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Math and Gravity Baby, Just Math and Gravity

500 gallon septic tank for RV Pad use

The real title of this blog entry oughta be Installing a Septic System on Unimproved Property for Recreational Vehicle Parking.  I like my title better.   This septic system will allow us to park the Old Girl (or any RV) on our 21 acres in Terlingua and it is what you might call an ‘outlaw system’.   No approved plans, no official soil tests, no inspections, no nothing — and we are perfectly legal.   In Terlingua Ranch, Brewster County, Texas no permits or inspections are required if your property exceeds 10 acres.   Simple and to the point.  The whole area is  like that and of course that is one of the reasons we chose it.  I have had quite enough of the govmint interference and inane bureaucrats telling me what to do my whole life.  Miss K and I are SO done with that.  Thank you very much.

After 2 years of reading and researching and experiencing the Big Bend area, I can tell you sewage waste disposal runs the gamut.  Some people resort to methods I would not consider in a million years and I will just leave it at that.  Sewage waste can harbor some virulent pathogens and I am not going to worry ’bout it.   We hated to spend hard earned and scarce dollars on this project but both agreed it was a project that could not be avoided or executed half way. We bought the proper parts and brought in a licensed septic installer to do the dirt work.  Even though he did not ‘engineer’ the installation  ( all they did was excavation under my direction) I still felt better that he agreed with my installation procedure.

Using the Topcon Laser Level

We went to Terlingua last year and did some research.  Professional installation of a septic system would have been around $4k.  I estimated then that I could do it for about $3k.  We actually did it for $1k less than that and got 2-3 acres cleared and a driveway put in to boot.   Several factors played in to getting it done this cheaply.  Miss K is a relentless combat shopper and priced septic system components from Midland to Ft. Stockton.  We always prefer to spend our money, if possible, with local independent merchants and it worked out that way this time. I did buy a Topcon RL-H4C Rotary Laser Horizontal Level but it is not charged off against this job or included in the expenses. If you are going to do any type of construction, a rotary laser level of this type is a must and we will use it for years to come. We were also fortunate that our land is not rocky.  Digging in rocks would have added substantial machine time and consequently more $$.

A septic system operates on very basic principles.  You run the waste into a large tank.  Inside the tank, some anaerobic breakdown occurs and the solids settle to the bottom.  If you did it right, the discharge or effluent that comes out of the tank is clear and free of solids. It flows to an area where the soil soaks it up and aerobic bacteria take care of the rest of the waste products.  Simple stuff.  Water (and sewage) flow downhill.

The inlet side of the septic system

My Plan was simple as well.  I was going to put in a cleanout for an RV-the type with the screw on cap.  Then I was going to run 20′ of Schedule 40 PVC to a second RV cleanout.  10 more feet of 4″ Schedule 40 into the septic tank.  That takes care of the inlet side.   A few caveats here.  It is better to make the inlet a straight run into the septic tank because this line moves the solids to the tank. If you have to put some curves in it use 45 degree elbows.  90’s are too tight and may catch up the solids and block the pipe.   Since liquids flow downhill, you want the end of the pipe farthest from the septic tank to be higher than the tank inlet…. but you don’t want it to be too high.  If it is too high, the liquid will rush down the pipe all helter skelter and not properly flush the solids to the tank.  I like the drop to be around 2.5″ for each 8′ of pipe run so 40′ of inlet pipe would equate to 12″ of drop.  I had 30′ of inlet pipe so I wanted the first RV cleanout at the end to be 9″ higher than the septic tank inlet.  The second RV cleanout (closest to the tank) would be about 3″ higher than the septic tank inlet.  Getting these elevations exactly right is critical and that is where the Topcon RL-H4C Rotary Laser Horizontal Level is indispensable.

Down and dirty down in the trench--crappy pic of the diffusers stacked up on the right

The outlet side of the septic system involves some slightly different liquid dynamics but liquids still flow downhill, right?  On a septic tank there are a minimum of 3 openings always.   It has an inlet, an outlet and an inspection cover on top.  The inlet is always higher than the outlet.  Remember that.   On the outlet side is was going to run 10′ of Schedule 40 out to the leach field where the absorption would occur.  Let me go off on a side track here.  The place where we bought the septic system balked when I told him I wanted Schedule 40 pipe.  Schedule 40 is the heavy duty pipe.  He tried to tell me thin wall PVC pipe would do just fine — mainly because he only carried the thin wall pipe. I wasn’t having none of that.  The thin wall pipe is brittle and cracks easily.  We spent a few more bucks on the Schedule  40 but when I covered it up, I ceased to worry about it standing up when the ground settles or I decide to drive a loaded concrete truck over the top of it.  After the 10′ of Schedule 40 I was going to put 5 diffuser assemblies in place for the leach field.

This is the first time I have ever used diffuser panels.  We always just used perforated pipe before.  The diffuser panels are SO much easier.  Basically they are just a panle that is open to the bottom and are about 12″ high by 6′ long.  They have a series of slots cut in them top and sides.   They snap together to form a continuous assembly and you snap an inlet end on for the inlet pipe and snap a termination end panel on the last one.  The assembly forms its’ own leach field.

Hot, sweaty, give out --- and done!

The elevation on the outlet pipe that connects to the diffuser panels is not real critical because it runs nothing but clear liquid.   I dropped it 6″ in the 10′ run because I wanted to make sure I got some good flow into the leach field.  Now the leach field has to be level. When the effluent reaches the leach field, I want it to flow slowly from front to back to allow adequate time for it to absorb into the soil.   Makes sense right?  If the leach field is level, the fluids will be pushed by the infow of effluent behind them.  It will be a slow progressive saturation process which will insure many years of trouble free operation.

Now this may be the hardest part of the whole project.   My Bro can do it in his head  –   I gotta draw it out to make sure I got it right.  All this pipe and panels and tank have to be buried.  I want the inspection cover to be no more than 6″ deep in case I need to dig it up to pump it out. I also want the tank to be completely in the ground i.e no big mound of dirt covering it that looks like ass.  I want the inlet pipe at least 24″ deep so I can drive over it.  I want the leach field to be at least 12″ deep but not much deeper because that encourages the anaerobic action.  I can drive over the leach field if I want but that causes compaction.  I would not drive over it with anything heavier than an auto and then not on a regular basis.  You never,ever ever drive over the septic tank.  The trick is getting all these elevations to match up with the least amount of digging.  Machine time (digging) costs money.

A note on capacity and usage – I did put a ‘Y’ in the inlet pipe right at the septic tank.  I may want to connect another sewage source in the future – perhaps a small house.   This 500 gallon system and 30′ feet of diffuser equipped leach field is designed for 1-2 recreational vehicles. Miss K and I use about 300 gallons of water a month and that includes gray water.  We will also not be using this system continuously nor do we have a washer and dryer.  If I was going to plan on continuous usage or more volume, I would have sized it up to a 1000 gallon tank and doubled the number of diffuser panels.  That would have cost about another $800.

I know many readers who own recreational vehicles think about by a few acres of land and constructing an RV parking pad.  Boondocking  for extended periods in the same location is not all it is cracked up to be. The septic system for an RV pad is not that hard to do and will greatly simplify your RV stay.  Many of you folks could do it yourself and save the dollars you would otherwise pay to a contractor.  At the very least, be informed about the subject so if you do have to hire it done, your RV pad septic system will be installed correctly.

 End Note:  I Gotta Go from the new Robert Earl Keen Cd Ready for Confetti.  Some cds are like putting on a pair of old boots.  You know how it is gonna feel but it sure does feel good.

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3 comments to Math and Gravity Baby, Just Math and Gravity

  • Sailbad

    Not knowing a thing about septic, I had my system installed by a professional. I had never seen a system installed before. They explained each step as they proceeded. It was a little more expensive as their labor and a 1000gal tank was used. But because of his teachings I was able to follow your post and understand it completely. You did a good job of writing that up.
    I think eventually you will want that washer/dryer. For me it is 60 miles round trip to a laundry mat and I don’t want to sit there for a couple of hours. It will increase your water consumption however. My machine, washing full loads, and a second rinse, consumes about 50gal a load. My dryer because of no electricity, has to run on propane. I just wish I had your access to electric service.

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    • admin

      We looked at many properties where we preferred the view or the varied terrain on the property itself. Some of it was WAY back off the highway. Regardless of how beautiful it was, I kept thinking to myself how are you going to move any building materials back here and how miserable it would be in the summertime with AC. We ended up buying the only property we looked at that actually had electricity present on the property.

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  • Sailbad

    I wish I’d had your foresight. I’m 2 miles ($36K) from the nearest electrical line. But on the other side of the fence, the trailer has a pretty good solar system. I’m able to run all my systems except the a/c off of it. I will have to “winterize” my container. It’s not yet insulated. It looks like one more winter in Quartzsite!

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