Saturday, November 29, 2014

Living With a Cesspool

Having a cesspool is fairly common for many homesteaders. Cesspools are still commonly found in rural areas. Our own homestead uses a cesspool instead of a septic system. 

Prior to moving here, we had experience with cesspools on our first property we lived on back in the early 1970's. It had two cesspools, one for the kitchen & clothes washer, and one for everything else. The kitchen one failed on us so we had the opportunity to learn why. Reason -- soap, grease, too much water, too many chemicals. That cesspool was quite small and was 30+ years old, so our poor habits just nudged it over the edge to failure. The second cesspool was functioning beautifully and the last I heard, it is still doing fine today. 

After that first place, all our residences had septic systems. Oh they had their own issues, but they weren't cesspools. But here we are today, back again with a cesspool. 

We've learned by example, experience, and advice that one should care for their cesspool. It's just another one of things about being self reliant. And our particular cesspool needs tender loving care because its an old fashion type with no cleanout port. There is a 4" pipe opening so that water could be pumped out but no way to clean out the sludge along the walls. So in order to have this cesspool last, we need to be very careful. 

So what steps do we take? Quite a few. Perhaps not all of the are necessary, but it makes us feel better that we are doing them. The one thing that we don't do that we hear some other people do use additives. Everything we've been told by the pros says that here in Hawaii the cesspool doesn't need any bacteria or "good bugs" added. The ground is warm enough to support cesspool "bugs". 

So what else? Basically the goal is that only poop, pee, and normal flush water goes into the cesspool. Very little of anything else. That means no grey water which in turn means... garbage disposal kitchen sink. No greasy dish water! No dishwasher. clothes washer shower or tub water
...minimal toilet paper. Zero is better. (I wrap used toilet paper in a piece of newspaper then pop it into the wood burning stove. Hubby can't bring himself to deal with "toxic waste" without a full hazmat suit, so his toilet paper gets flushed.) non-degradable stuff such as paint, chemicals, oils, dental floss, baby wipes, condoms, tampons, old medications, etc. 

Too much water can cause cesspool failure. So grey water is better channeled to a banana patch. Our house shower and sinks all bypass the cesspool. But excess water could also come from a leaky toilet.So any toilet leaking has to be remedied right away. But if sinks were plumbed to the cesspool, then we'd have to be aware of water use. No constantly running the faucet while brushing teeth, washing dishes, etc and watch out for dripping faucets. 

Excess water can also come from outdoor situations. When building the house we had to be aware of rain runoff, downspout discharge, runoff from paved areas. While we don't have a pool or hot tub, they should not be emptied near a cesspool. But we do have small ponds and catchment tanks, so overflow from them had to be channeled away from the cesspool. 

The pros say that cesspools last 10-15 yrs before trouble starts. But they can last a lifetime if properly installed in good soil and if properly maintained. 

The pros also say...
...don't build that house addition over the cesspool
...don't park your car on the cesspool
...don't pave a driveway atop the cesspool
...don't plant a tree on the cesspool
...don't drill your water well beside your cesspool
Apparently people have done those things. Incredible! 


  1. So why do you have a cesspool instead of a septic tank?

  2. Cost cost is the number one factor. It doesn't cost much around here to bring in a backhoe and scoop out a hole. I don't have what they call blue rock in the area of our cesspool, so making the hole was fairly simple. Then the hole needs to have the discharge pipe installed, then a simple concrete cap. Very easy, very quick, very cheap.

    Septic systems here are expensive. Plus they need room for the drain field. The people who choose our house site didn't leave room for a drain field. So things are rather right for space around the house. If in the future we would need to dig a new cesspool, we would have to re-route the driveway....that's how tight the space is.

    Personally I see no need for a septic system in our situation. We live in an area where jut about everyone have 20 or more acres. The lava below is porous enough for drainage plus acts like a giant filtration system. Thus cesspools preform quite well in this area.

    I can understand the need for septic systems in other locales, but I am pleased to know that a cesspool can work for us. As I've said, if we take care of it, it will last our lifetime.

    1. Thanks! We've always had septic tanks. I've heard of cesspools but didn't know anything about them much. Thanks for sharing your insight.