Ireland’s population is almost completely evenly spread across the island. There are two dense blobs (Cork and Dublin) and two sparser areas on the West coast. But otherwise most of us live in the country. Rural electrification happened in the 1940s, but any other infrastructure would have been absolutely pointless and prohibitively expensive. So that’s how we have a well, and a septic tank.
Our house was built in 2008 but two years ago, in 2016 we had to apply for planning permission. This is the problem with a lot of the houses out here. When the Celtic Tiger roamed the countryside a lot of people looked the other way. What this means is a septic tank a little too close to the house and the river, a house that is too close to the forest boundary, and a whole host of little things we keep finding.
Luckily, we don’t have one of the bad septic tanks. That was one thing they got right when they built the place. And it’s also too big for one house – as they wanted to build two more houses on the site the tank is designed for three. What’s a bad septic tank? Essentially a human slurry pit. Shite goes in, some fella with a tanker pumps it out every now and again.
We have a bioreactor tank. For the longest time it wasn’t working right, as they decided the agitator used too much electricity so they turned it off. When we were applying for planning permission we had the tank serviced and reported to the council. Now we have some healthy bacteria eating away at our poo. Septic tanks don’t work in built up areas, and you shouldn’t consider one if you have the infrastructure to take your poo away for you. Tanks have to be built a certain distance away from houses and most places in a city just don’t have the distance needed.
Do they smell? Of course they do, they’re composting poo! And there’s often a constant hum as you get nearer (that’s the agitator).
Do you have to change what you put down your drains? For the most part, no. In Ireland a lot of stuff is designed with septic tanks in mind BUT from our experience a lot of detergents and cleaners haven’t interacted with our tank (the engineer certainly didn’t say anything).
Can you flush more things into it because it isn’t part of a bigger system? No, don’t be stupid. You can still block the piping from the house to the tank. Flush only toilet paper and human waste.
Is it sustainable? Our septic tank was made in Ireland, and brought in from Cork City as far as I know. So it doesn’t have an Avocado Problem. The water we use is from a well at the front of the house, so even that doesn’t come from a wider reservoir.
At the end of the day we have two items ticked off the list to become self-sustaining. We have our own source of water and our waste is treated on site. Next we just need to solve the problem of our heating, electricity, and domestic waste.