Friday, 5 April 2013

Efficient (perhaps too efficient?) service

In yesterday's post, I mentioned we had called the septic tank pump out dudes to come on Monday. The plan was to have them pump the tanks out, then get back the dudes with the camera to look back into the drain and see what was up.

In Canmore, plans rarely work as planned.

In a fit of outstandingly good service -- excessively good service, in this case -- we got home from skiing today to a phone message. The septic tank dudes had come today "because they were in the neighbourhood" and pumped the tank out for us.

Because we weren't here, we couldn't ask them why the level was high. Or why the two tanks seemed to not be well connected. Nor if they could pressure wash the connection, or wash the line in from the house.

So we called and explained what was happening with our sewage fountains. They apologized. Apologized? For coming ahead of schedule and doing the service early? I'm not sure why they should apologize. A whole lotta Canmore businesses could learn customer service from these guys. No, this was my fault for not telling them in advance what our issues were.

I've just become so accustomed to "Canmore time" with the businesses here that the folks who actually deliver on time -- like these septic tank dudes, my general contractor and a handful of others -- well, they just impress the heck out of me. And having lived here a while, I'm not used to the good service I get from them.

As I said, we called them. Once I told them what was happening, they promised to come back Monday as scheduled to help us sort out our problem.

Live in Canmore? Got a septic problem? Call these dudes.

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Fountains of sewage

Just after Christmas, we noticed something strange going on with our basement bathroom. It features a "pumping toilet" since it lies below the level of our septic tank.

The pump started pumping occasionally for no apparent reason.

At first we suspected a slight leak in the toilet. To test it, we turned the water off to the toilet. It still pumped, but with less frequency. Then we noticed that it seemed to pump mostly when we had guests using our upstairs guest bathroom.

And one day, we went downstairs, and found that a fountain of sewage had erupted from the shower drain in the basement bathroom. It was right after some guests had been in. We cleaned it up, and it happened again the next time we had guests in.


So we called a plumber, who generously said they couldn't help us, but re-directed us to a Canmore company that inspected and put cameras down drain lines to diagnose problems like these. They came by today. They popped the covers on the septic tanks, and found the first tank REALLY full, and the second tank just half full with water gently dripping into it. In fact, the first tank is SO full that the level is ABOVE the level of the drain line in the basement. They put a camera down that main drain line running to the septic tank and found it clear of debris but half-full of water. 


The current diagnosis is that there's a blockage somewhere between the two septic tanks, backing up the water into the house. It will allow some water to flow slowly between the tanks, but when guests are in and we all shower at once (say, in the morning before skiing), the water backs up from Tank 2 to Tank 1 into the drain line of the house, flows into the vent line of the basement bathroom, fountains out the shower and into the toilet where it is pumped back up.

So we're scheduled to have the septic tanks pumped out and cleaned on Monday -- a semi-annual thing the previous owner has been doing for 20+ years. We'll try to clear any blockage, and check why the level is so high (and we might try to get a high level alarm installed).

But it doesn't explain how the water in the septic tank is higher than the level of the line draining into it -- a line that has some water in it, but is not full.


Wednesday, 3 April 2013

The next "Month In" is...

When we retired, we wanted to embrace the concept of an annual "Month In..." where we went to live somewhere else for a month each year.

We picked going in May as it is the "spring skiing" end of the ski season -- and we're not huge spring skiing fans -- yet before the beginning of the way-to-short hiking season. I'm also anchored by my annual trip to Montreal to see the Formula 1 Grand Prix, which is in the beginning of June each year.

We wanted to live somewhere else, not just visit somewhere else. The idea wasn't to play tourist every day, but rather to live like locals.

Our first year, we went to Amsterdam. Great place. Loved the city, loved the surroundings, loved the Dutch people, loved the canals, loved our apartment, loved Dutch basketball, loved riding bikes, and had a great time. Highly recommended.

Last year, we spent a month travelling around the Southeast USA. Not really a "Month In..." but I got a new car out of it. Liked Washington DC, the swamps of South Carolina, Shenandoh National Park, the Black Hills of South Dakota, and eating a LOT of genuine barbecue. There was lots of stuff we didn't like (Kansas City springs to mind). But it wasn't really a "Month In..." anywhere, and love them as I do, I'm not sure living anywhere in America is so much different from living in Canada.

For our 2013 "Month In...", we started with a big desire to visit South Africa. We bought guidebooks and other such things last Fall, but we got busy and planning went by the wayside. Six weeks ago, we noticed that May was getting pretty close and we had booked nothing. We had a long discussion and came to the conclusion that we could not go somewhere too new for our "Month In..." as we had run out of research time. We also realized that unless we got on it, we would lose all opportunities as finding a furnished apartment to rent for a month on short notice is a challenge, even in big cities. We did some random scoping on the interweb and proved that to be the case.

So another two weeks went by, and we narrowed it down. We could really only do a "Month In..." one of three major European cities. We like all three cities, as we have been to each before. All three were big enough to have lots of accommodation options. All three allowed us to get past a language barrier, since we don't have time to learn much of a new language. All three are reasonably easy to get to from Calgary. We put them in priority order, and took a day to study accommodation options. We made "must have lists" in that accommodation, one of which was that we could book it on line (or at least see a current availability calendar on-line). We found 3 possible places to stay in one city, but none in our second choice. We sent out one apartment enquiry Monday, but found out this morning it was unavailable (so much for on-line calendars). We sent out a second immediately and got a confirmation within minutes. Ladies and gentlemen, this year we're spending a "Month In..."


We really wanted to go to Venice, but we could find nowhere to stay. Karen found an OK place, but it had no internet, and that's crucial for us. We also thought about London, but everything we saw was at least 50% more expensive than any of the three places we found in Rome.

Our apartment is a little less central than we wanted; it's 10 min west of the Vatican. The first one we found was in Rioni Monte, our favourite Rome neighbourhood, but alas, we couldn't get it for the full month. So we'll be spending more time on Rome's transit than we wanted (and that's not that great, because Rome's transit system isn't as good as London's or Paris'. Or even as good as Red Deer's.)

But we'll be there from May 7th to June 3rd. And given how much we love Italy, we're really looking forward to it.

We learned a few things from this process:

  • There's LOTS of apartment rental sites. Many times, the same apartment shows up on several of them, often with different calendars.
  • Most people don't keep their availability calendars up to date. Even those that look up to date commonly aren't.
  • Many people are crappy at getting back to you. 36-48 hrs is a fast response in VRBO or other sites.
  • Most don't want to map their places. They'll provide a paragraph of approximate locations, but rarely an address
  • The rates shown are commonly not the rate you'll pay. In some cases, you'll see the "lowest of the low" season rates. In some cases big discounts (25-40%) will be offered for stays longer than 3 weeks. So sifting through rates is an issue
  • People take crappy photos of their apartments. They'll show 40 pictures of the Colosseum, Trevi Fountain and Vatican, one shot of the kitchen (that you can't make out if they have a stove), and no pictures of the bathroom
  • Some really nice people offer approximate floor plans. We like these people.
Ah well. It's a driving blizzard here. All the more reason to think about spending May in Rome.