Home House Hacks Let’s talk dirty, about septic tanks

Let’s talk dirty, about septic tanks

Let’s talk dirty, about septic tanks
Modern septic tanks can be easily cleaned out with the use of a special pump. Photo: Courtesy
Modern septic tanks can be easily cleaned out with the use of a special pump. Photo: Courtesy

Buying or building a house in Yucatán can be the culmination of a lifelong dream.  Regardless of where you decide to buy or build you will be confronted with myriad decisions. How many rooms will you have? What materials will the kitchen cupboards be made of? How big should the pool be?

Of all these questions there is none less exciting than what to do about the septic tank. Septic tanks are underground wastewater storage structures, commonly used in areas such as Yucatán that do not have centralized sewer systems.  In the case of Yucatán, septic tanks are necessary because the limestone ground is so hard and expensive to dig into, that building a city-wide sewer system would be almost impossible. When starting a construction project most contractors recommend choosing the location of the septic tank long before the first brick is laid. 

Septic tanks in older homes tend to be dug directly into the ground and lined with natural materials such as stone, gravel, and sand.  When looking to buy property in a locale such as downtown Mérida or Valladolid it is always a good idea to ask where the septic tank is. This is because many properties have been subdivided, and that may mean that the septic tank could lay entirely, or partially, in another property.  This can get particularly messy when the septic tank needs to be emptied, as these older types of tanks can be structurally unsound, and in some cases even collapse. 

Most homes built in the latter decades of the twentieth century and beyond do not have such problems because they are made of resistant materials such as thick PVC. They also have the added benefit of being much easier to cleanout. Newer models are able to be emptied by specialized pumps, sometimes set aboard large trucks, which quickly and relatively painlessly extract the sewage.  Standard prefabricated septic tanks can range in volume from 1000 to 3000 gallons. The bigger the tank the more it will cost, but will need to be emptied less often. 

Another advantage of modern septic tanks is that they are much less likely to clog up. You will have surely noticed that most households and hotels in Yucatán place small garbage cans next to toilets, for toilet paper disposal. If modern septic tanks are less likely to clog, Why use these wastebaskets at all? The answer is that while some people do indeed toss their used toilet paper directly into the toilet, most folks in Yucatán simply do not consider it worth the risk. It may turn out fine, but on the other hand, you may find yourself with an expensive (and stinky) problem within a couple of years. 

When it comes down to it the choice likely comes down to cultural preference. It may seem gross or unsightly to international folk, but most people in Yucatán have been using these toilet paper baskets their entire lives and are not bothered by them at all. But in all honesty, as a lifelong fan of the bidet, this whole conundrum seems rather silly. Feel free to tell me why I am wrong in the comments.