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This document suggests methods for estimating the age of a cesspool.
The age of a cesspool can assist an owner in
evaluating its condition and planning for its maintenance or replacement.
This material is a chapter of our
Septic Systems Online Book: That document explains septic system inspection procedures,
defects in onsite waste disposal systems, septic tank problems, septic
drainfield problems, checklists of system components and things to ask. Septic system maintenance and
Citation of this article by reference to this website and brief quotation for the sole purpose of review are permitted.
We also provide a MASTER INDEX to this topic, or you can try the page top or bottom SEARCH BOX as a quick way to find information you need.
CESSPOOLS for WASTEWATER - How to Estimate the Age of a Cesspool
A cesspool combines the septic treatment tank and absorption system into a single component.
Several readers have written to ask if it is possible to determine the age of a cesspool
A cesspool is pit into which sewage is discharged.
Solids remain in the pit, effluent is absorbed into soil around the cesspool.
Cesspools have a limited life and capacity, but they have been in use since the late 1400's (the beginning of the Renaissance).
While cesspools have been used for a long time, since the development of the more modern septic system (tank and drain field)
cesspools may still be in use at old properties or even at newer ones (where permitted by local health departments)
if there is not enough room for a conventional leach field.
Estimating the age and condition of anything which is buried is tricky, but not completely impossible. An estimate of the age of
a cesspool may assist the building owner in planning for its maintenance, repair, or replacement.
Recently a reader asked if one could estimate the age and usage of a building by evaluating its cesspool. I was somewhat doubtful of this approach as cesspools have been in use for such a long time and have used such a variety of materials. But it's a very interesting idea, and certainly bounds can be put on the age of a cesspool by noting how it was
constructed. The following details suggest other means for estimating the age and perhaps indirectly the condition of a residential property cesspool.
Four Steps in Estimating and Evaluating the Age and Condition of a Cesspool
Here are a few suggestions about estimating cesspool age, all of which can be answered only by collecting historical
information about the home and perhaps by excavating to inspect the cesspool system.
Inspecting Details Inside the Building: in the house: is there evidence of multiple generations of waste line in or leaving the building- various materials and locations?
History of the Property and Septic Service Records: in the history of the house: is there record of septic system service - if so, call the contractors to ask them what they did when, and what they found to be installed and what they could see of its construction materials and location.
Outside Visual Inspection for Cesspool Clues: is there visual evidence of a history of cesspools, additions, modifications. Eg. often when a cesspool fails people would leave it in place, leave the house waste line connected to it, and just build an additional cesspool "downstream" from and connected to the old one.
A property from the 1930's in continuous use, depending on soil characteristics, level of occupancy, and cesspool size and construction, might have a chain of 3 to 5 cesspools strung out
in a line from the original, or might have filled in some or some might have collapsed, leading to sewer line rerouting to new cesspools. We might observe a series of depressions extending away from the home where these systems were chained together. **SAFETY** watch out for collapsing cesspools - falling in can be a quick death.
Cesspool Information by Excavating: locate and excavate the cesspool to see of what it is constructed. We might be able to recognize old building materials, e.g. concrete blocks made in the 1930's
using the Sears masonry block kit that was in wide use. Also one could examine the materials used to construct the waste line itself. Orangeburg clay pipe, for example, was in common use in the
1920's and has most likely not been used since the 1950's.
Hand made cesspools of stone, brick, or something else could be of any vintage unless we can recognize the probable age of the materials themselves. Same for cesspool covers.
Pre-cast concrete cesspools: Finding a "new" pre-cast concrete (and safer) cesspool does not mean there was not an older one there previously, but the new unit is likely to be less than 20 years old.
Cesspool Inspection & Testing Safety Warnings
*** SAFETY WARNING *** digging up or poking into old septic systems or cesspools risks discovering a collapsing and very dangerous system. Dig and poke and excavate with great care and using a professional and not with anyone working alone - falling into a collapsing cesspool can be a quick and ugly death.
Safety Warning: do not walk over the top of or close to the edges of a cesspool or any other onsite pit or excavation because
of the danger of fatal collapse. Keep pets and children away from such systems.
Safety Warning: there is a high risk of cesspool collapse, risking fatality if someone falls in to one of these systems. This is particularly true for older site-built systems that were often made of dry-stacked stone or concrete block, and more-so if such systems are not protected by a very secure cover.
Safety Warning: pumping cesspools is dangerous since older site-built systems may be more likely to collapse inwards when relieved of their contents.
Safety Warning: aerating, hydrojetting, or agitating sludge at the bottom of a cesspool in an attempt to renew its function or extend its life also risk system collapse.
In Summary: watch out for cave-ins, keep away: cesspools, particularly older site-built cesspools present a very high risk of collapse from an unsafe cover or following some types of service involving pumping, aeration, or hydro-jetting.
Watch out: Adults or children should not walk over or even near cesspools because of
the risk of falling-in followed by collapse, a virtually certain cause of death. If the presence of a cesspool is known or suspected at a property its location should be roped off to prevent access and it should be investigated by a professional.
Continue reading at CESSPOOL SAFETY WARNINGS or select a topic from closely-related articles below, or see our complete INDEX to RELATED ARTICLES below.
Or see CESSPOOLS which explains what a cesspool is, gives important safety and maintenance advice for cesspools, and defines the
criteria for cesspool failure.
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Builder's Guide to Wells and Septic Systems, Woodson, R. Dodge: $ 24.95; MCGRAW HILL B; TP;
Quoting from Amazon's description: For the homebuilder, one mistake in estimating or installing wells and septic systems can cost thousands of dollars. This comprehensive guide filled with case studies can prevent that. Master plumber R. Dodge Woodson packs this reader-friendly guide with guidance and information, including details on new techniques and materials that can economize and expedite jobs and advice on how to avoid mistakes in both estimating and construction. Chapters cover virtually every aspect of wells and septic systems, including on-site evaluations; site limitations; bidding; soil studies, septic designs, and code-related issues; drilled and dug wells, gravel and pipe, chamber-type, and gravity septic systems; pump stations; common problems with well installation; and remedies for poor septic situations. Woodson also discusses ways to increase profits by avoiding cost overruns.
Country Plumbing: Living with a Septic System, Hartigan, Gerry: $ 9.95; ALAN C HOOD & TP;
Quoting an Amazon reviewer's comment, with which we agree--DF:This book is informative as far as it goes and might be most useful for someone with an older system. But it was written in the early 1980s. A lot has changed since then. In particular, the book doesn't cover any of the newer systems that are used more and more nowadays in some parts of the country -- sand mounds, aeration systems, lagoons, etc.
Composting Toilets - Books & References
Composting Toilet System Book: A Practical Guide to Choosing, Planning and Maintaining Composting Toilet Systems, David Del Porto, Carol Steinfeld. Quoting an Amazon review: Del Porto's book is the definitive composting toilet book at this time. There is nothing even close. His book covers all aspects of composting toilet systems and touches on graywater issues as well. He treats the composting toilet as part of the home system. If a person is seriously interested in installing/having a composting toilet, this book can save him/her all of the mistakes people usually make. He even (carefully) explodes some of the advertising myths that the purveyors of composting toilets would have us believe. The book covers ready-made systems as well as home built systems. As trite as this sounds, the book truly is a must for someone considering installing composting toilet.
The Humanure Handbook: A Guide to Composting Human Manure, 3rd Ed.,
Joseph C. Jenkins. Quoting part of an Amazon review: The Humanure Handbook provides a wealth of thoroughly researched, hands-on experience and scientific data that demonstrates that after a natural process called "thermophilic" bacterial digestion, which occurs in a compost bin and where all pathogens are killed, excreta is then converted to a valuable nutrient for agriculture and thereby completing a full-circle life cycle. Most importantly, effluent can then be kept out of our drinking water and not treated or referred to as an undesirable "waste product". The information is conveyed in a humorous, folksy, down-to-earth easy to understand style along with drawings, charts, tables, photos and a wealth of resource info for further research. Jenkins' website has a forum for sharing more info, experiences and to answer any and all questions in the process of humanuring and constructed wetland gray water treatment.
Thermal composting of fecal matter as treatment and possible disinfection method--laboratory-scale and pilot-scale studies,
B. Vinneras, A. Bjorklund, H. Jonsson. Quoting Amazon review: When using toilets where the urine and faeces are collected separately for reuse as nutrients in agriculture, the collected matter should be disinfected. One way to do this is by thermal composting. Composting of different material mixes was investigated in a laboratory-scale experiment. This showed that the best mixture for dry thermal composting was a mix of faeces, food waste and amendment. The urine was collected separately by use of urine-diverting toilets. A new method was developed to mathematically evaluate and estimate the safety margins of pathogen inactivation during thermal composting. The method is based upon a mathematical calculation of the number of times total inactivation (at least 12log"1"0 reduction) of the organisms is achieved. In a pilot-scale experiment, the disinfection of a faeces/food waste mix was performed with a calculated safety margin of more than 37 times the total die-off of Enteroviruses and some 550 times that of Ascaris. Thus, well functioning composting seems to be
effective for disinfection of faecal matter. To get a high temperature in all of the material, the reactor has to have sufficient insulation. A major disadvantage is the initial need for handling the raw un-disinfected material. The degradation of the organic matter in the compost was almost 75%, resulting in a small final volume that could safely be recycled.
Experiences with a composting toilet article from: Countryside & Small Stock Journal, available as HTML download.
Quoting Amazon review: This digital document is an article from Countryside & Small Stock Journal, published by Countryside Publications Ltd. on May 1, 1994. The length of the article is 1516 words. The page length shown above is based on a typical 300-word page. The article is delivered in HTML format and is available in your Amazon.com Digital Locker immediately after purchase. You can view it with any web browser.
From the supplier: A composting toilet is a good alternative to propane burning toilets, but it also has many problems. The worst part is emptying the waste and compost every 4-6 weeks. Other problems are the fan that must be kept running constantly and bug infestation.
US EPA Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems Manual [online copy, free] Top Reference: US EPA's Design Manual for Onsite Wastewater Treatment and Disposal, 1980, available from the US EPA, the US GPO Superintendent of Documents (Pueblo CO), and from the National Small Flows Clearinghouse. Original source http://www.epa.gov/ORD/NRMRL/Pubs/625R00008/625R00008.htm Onsite wastewater treatment and disposal systems,
Richard J Otis, published by the US EPA. Although it's more than 20 years old, this book remains a useful reference for septic system designers.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Water Program Operations; Office of Research and Development, Municipal Environmental Research Laboratory; (1980)
"International Private Sewage Disposal Code," 1995, BOCA-708-799-2300, ICBO-310-699-0541, SBCCI 205-591-1853, available from those code associations.
"Manual of Policy, Procedures, and Guidelines for Onsite Sewage Systems," Ontario Reg. 374/81, Part VII of the Environmental
Protection Act (Canada), ISBN 0-7743-7303-2, Ministry of the Environment,135 St. Clair Ave. West, Toronto Ontario M4V 1P5 Canada $24. CDN.
Manual of Septic Tank Practice, US Public Health Service's 1959.
Greywater System Books
The New Create an Oasis With Greywater, Art Ludwig; Buy New: $14.25. Ludwig is one of the most thoughtful, prolific, and sometimes controversial writers on gray water systems and alternative designs. We recommend his book as clear, easy-to-understand writing aimed at property owners who want or need to consider a graywater installation to conserve water, recycle water, reduce water use, or to reduce the load on their septic system. This is the latest edition of this Art Ludwig's greywater design book classic.
Builder's Greywater Guide, Art Ludwig; Buy New: $10.17. Installation of Greywater Systems in New Construction & Remodeling; A Supplement to the Book "Create an Oasis With Greywater" (Paperback).
Quoting a review from Amazon: I recommend that you get the 3 companion books on greywater treatment "Create an Oasis", "Branched Drain Greywater Systems" and "Builder's Greywater Guide". The information in these volumes will keep most of us far more informed than most of the regulators, the system builders, and the experts-in-theory. These volumes are real-world gems. Art Ludwig has cut to the core of wastewater issues. He's obviously done all of his homework, mulled-over the variables, and come up with a common sense, economically reasonable, environmentally responsible approach to wastewater. I expect to save money that I would have spent on a post-septic tank, aerobic unit that would seemingly have been ecologically responsible; but because of the technological overkill, ultimately that system would have defeated my altruistic environmental concerns.
... These books talk the talk and walk the walk better than anything else that I've seen. Buy a set for yourself, a set for your neighbors, and a set for the regulators.
Branched Drain Greywater Systems [superseded by "The New Create an Oasis with Greywater"], Art Ludwig. If you already have this book but are in the process of installing new gray water systems you should take a look at the newer
edition listed first above in this section of our Greywater book recommendations.
You may prefer the newest edition, but there is great information in this older version, perhaps all you need, and these copies are
sold at very low prices - an aid to people of limited means.
Rainwater Catchment Systems for Domestic Supply: Design, Construction and Implementation,
Erik Nissen-Petersen, John Gould. (Mr. Ludwig, while much appreciated, is not the only author providing really useful design guides for graywater systems--DF)
Quoting from an Amazon review: This book reviews the art of roof and ground catchment systems for rainwater. The water collected can be used for household or other purposes. The designs are aimed for individuals with limited access to electricity and/or civic water utilities. The text includes drawings, photographs and step-by-step instructions.
One might say the book is really written for the 'aid worker' since it also considers ethnic and gender issues that would be 'obvious' to the future owners of the the systems.
Guidelines on rainwater catchment systems for Hawaii, (CTAHR resource management publication)
Patricia S. H Macomber. This more technical document may be especially helpful for rainwater collection and recycling systems for climates
where there is heavy rainfall such as demonstrated for Hawaii.
Design for Water: Rainwater Harvesting, Stormwater Catchment, and Alternate Water Reuse, Heather Kinkade-Levario. Quoting from Amazon's review: Design for Water is an accessible and clearly written guide to alternate water collection, with a focus on rainwater harvesting in the urban environment. The book: Outlines the process of water collection from multiple sources-landscape, residential, commercial, industrial, school, park, and municipal systems
Provides numerous case studies, Details the assembly and actual application of equipment, Includes specific details, schematics, and references.
All aspects of rainwater harvesting are outlined, including passive and active system setup, storage, storm water reuse, distribution, purification, analysis, and filtration. There is even a section on rainwater harvesting for wildlife. In addition to rainwater, there are several affordable and accessible alternate sources, including cooling tower bleed-off water, air conditioning condensate, gray water, and fog collection. Design for Water is geared to providing those making development decisions and guidelines with the information they need to set up passive harvesting techniques. The book will especially appeal to engineers, landscape architects, municipal decision-makers, developers, and landowners.
Heather Kinkade-Levario is a land-use planner in Arizona and the author of the award-winning Forgotten Rain. She is president of Forgotten Rain L.L.C., a rainwater harvesting and stormwater reuse company.
The Toilet Papers: Designs to Recycle Human Waste and Water : Dry Toilets, Greywater Systems and Urban Sewage (Paperback) Sim Van Der Ryn, Wendell Berry; Quoting from an Amazon review: With a title like "Toilet Papers" and from a distinguished eco-architect like Sim Van der Ryn, I needed no intro or review to buy a copy of this little, but well researched historical over-view of effluent mitigation and current eco-friendly toilet design. This book is filled with good line drawings and photographs to depict everything from the historical perspective to the current dry toilets and their construction..
Quality issues in harvested rainwater in arid and semi-arid Loess Plateau of northern China,
K. Zhu, L. Zhang, W. Hart, M. Liu, H. Chen (out of print, find by search and deferred order).
Amazon's description may be helpful: Loess soils cover vast areas in the arid and semi-arid regions of northern China. Due to the lack of reliable surface water and ground-water, rainwater harvesting has played a prominent role in farmers' domestic usage and agricultural irrigation. An economical and valid type of water storage cistern with optimum design of components has been introduced to rural areas in the Loess Plateau. Different collection alternatives showed apparent variations in rainwater quality. By using different catchments, such as mortar roofs and cement-paved courtyards, compacted land or road surfaces, rainwater can be effectively collected for storage in cisterns. This study focused mainly on the quality of rainwater harvested from the different catchment systems and stored for different periods of time. By analysis of the water samples stored in these cisterns, it was evident that rainwater quality could be improved significantly by self-purification during the storage. With emphasis on rainwater quality affected by the
different catchment systems, it was found that the measured inorganic compounds in the rainwater harvested from roof-yard catchment systems generally matched the WHO standards for drinking water, while the concentrations of some inorganic compounds in the rainwater collected from land and road surfaces appeared to be higher than the guideline values for drinking water, but generally not beyond the maximum permissible concentrations. However, Fecal Coliform, which is an important bacteriological parameter for the three catchment systems, exceeded the limits of drinking water to a greater extend. Trace amounts of 55 organic pollutants were identified, including aliphatic hydrocarbons, aromatic compounds and phthalate esters, etc. The analytical results indicated that roof-yard catchments that included the ''first flush'' usually provided safe drinking water with low organic contents, even for rainwater collected immediately after rainfall. In contrast, rainwater harvested from road surfaces had poor quality
with respect to the organic constituents, regardless of stored time.
City eying home water-recycling technology; uses bath and washer water for irrigation., (ReWater Systems' equipment for greywater irrigation):
This is an article from: San Diego Business Journal [HTML] (Digital) available online in digital format. I have not (yet) reviewed it -- DF
Onsite Wastewater Disposal Books
Onsite Wastewater Disposal, R. J. Perkins;
Quoting from Amazon: This practical book, co-published with the National Environmental Health Association,
describes the step-by-step procedures needed to avoid common pitfalls in septic system technology.
Valuable in matching the septic system to the site-specific conditions, this useful book will help you install a reliable system in
both suitable and difficult environments. Septic tank installers, planners, state and local regulators, civil and sanitary engineers,
consulting engineers, architects, homeowners, academics, and land developers will find this publication valuable.
Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems, Bennette D. Burks, Mary Margaret Minnis, Hogarth House 1994 - one of the best septic system books around, suffering a bit from small fonts and a weak index. (DF volunteers to serve as indexer if Burks/Minnis re-publish this very useful volume.) While it contains some material more technical than needed by homeowners, Burks/Minnis book on onsite wastewater treatment systems a very useful reference for both property owners and septic system designers. We refer to it often. While Minnis says the best place to buy this book is at Amazon (our link at left), you can also see this book at Minnis' website at http://web page .pace.edu/MMinnisbook
Septic Tank/Soil-Absorption Systems: How to Operate & Maintain [ copy on file as /septic/Septic_Operation_USDA.pdf ] - , Equipment Tips, U.S. Department of Agriculture, 8271 1302, 7100 Engineering, 2300 Recreation, September 1982, web search 08/28/2010, original source: http://www.fs.fed.us/t-d/pubs/pdfimage/82711302.pdf
Septic System Owner's Manual, Lloyd Kahn, Blair Allen, Julie Jones, Shelter Publications, 2000 $14.95 U.S. - easy to understand, well illustrated, one of the best practical references around on septic design basics including some advanced systems; a little short on safety and maintenance. Both new and used (low priced copies are available, and we think the authors are working on an updated edition--DF.
Quoting from one of several Amazon reviews: The basics of septic systems, from underground systems and failures to what the owner can do to promote and maintain a healthy system, is revealed in an excellent guide essential for any who reside on a septic system. Rural residents receive a primer on not only the basics; but how to conduct period inspections and what to do when things go wrong. History also figures into the fine coverage.
Grass is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank, Bombeck, Erma: $ 5.99; FAWCETT; MM;
This septic system classic whose title helps avoid intimidating readers new to septic systems, is available new or used at very low prices.
It's more entertainment than a serious "how to" book on septic systems design, maintenance, or repair. Not recommended -- DF.
US EPA Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems Manual Top Reference: US EPA's Design Manual for Onsite Wastewater Treatment and Disposal, 1980, available from the US EPA, the US GPO Superintendent of Documents (Pueblo CO), and from the National Small Flows Clearinghouse. Original source http://www.epa.gov/ORD/NRMRL/Pubs/625R00008/625R00008.htm
Water Wells and Septic Systems Handbook, R. Dodge Woodson. This book is in the upper price range, but is worth the cost for serious septic installers and designers.
Quoting Amazon: Each year, thousands upon thousands of Americans install water wells and septic systems on their properties. But with a maze of codes governing their use along with a host of design requirements that ensure their functionality where can someone turn for comprehensive, one-stop guidance? Enter the Water Wells and Septic Systems Handbook from McGraw-Hill. Written in language any property owner can understand yet detailed enough for professionals and technical students this easy-to-use volume delivers the latest techniques and code requirements for designing, building, rehabilitating, and maintaining private water wells and septic systems. Bolstered by a wealth of informative charts, tables, and illustrations, this book delivers: * Current construction, maintenance, and repair methods
* New International Private Sewage Disposal Code
* Up-to-date standards from the American Water Works Association
Wells and Septic Systems, Alth, Max and Charlet, Rev. by S. Blackwell Duncan, $ 18.95; Tab Books 1992. We have found this text very useful for conventional well and septic systems design and maintenance --DF.
Quoting an Amazon description:Here's all the information you need to build a well or septic system yourself - and save a lot of time, money, and frustration. S. Blackwell Duncan has thoroughly revised and updated this second edition of Wells and Septic Systems to conform to current codes and requirements. He also has expanded this national bestseller to include new material on well and septic installation, water storage and distribution, water treatment, ecological considerations, and septic systems for problem building sites.
Carson, Dunlop & Associates Ltd., 120 Carlton Street Suite 407, Toronto ON M5A 4K2. Tel: (416) 964-9415 1-800-268-7070 Email: email@example.com. The firm provides professional home inspection services & home inspection education & publications. Alan Carson is a past president of ASHI, the American Society of Home Inspectors. Thanks to Alan Carson and Bob Dunlop, for permission for InspectAPedia to use text excerpts from The Home Reference Book & illustrations from The Illustrated Home. Carson Dunlop Associates' provides extensive home inspection education and report writing material.
The Illustrated Home illustrates construction details and building components, a reference for owners & inspectors. Special Offer: For a 5% discount on any number of copies of the Illustrated Home purchased as a single order Enter INSPECTAILL in the order payment page "Promo/Redemption" space.
TECHNICAL REFERENCE GUIDE to manufacturer's model and serial number information for heating and cooling equipment, useful for determining the age of heating boilers, furnaces, water heaters is provided by Carson Dunlop, Associates, Toronto - Carson Dunlop Weldon & Associates Special Offer: Carson Dunlop Associates offers InspectAPedia readers in the U.S.A. a 5% discount on any number of copies of the Technical Reference Guide purchased as a single order. Just enter INSPECTATRG in the order payment page "Promo/Redemption" space.
The Home Reference Book - the Encyclopedia of Homes, Carson Dunlop & Associates, Toronto, Ontario, 25th Ed., 2012, is a bound volume of more than 450 illustrated pages that assist home inspectors and home owners in the inspection and detection of problems on buildings. The text is intended as a reference guide to help building owners operate and maintain their home effectively. Field inspection worksheets are included at the back of the volume.
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Special Offer: Carson Dunlop Associates offers InspectAPedia readers in the U.S.A. a 5% discount on these courses: Enter INSPECTAHITP in the order payment page "Promo/Redemption" space. InspectAPedia.com editor Daniel Friedman is a contributing author.
The Horizon Software System manages business operations,scheduling, & inspection report writing using Carson Dunlop's knowledge base & color images. The Horizon system runs on always-available cloud-based software for office computers, laptops, tablets, iPad, Android, & other smartphones