Ah, Christmas Eve. Snuggled up on the sofa, the woodburner roaring away, lights twinkling, candles flickering, the scent of mulled wine filling the room as we wrap gifts and eat chocolates and watch festive films. That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? It’s certainly what our plans were on the morning of the 24th, having done the last of the chores and put fresh new bedding on, with the washing machine humming away, in the background. Luckily, we needed something from the outside cellar – if we hadn’t, what next unfolded could have been so much worse, as it would probably have been well after Christmas when we next went into it. It was at this point, I heard the words I didn’t really want to hear on Christmas Eve – “I think we have a leak…

It did certainly appear that we did – the floor was wet. The first thought was that the new boiler might have sprung a leak – but all the piping was dry and there was nothing dripping. We had had very heavy rains and we wondered if perhaps the strong winds had blown the rain under the door – but it was dry around the door. We were perplexed as we just couldn’t see where the water was coming from. The floor of this cellar room is concrete and in the centre we have interlocking black gym mats – and suddenly we started to see water coming up through the joins. We pulled them back – and we don’t recall ever noticing this before – and saw that water was indeed coming up through the sides of a concrete cover. This was opened – and there was the problem. The washing machine was on its spin cycle and the water wasn’t draining effectively. The level did drop slightly, but not sufficiently and so we knew there was a blockage – and we realised that this drain led to the septic tank outside, and the thought of having an issue with that over Christmas meant we had to act. Fast.

We knew there was no chance of getting anyone out on Christmas Eve, but did work out that our refuse company also empty septic tanks, but they wouldn’t be able to come out until possibly after New Year, so there was only one thing for it. One of us had to roll up our sleeves and armed with a bucket and a big can, start emptying the chamber…

I shall spare you the details, but it soon became very, very apparent that it wasn’t just the washing machine water which was causing the problem. As the level of the water dropped, due to it being emptied manually, we could see that the pipe which fed into the main chamber, under the patio, was blocked, meaning that what was going into the small chamber in the cellar – everything from the dishwasher, shower, sink, washing machine, bath, toilets – wasn’t draining correctly and so was slowly starting to back up. Like I say, if we hadn’t ventured into the cellar on Christmas Eve, I dread to think what would have greeted us next time we went in! The decision was made to then investigate the main chamber under the patio.

When we bought the house, we asked the pertinent questions you would probably ask about a septic tank, never having had one before – and we were assured that we wouldn’t even need to think about it for about ten years. I, in particular, liked that answer, and so we haven’t really thought about it. A quick google search however – which in hindsight, I should have done when we moved in – indicated that domestic septic tanks should be emptied around every 3-4 years. We’ve lived here four years…

So, Christmas Eve afternoon, we’re in the garden. It’s icy cold, rainy, windy and the cover is off the septic tank. A quick peer inside told us that we needed to get the pipe unblocked pretty quickly – without plumbing rods, and nowhere to buy them from this close to Xmas, we had to use the first thing to hand. Let’s just say one of the garden umbrellas will need to be replaced come spring time 🤢 Luckily, one of us has a much stronger constitution than the other, and the gross task was tackled – and thankfully, we soon had water running much more freely. We knew that we hadn’t resolved it, but at least we’d bought ourselves a little bit of time over Xmas. Although, we definitely considered the implications of using any appliances etc and really tried to keep everything – and I do mean everything – to a minimum.

So, how do you sort a blocked septic tank in Istria?

Luckily, we’ve found out, so the new owners of our home can be rest assured that all is sorted, and we can advise what to do and who to go to. It is indeed our local refuse company – although it took a bit of persistence to get someone to assist, as emails and calls were going largely unanswered. Maybe because it was just after New Year, maybe not, because in our experience you have to be very teancious in your dealings with utilities companies who don’t seem to possess high levels of customer service skills. However, we did finally crack it. An invoice was emailed – as I didn’t know if our septic tank was considered large or small, I went for the large option, as I knew if I’d paid for a small tank to be emptied and we had a large one, the process would have to start all over again – and was paid immediately. Then, silence. Nothing. Nada. Not even an acknowledgment of payment. The phone number I had been given to find out a date for clearance, would ring once then I’d get the “User busy” message. This went on for a good few days and just as I was about to implode, I got a call. The lorry was on its way! As happens here – you rarely get a time, even an approximation. You just need to be prepared. And of course, at home.

I can honestly say, I’ve never been as relieved to see a big orange lorry. Within half an hour, we were all unblocked and it was nowhere as horrific as I had thought it might be. Nor was it anywhere near as expensive as I thought it would be. I suppose we still compare things with UK prices, and so we’d thought that for a job like this – where they do kind of have you over a barrel as it’s pretty unlikely you’d be able to do it yourself – we’d be paying at least €200. Not a bit of it! €40 – result! The guys who did the work were quick and efficient and spoke perfect English – always a bonus when you are trying to establish the workings of something quite technical, and they definitely deserved the couple of bottles of wine we gave them as a small thank you.

So, a Christmas Eve was not quite as we imagined and a festive couple of weeks followed, being very careful about what entered the septic tank, but all’s well that ends well. The tank is now cleared and although we won’t be giving the advice we were given about the tanks, we think the orange lorry may not be needed for a couple of years at least. And, whoever becomes the new owner, will at least have all of the necessary contact details to hand. They’ll just need to sit tight until the lorry arrives, and not leave the house…