At about the worst possible time (between Christmas and New Year) one of our electrical safety switches activated, switching off power in the house. After a few minutes of plugging appliances into various power points, we narrowed the problem down to the circuit that supplies the back half of the house.
Saturday, February 23, 2013
Fixing our Worm Farm Waste Water Treatment System
Further investigation showed the problem was in the submersible pump that pumped waste water out of our worm farm waste water tank. This system processes all our effluent from the kitchen, bathroom and toilet. The waste water filters through a compost heap, where the solids sit until they decompose and the pump empties excess water that builds up in the sump.
There is no odour in the worm farm tank but the waste water entering the sump does have a mild smell. (Mild compared to that in a traditional septic system.) Still there is an odour and it is not the best time to be working with it, in the middle of our hottest summer for many years. This timing was also unfortunate because during this period most plumbers, plumbing suppliers and pump repairers were on their annual holiday. We decided that our only option was to have a go at it ourselves.
After checking the power point it was clear that the fault lay in the actual pump. It was time to get our hands dirty and extract the pump. It is fairly heavy at 15kg and a reasonably tight fit with the attached floats, but we managed to disconnect the wiring and piping and haul the unit up to the surface. We worked through many of the obvious possible problems trying it out again and again after each time. We even left it for a few days in the hope that if moisture was causing a short circuit it would dry out and at least work for another week or more. No luck!
Then we got on the phone and managed to find a pump repairer who worked from home. He did a few tests and told us that it was indeed faulty and would cost more to repair than buy a new one. The next day we went to Water Pros, an irrigation supplier in Lilydale (by now the holidays had finished). They were very helpful and to our amazement had a new pump for us within 2 days at a better price than I could find on the internet. We highly recommend them for their service and price on irrigation and pump equipment.
Once home we removed the piping, floats and wires from the old pump and transferred these to the new pump. After a few trials and tribulations we turned it on and it worked (no tripping of safety switches) and as the water level rose, it activated the shut off float and turned itself off. We were back to normal at last!
Altogether it took over a week to get the system working again. That was a week with minimal showers and working out ways to dispose of kitchen and laundry water onto the lawn (not a bad idea in summer anyway). The main worry was the fact that if water levels built up in the tank, the composting worms that process the waste, would all drown. Therefore emptying the waste water in the sump by hand (using a plastic ice cream tub screwed to the end of a pole) became a daily ritual. It took around 30 minutes to lift out about 200 litres.
The pump has now been working well for around six weeks, so we are hoping it will do so for many more years yet. However, both the pump repairer and the irrigation shop staff said you are lucky to get 5 or 6 six years out of a submersible pump in our situation (the old one was 9 years old). When we get time we will take the old one apart and see if we can repair it and keep it as a spare for emergencies.
Over the years we have found that it is possible to give things ago ourselves. As owner builders we frequently come across issues that are beyond our existing knowledge. We are by no means technically minded, but often find that doing some research on the web, asking around for information and taking things step by step helps. The process takes longer, can be a bit frustrating but it saves money and we learn new skills at the same time.