback!

CLICK HERE to see the complete plans and materials list and download it all in PDF.

More cozying

13 Nov

I have been haunting the Value Village and vintage clothing stores lately, hoping to find some thick blankets or quilts to make into dog beds.  This week I hit the jackpot…but not for dog beds.

Photo 2011-11-13 11 04 41 AM

I picked up this thick, hand-quilted twin size quilt at Value Village for a mere $9.99. It was clean, no stains or smells, and in really good shape. I’ve washed and dried it and it’s a beauty -  all ready to cozy up a bed at the cottage.

Photo 2011-11-13 11 06 01 AM

Photo 2011-11-13 11 01 46 AM

I found this quilt, done in the Dresden Plate design, at a vintage clothing store for $17.99.  This is a lighter weight quilt, I think it’s a double.  Just look at all that hand-stiching!  I don’t think the quilter was an expert because some of the “plate” designs are ever so slightly puffy (you can see that in the photo below) but it’s still quite a find. 

Photo 2011-11-13 11 03 52 AM

Photo 2011-11-13 11 02 56 AM

In the spring and fall, when the cottage is pretty chilly at night, these babies will keep us warm.  In the summer, they’ll provide a comfortable cover to lie on. 

Photo 2011-11-13 11 07 28 AM

I’ll take both of the to the cottage when I go in the spring and figure out which beds they will grace.  Cozy, cozy, cozy!

Deck design

3 Nov

OK, the beams are in, the cottage floors are flat and the house is stable again.  Now it’s time to think about the deck.  Wouldn’t it be great to have a nice new deck constructed and ready for this summer?  All we have to do is agree on size and design.  Once we’ve done that, I can draw up some specifications and send them to Bob, Tim M. and any local deck building companies I can find for quotes.  I’ll bet we could have everything lined up to be done in the spring.

I haven’t drawn up my potential design yet, but if you’d like to play around with some possible design suggestions, here are some pictures and dimensions that might help.

Go big or go home…just my opinion…

Photo 2011-10-30 2 50 36 PM


Photo 2011-10-30 2 11 08 PM


Photo 2011-10-30 2 11 16 PM

Squeaky clean

10 Oct

There is nothing I would love more than to have a nice shower when I’m up at the cottage, and an outdoor shower would be super in the summer!  Here are some issues to consider:


When we have a bath or a shower, we’re using the water from our drilled well …water which may or may not be in limited supply.  When we have 5 or 6  people who are all having a shower every couple of days… we could run our well dry.  This could be remedied by pumping the shower water up from the lake – but this would  incur additional expense and maintenance.


My personal issue is that I go to the cottage in the spring and fall when the chill air is nice…unless you are standing naked ,outside, under a shower of cold water…Yikes! So I want warm water.   We don’t have a hot water tank large enough to accommodate a shower or a place to put  a larger tank if we did get one.

On the cheap and easy end of the cottage shower scale, we could do as Mum has done at the bunkhouse and tell everyone to limit their shower time.


On the luxury end of the scale you can check out Cottage Life’s article on how to build a deluxe outdoor shower.   Click here.  The article includes a couple of videos and a great PDF of the plans with step by step instructions and a materials list.  This shower is a bit over the top – but something between Mum’s outdoor shower and this luxury model might be worth considering.

Here is another idea – have a shower in the bathroom.  A new faucet, some shower curtains… it could happen…


Just some things to consider…

What do we need?

28 Sep

I will be going up to the cottage one last time in October to close up and hopefully, to check on the work done in adding the support beams to the main cottage.  I’m making a list of thing I need to bring with me.  Take a look at what I have so far and feel free to add to it.  What did you think we were missing the last time you were there?

A new kettle.  Looks like this one has had the biscuit.


Metal rings for blinds.  We continue to have problems with the blinds because the plastic rings holding the strings to the blinds rot in the sun and break apart.  I’m going to the hardware store to see if I can’t get a bunch or metal washers the right size to replace the plastic.


A new vacuum filter (or two).  Phew!  the old one is waaayyyy past its prime and quite stinky!


A mattress  topper to replace the one rotting in middle bedroom.  If I can find them cheap, I’ll also pick up a couple of twin size mattress covers.

A can of wood filler to fill the holes in floor.

Some good plastic wine glasses (thanks for that suggestion, Henry)

Propane for the BBQ – perhaps that should wait till spring.

A hand sickle/sythe for path clearing – if I can find one…

Does anyone mind if I clear out all the books for kids under 13?  The take a lot of room up on the shelves and I don’t think anyone reads them any more…

P.S. – I have given the go-ahead to the contractor to add the beams to the cottage.  I don’t have a date yet.  I’m really hoping it will be done when I get there.

New beams to hold up the cottage

23 Sep

It is almost a go on fixing our tipsy-turvy floors in the main cottage. Our problem is that the cottage only has one beam supporting it. Steve, our contractor said he’d never seen anything like it. It looked to him like they started and just missed a step. So the good news is that the cottage doesn’t have to be raised, just lifted a bit so the missing beams can be added. The actual concrete block supports seem to be level and still in pretty good shape.

This is great news because it means the porch and stairs don’t need to be removed and then put back, the plumbing should be ok and we won’t be in danger of windows cracking or other expensive issues. I asked all these questions to the contractor directly. We may have to do some re-hanging of a few doors, but we shouldn’t have any major issues.

I asked the contractor to email me the quote and his schedule before final confirmation and confirm he was insured. He is insured and he confirmed he could get to the job in 2 weeks to a month and the other information is forthcoming.

Any questions or problems before I give the final go-ahead?