Going With The Flow

 

Brett Ashton is a difficult man to pin down. I called his mobile one morning to discuss this article, only to be met with the reply “Sorry, I’ll have to do this another time – I’m in a nuclear power station”. As conversation-stoppers go, it’s a pretty good one so we rescheduled at a later date.

Of course the reason Brett can be so elusive is that he’s simply just so busy. As Engineering Supervisor for CSG and SepticTanksandCesspits.com, he brings an extensive knowledge of pumps and pumping – an ideal specialism as moving liquids is a mainstay of our services. He alternates his time, seemingly daily, between our Head Office in Fareham and any of a number of sites that he oversees.
(Caption – “Service and Maintenance team based at our Head Office in Fareham. Brett Ashton far left.)

“I’m really a troubleshooter”, he explains to me, when we find a more appropriate time to speak. “I carry out the surveys, examine the data, provide the quotes and source the parts. I do still get my hands dirty but I’m really here to pass on my knowledge when it’s required.”

Aged 32, he started his career in the Royal Navy, not uncommonly for a son of Portsmouth, and served for two years as an Engineer, mostly aboard HMS Manchester. Thereafter, he worked in London, maintaining pumps for a variety of clients: “hotels, department stores, fast-food restaurants; mostly heating systems but all pretty similar pumping requirements”.

For the last four years, he’s applied his specialist knowledge at the comapny. He patiently explains the rudiments of pumping: “you’re either looking to get the right level of flow (in litres per minute) or the right distance, which is represented as a curve on a graph. The complicated bit is when you need to move the curve with the current you have”.

Slowly, it dawns that ‘current’ and ‘flow’ are not interchangeable terms. ‘Flow’ refers to the liquid motion but the ‘current’ is of the electrical variety, the means of powering the whole operation. Brett casually confirms the realisation “I’m actually a trained plumber and a qualified electrician, which is funny really because usually, they don’t get on!”

Confident and yet self-effacing, he certainly doesn’t give the impression of a person given to internal struggle but his point is well observed – anyone who’s worked on a building site will know the two trades can be capable of mixing about as harmoniously as… well, electricity and water.

It’s certainly not a job for people who don’t like exams. Brett has had to undertake confined space training, is a qualified slinger and banksman and is UKPIA-accrediated to work on a forecourt. He’s recently added to this roster by taking a Level 2 & 3 City & Guilds qualification to bolster his electrician’s credentials. “It involved two years of travelling to London for weekends and a lot of A-level maths!”

Perhaps the most enviable aspect of Brett’s work is the wide variety of places it takes him to. Aside from his regular presence at that nuclear power station he’s reponsible for operations at schools, Forestry Commission sites, RAF barracks and even TV and Film Studios. As it’s a working studios, you have to check your mobile phone in at the front desk because there’s a strict ‘no photography’ policy – so there’s no chance of a selfie with any of the film stars you might come across!”

Occasional brushes with celebrity are nice enough but they pale in comparison to ensuring a job is well done. Brett explains how smarter technology is helping him to do exactly that. “Many of our pump stations now have a smart element to them. This means that not only do they monitor the levels and spot a fault, they can diagnose the problem and email the client and the team. Now, we often don’t need to send out an engineer to look at what’s going on, which is more efficient all round and saves the client money.”

Unsurprisingly, for someone so busy, Brett remains just as active outside of work. A black belt at karate at the age of 13, he also boxed for the Navy at Lightweight (60Kg). Running and weight-training burn off whatever excess energy remains at the end of the day.

Perhaps the most surprising part of our discussion comes when he declares he’s a big fan of rugby league, in particular the Leeds Rhinos. Portsmouth is a long way from the sport’s M62-corridor heartland and over 250 miles from Leeds so why the affiliation? “My Dad used to play for Leeds – when they were just called Leeds – so that’s the main reason but I’d still far rather watch a game of rugby league over union and I try to get up to Headingley to watch a game, when I can.”

What does the future hold for this rugby-league-supporting ex-serviceman of many talents? “I’ve always preferred to see money as a means to travel rather than just owning stuff and I would like to see more of the world but with a young daughter at the moment, we can’t be too ambitious”. It’s clear that, sooner or later, this elusive engineer is hoping to be even harder to pin down – for a few weeks of the year, at least!

Customer Service? Ask The Experts!

The data is in and we’re pleased to see our customer service targets (for our domestic customers) being met and in some cases, exceeded!

Being a customer-focused organisation, we’re keen to see what we do well and where we can improve so we make a point of asking the best experts we can find – customers! A short survey after every septic tank clean gives us the opportunity to see how well we’re really doing at keeping them happy. It’s also proven to be a great way to get ideas to improve what we do.

In February, we saw that 96.3% of our domestic customers surveyed marked us with a 7 or above (out of 10) to the question “How likely would you be to recommend us to others?”, a fantastic achievement, we’re sure you’ll agree. In March that same measure actually went up to 96.8%!

It was the same story for higher scores, with February’s level of 10-out-of-10s (68.8%) being eclipsed by the level in March (77.4%). It all points to greater satisfaction – which is the key here because nobody is likely to recommend a service with which they are anything less than satisfied!

We believe that recommendation is the highest accolade we can aim to achieve from our customers so to see such a huge proportion of those we surveyed stating they’re highly likely to recommend us is a wonderful endorsement of our services.

Of course, having set such a high benchmark, the challenge now is to ensure such standards are at least maintained and, if possible, improved further. We can also drill into the data for each of our depots to see how and if the story changes from one to the other.

Waste management is an industry not particularly known for embracing such ‘soft’ ideas as customer service and feedback and we feel especially keen to ensure that we remain committed to listening to all our customers and doing all we can to continue to improve our image and appeal to everyone we serve.

Is Your Septic Tank 2020-Ready?

If you have a property with a septic tank, there are some upcoming changes to the law that may affect you – and time is running out for you to comply with them.

By 1st January 2020, septic tanks will now longer be allowed to discharge directly to a surface water such as a river or a stream. Septic tanks that currently discharge via a drainage field into the ground are not expected to be affected.

If your septic tank is currently discharging directly into a surface water, doing nothing means you will find yourself in breach of the regulations from 2020. To stay on the right side of your legal requirement, you could choose any of the following alternatives (which may or may not be available to you):

• Connect your existing septic tank to a mains sewer
• Install a drainage field and divert your existing septic tank to discharge to ground
• Replace your septic tank with a small sewage treatment plant

In each case, there are issues to consider and certain conditions to satisfy.

Connection to a mains sewer

Most people only opt to use a septic tank or similar because there isn’t a nearby mains sewer to connect to so it’s unlikely this will be a viable option to many. If you’re not familiar with the full history of the property, this could be an area to examine. Your local water company will be able to confirm whether or not connection to a mains sewer is a workable solution for you. For new developments, you may be compelled to use public sewers, if they’re close enough.

Install a drainage field

This is potentially the easiest way to get around the legislation, it’s an option if you have access to enough suitable land to provide the soakaway. You must also use a system that meets the BS 6297:2007 standard.

Replace your septic tank with a treatment system

This is probably the most likely outcome for all owners of the soon-to-be-outlawed systems, which discharge to a surface water. Your new system will need to be specified correctly with the right capacity for the levels of usage you have and must meet the BS EN 12566 standard. Once installed, the new treatment system must be regularly emptied and maintained.

You may think that, once one of the above alternatives is in place, your obligations are met but if you go on to sell the property before 2020, you must disclose to the new owner/operator a written description of the way sewage from the property is removed – with details of the new drainage system or treatment plant – together with any manuals and maintenance records.

As always, there are a number of further restrictions and exemptions that may apply. If this rule change applies to your property, we’re happy to help you decide what to do next and, of course, The Environment Agency are always on hand to help.

How A Septic Tank Really Works

You may not have given much thought to the way your septic tank works – which is fine as long as it is working – but knowing just a little can help you ensure that it remains in good order for many years to come.

Okay, here’s the really basic information, which most people already know:

  • Human waste contains harmful bacteria and can be a means of spreading viruses. Throughout human history – and in developing countries today – the source of some of the greatest threats to life has come from diseases, such as cholera and typhoid, which are transmitted via human waste.
  • Most houses or buildings with waste facilities like toilets discharge their waste directly into the main system of sewerage drains allowing the immediate removal of sewage to a place where it can be treated.
  • A relatively small proportion of properties are not sited closely enough to the network of drains and so have to discharge their waste in other ways. The most common alternative is to use a septic tank.
  • The septic tank’s main purpose is to receive substances such as human waste and hold them such that most of the resultant matter can be allowed to soak away into the surrounding area in a state which is less hazardous to the local environment.

So far, so good but this tends to be where, for most people, the knowledge ends. As we do with so many areas of technology, it’s tempting to see it as a ‘magic box’ that just does what it’s designed to do. How then does it actually work?

The process requires little more than time and what we may call ‘natural processes’ in a sealed environment, which ensures that there is no contamination of the wrong matter.

Essentially, the waste will sort into three states. It just needs to be given enough time to allow it to happen, unhindered. The three states are:

  • Solids. As they are denser, gravity dictates that they will settle at the bottom, where they will continue to decompose, which means break down further until they leave a dense sludge.
  • Liquors. As the solids become denser, the liquid matter separates from it. The more solid separation that occurs, the more safely it can be returned to the surrounding area.
  • Scum. The crust is made up mostly of floating fats, oils and grease (and food). This matter collects at the surface of the liquid and should not be discharged with the liquid.

The design of the tank is such that, having enabled the separation of the liquor from the sludge, it allows the liquid matter just beneath the surface (the ‘cleanest’ bit, without the scum) to percolate back into the soil around the tank, the ‘soakaway’ area. Here the cleansing process continues, as the soil itself naturally removes coliform bacteria, viruses and nutrients from the effluent or liquid waste.

For this reason, it’s necessary to see a septic tank as merely the first stage in a process and not the whole solution to the problem of waste processing. Equally, the availability of a suitable soakaway area is just as important as the tank itself.

As the whole process relies on natural decomposition and the power of the soil as a way to treat harmful substances, problems can occur if the waste it treats contains too many chemicals, biological agents or bleaches and with our temperate climate the anaerobic digestion rate is so slow that a septic tank functions much more as a sedimentation tank.

What happens to the three states of matter over time?

With an appropriate level of soakaway area, the liquids will continue to percolate into the soil and harmlessly back into the ecosystem. The chief threat to this may be after periods of extreme wet weather. If ground is already soaked with rainwater, it may lose the capacity to accept effluent, which may bring it to the surface or congest the system, leading to a ‘back-up’ of waste. This problem should never occur as long as the correct soakaway parameters were considered when the septic tank was first installed. Even so, it’s advisable to have a healthy suspicion about this threat whenever there is a sustained period of extremely wet weather.

The scum will remain trapped in the tank as the barrier pipe allows the dispersal of the liquid while stopping the scum or crust entering the soak-away.

Eventually, the level of sludge will build up and begin to compromise the ability of the septic tank to do its job. For optimum efficiency, we advise you to have your septic tank de-sludged regularly in accordance with variables such as how many people live in your household – as this may require you to have it serviced more frequently.
You might have wondered, at the beginning of this blogpost, why on earth you’d ever need to know the inner workings of something that many people may feel is an area best left unexplored but there are many reasons why it’s a good idea that you give some thought to the humble septic tank that spends its life anonymously doing the worst of jobs, hidden away underground.

A little knowledge on the part of every septic tank owner should ensure that it continues to work perfectly – but as many unfortunate people may attest, it’s only when a septic tank stops doing its job as well as it should that it becomes truly appreciated!

Merry Christmas from us all!

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As the year begins to come to a close, it’s time to offer all our customers and friends the compliments of the season.

We are looking forward to working with you again in 2017 and continuing to offer you the great service you’ve experienced in 2016.

Until then, we wish you a wonderful Christmas and happy New Year!

Confessions of a Septic Tank Novice

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Here’s an example from one of our customers. Paul and his wife converted a barn into their home in 2005. With so much to be done, management of their new septic tank seemed like a low priority but sooner or later, it made sense to give more thought to it:

“A few years ago, my wife and I acquired a barn and set about converting it into a home for our young family. While I knew I’d be putting in a lot of hours on the project myself, dealing with all the joiners, the electricians, the plumbers and so on, one thing I barely gave any thought to was the sewage system. We are somewhat ‘off-grid’ so we knew we’d need our own septic tank. When the subject came up, we spoke to our builder, got a spec and bought one (a Klargester BioDisc, I believe). It was installed and it worked. ‘Great’, we thought, ‘job done’ – but we since came to understand that that’s not all there is to it.

You see, unlike the construction, electrics and internal plumbing, which are mostly visible and being consciously used every day, the sewage system is invisible and the, er, use it is put to is generally far removed from our conscious experience of it. That means that, as the years go on, it’s easy to spot any issues or give thought to making improvements to the ‘main’ build but you can be rather ill-prepared in the event of a problem with the sewage system.

Like any form of risk, when you actually start thinking about what can go wrong, bearing in mind the substances involved, you can quickly imagine a nightmare scenario – but that’s not helpful either. What then is the right level of concern to have – and how do you go from naive ignorance, by-pass pointless paranoia and arrive at a sensible level of understanding?

Predictably, common sense is a good start. There are plenty of helpful guides around on the internet to help you understand how septic tanks work and the more you read, the more comfortable you’ll become. Yes you can understand your septic tank’s design a little better but it actually helps most to appreciate that they even have a design – which is to say that they’re not worked by magic and that there are certain things they’re not really designed to do. I’ll avoid being too graphic but a good rule of thumb I’ve read is that “if it hasn’t come out of you, or wasn’t directly involved in the process, it probably shouldn’t go down there”. Sorry ladies, while it kind of sounds like sanitary items are included in that definition, nothing I’ve read has confirmed it – in fact, almost all advice is that they shouldn’t be.

Does that manage to sum up the basics without descending into unseemly technicality?

From there, the other ‘best practice’ aspects are a little more obvious:

  • Sludge will build up and should therefore be removed (every six months, ideally)
  • Bacteria is actually your friend and too much antibacterial matter down the sink will compromise your tank’s effectiveness
  • Liquids should be effectively dissipated over a large area but give some thought of the effects of extremely heavy rain if it ever manages to flood your drainage area. It’s not a nice thought to contemplate the possibility but it’s far better to do that (and have a plan) than to have to deal with the reality

Above all, the knowledge that help is at hand is a great way to remove the majority of the concern. We don’t just foolishly live in fear of ever getting tooth-ache; we appreciate we can’t ever completely remove the risk so we do what regular maintenance we can and engage a dentist to help us. The point is, once we’ve found a professional who can help, most of the concern can, like the waste itself, simply dilute itself away to nothing.”

Septic Tank Novice

Full image of renovation and septic tank installation in progress (above).

Have you done a self-build and installed a septic tank just when you’re busy dealing with the rest of the project? If so, have you fully considered the maintenance of your system? As long as you’re not at the point of dealing with a problem, there’s never a bad time to start and remember – we’re here to help!

Get In Touch With Us

  • Chartwell House
    5 Barnes Wallis Road
    Segensworth East
    Fareham
    Hampshire
    PO15 5TT
  • 0800 023 5301
  • Send us a message
  • UK Spill Association
  • Safe Contractor Approved
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  • Driver CPC
  • Chartered Institute of Waste Management
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