News and Views – June 2015

Learning From The Mistakes Of Others

Well, we’re half way through the year and business is doing well and we’re continuing to get loads of enquiries. We are also getting great feed back about our website and about the consumer guides that I write so everything is really positive as the moment. There is, however, one negative that I feel I should write about. We are currently getting more and more requests for help from people who have had new sewage treatment systems put in that have then not worked or have proved to be entirely unsuitable installations. I find this really hard to cope with. People have paid hard earned money to try and comply with regulations and they have then had the money stolen, been ripped off or have simply been so badly advised that the money they have spent may as well have been flushed down their (probably unconnected) toilet. I hate having to deal with situations like this. I see people in tears because of the money they’ve lost so I’m writing this in the hope that others can learn from their mistakes and not get caught out.

Case One – Bad Advice

We were recently asked to undertake obtaining the planning permission for the installation of a UK manufactured microstation. The property owner, Mr P, had been reliably advised by his friend that this was the ideal system for him and that, if he bought the system direct from the UK, it would be considerably cheaper than purchasing the system here in France. Based on this advice, Mr P bought the system and had it shipped over to his property in

When we went to do the site visit before preparing the plans we immediately informed Mr P that he was unlikely to get the required permission to install the system because

  • UK manufactured systems purchased direct from the UK tend differ slightly from those that can be purchased in France and, as such, the system he had purchased was not authorised for use in France and was not on the governments list of approved systems
  • as Mr P did not live in France permanently and the property was a holiday home he would be unlikely to obtain permission as SPANC do not approve the installation of any system that requires an electrical input to function to be installed in any non permanent residence.

Instructed to by Mr P. we submitted the plans but, as warned, the application was refused. The only course of action for Mr P. was then to buy a second system that both conformed to French regulations and was suitable for his property.

Moral of the story

  • Always seek professional advice
  • Never buy a system unless you know it conforms to French regulations and has the required agreement number
  • Always obtain planning permission before purchasing any system.

Case Two – Bad Installation

This call out was particularly bad. Mr S owns a small house by a fishing lake which, when inspected, turned out had an inadequate fosse system. Thinking he was doing the right thing Mr S spoke to the some French neighbours who recommended a friend who had “done this sort of thing before”. A few days later, with no paperwork to back up the installation, Mr F turns up and starts installing a traditional fosse and filter bed system. Three days later everything was done and Mr S happily paid over the money.

A Collapsed Filter Bed

A Collapsed Filter Bed

Within 3 weeks the system failed. The filter bed became clogged and started to slide down hill until it eventually collapsed and the fosse started to rise out of the ground. Absolutely no account had been taken for the slope of the land which pitched considerably towards the lake and no account had been taken of the incredibly high water table, which, considering the presence of a fishing lake, may have been an easy assumption to make. With nowhere to drain to the toilets starting backing up and Mr S and his wife were left without any working sanitation.

We were called in and unfortunately there was little we could do to salvage the existing system and had to recommend installing an alternative microstation system instead. We were then asked to proceed immediately but refused until we received the appropriate planning permission. Several week s later however, authorisation received and plans approved we installed a microstation suitable for areas with a high water table that was sufficiently anchored to prevent any possibility of it bubbling out of the ground. We also installed a pumping station to remove the discharge water away from the system and to a suitable point of discharge.

Moral of the story

  • Always seek professional advice
  • Check out your installer thoroughly asking for references and details of previous installations
  • Always obtain the correct planning permission before installing any system

Case Three – Bad Customer Service

Mr H. lives by himself in a small hamlet in the Haute Vienne. 70 years old and partly disabled, this experienced carpenter and joiner was undertaking a renovation of an old stone house. Having spent several years looking for the right property, when he finally found his ideal home Mr H. approached Mr J, a builder, to undertake some works including installing the a new waste water treatment system. Whilst Mr H. was absent, the builder dug the hole for the system and proceeded with the installation. When Mr H. returned he queried where the hole had been dug and was apparently told that if he wanted it moved then he, Mr H. should “dig the next hole himself”. The builder, Mr J, who had been paid upfront completed the installation but left the sire without turning the system on and from thereon refused any further contact with Mr H. Mr H. was left with a system that he couldn’t use. Not knowing where to turn to this was a situation that was to last for over two years.

An installation taking up valuable parking

An installation taking up valuable parking

Eventually, encouraged by his family to sort out the problem Mr H got in touch with us. Several days later, expecting a really bad installation we were surprised to see what looked like a decent installation. Yes, we had some niggles; the installation was sited too near the road and took up valuable parking area, the control unit had been placed under a window causing mild noise pollution when the windows were opened and the vent pipe looked unseemly as it extended, unnecessarily, several meters into the air. But apart from that the installation of the system was technically fine. We checked stability and levels, we checked the appropriateness of the water discharge pipe and we did a diagnostic test on the system. Everything proved to be fine.

So what was the problem? It appears the installer was unsure about the system so would not turn it on and the owner, not at all sure how the system worked, was too scared to use it. We showed Mr H how the system worked, demonstrated the various air lifts and gave him the system manual. We also showed him the alarm system and explained the maintenance requirements for the system. Although we didn’t wait around for the first time that Mr H used the system in two and a half years he did express how happy he was to know that he could safely use the system and that everything would go in the right direction. For the first time in over 2 years Mr H could use his toilet without feeling worried. All it took was a bit of information.

Moral of the story

  • Make sure your installer knows how the system works and has a full installation manual
  • Don’t pay labour up front. Wait until you are happy with all the work before making final payment.
  • Always oversee the installation to make sure you’re happy with it
  • If problems occur seek advice as soon as possible