Wednesday, May 12, 2010
Back Yard History Lesson
Two years ago I noticed the sump-pump corner of our basement was faring poorly. During rains and thaws it smelled musty, which was not characteristic. I took a closer look (yes, that is daylight you see near the upper right of the sump line), then called a few people who knew from house maintenance. A series of repairs was undertaken, beginning with the roof (shingling/eaves-troughs) and moving to the basement. This is the summer of basement work.
We hired a guy to take down our cedar deck, which was poised to be an accident waiting (a very long time) to happen. With that gone, he moved his little backhoe into the yard and started excavating by the foundation. He was quite optimistic. “I love working on houses this age,” he told me. It's just over 130 years old. He took me for a nickel tour of the excavation, pointing out the solidity, general water impermeability, etc. “House like yours, I'm never worried about telling the owner some unexpected expensive news.”
I was pleased to hear this. I thanked him for his work, then went inside while he moved the backhoe to the south of the house and continued. Five minutes later, he was shouting for his partner to come quick. “I don't know what's with this hole, but it's big!”
I came outside and took a look.
The “hole” had been covered with wood, and maybe two feet of topsoil. The wood was very rotten: another accident waiting to happen.
At first glance it seemed it could be a cistern, except that the original cistern remains all but intact in the basement. Was it possibly an early septic tank? It seemed too small to fit the bill.
One local phone call later, we were told this was almost certainly the kitchen “greywater septic tank”: where drain water collected, then gradually leached out into the larger yard. We were told to completely avoid trying to remove this system, as it almost certainly had an extruding network sure to be labyrinthine. Fill it in, and make that the stop-point for the excavating.
I was fine with that. Best of all, as unexpected as this episode was, it did not amount to “expensive news.”