Sewage Disposal

Peter and Debra were throwing a party in their country house. They thought it would be a great idea to invite Sandra and Mark; even though they only met briefly, before both sides shared a passion for country living. Debra knew that Sandra and Peter had some questions about sewage disposal and she was happy to arrange a meeting so that she could tell them all they needed to know about it before buying their country home.

Early Friday afternoon Sandra and Mark left the city. Unlike people who worked the regular nine-to-fiver they were able to avoid the typical weekend traffic and so they sped through almost-empty highways. It was about a two-hour drive and the countryside was as beautiful as Debra described it on the phone – lots of forest areas, little lakes here and there, almost no farm land although Sandra did spot a hill covered in fluffy sheep. Pastoral, sums it up just right, she said to Mark when they passed the hill.

It is beautiful Debra said when Mark and Sandra both told her how beautiful they thought the place was. But, said Peter, a man of very few words. Yes, but, said Debra, but there was the thing with the sewage disposal that I wish I’d known about before. Sandra tried to remember what Claude told her about sewage disposal. Septic system, for example, was a rather simple combination of perforated pipes and a holding tank. It is through those pipes that sewage is absorbed into the ground and there are some things that can go wrong, like the pipes can become plugged.

Septic System Inspection

Basically, you’ll need a septic system inspection, said Debra, to make sure things are working out. They, the inspectors, first do a visual inspection of the area around the system to make sure there aren’t any leaks; I mean you can usually tell because there’s… stuff you can see… and there is the smell… Then they pump the contents from the tank and do a visual inspection of the inside of your septic tank after stuff’s pumped out. That way the inspectors should be able to see any cracks and other flaws in the tank itself. You should ask them for some sort of a written certification about the results of the inspection.

Sandra felt a little embarrassed but she was trying to smell really hard to see if she could detect anything about this particular country house. She recalled how two weeks ago during one of their country house-hunts Claude drove them to a place that needed a septic tank installed. It was an almost brand-new house, finished, but for some reason its owners did things backwards and didn’t have a well or a septic tank installed. Claude told them to forget it anyway – he was embarrassed and sure this was a mistake -- even though the house was very pretty. If you want to install a septic tank, Sandra, you’ll have to perform soil tests to determine if it’s possible to install a septic system on your property. And the tests will differ from one area to another because requirements of your local public health officials are different. For example if the land that you buy is anywhere near an environmentally sensitive area like a stream you should expect more strict requirements.

During dinner the conversation about soil testing continued. Debra and Peter politely referred to certain thing as “stuff” and even though there was that one moment when Sandra felt nauseous -- and got paranoid about the glass of water she was drinking from – they were all adults and this conversation seemed appropriate.

Septic Systems

As it turned out, Peter, who usually didn’t say a lot, was a bit of a soil testing fanatic. He ignored his plate and his glass of water – which again made Sandra strangely anxious – and thumped his fist against the wooden picnic table as he revealed his septic tank knowledge. He talked about the tests revealing what kind of soil one may have at the depth where their septic system should be placed. For a septic system to work the soil must be capable of absorbing waste. Let’s say your soil is too sandy, right? The waste will pass through quickly enough to be purified. If your soil is too rocky it will not permit the stuff to pass through quickly enough to be purified. Happy medium is what soil-testing is all about!

Later on when they had a chance to sit in the lawn chairs and look at the beautiful sunset, the sewage system conversation continued. Basically, said Debra, most health officials want to see the results of something called percolation test to check the rate of absorption from the ground where you plan to have your septic system before they can give you an approval. Yes, added Peter, the percolation test usually means that they will drill a few holes with a power auger, fill them with water and observe the elapsed time for the water to be absorbed to the ground. Also some health officials will require a soil mantle test which is done by digging a trench that is a couple of feed deep – that way health officials can determine the makeup and quality of subsurface soil and will be able to tell you how your land will accommodate a septic system.

Soil Quality

Some health officials also may require a soil mantle test, done by digging a deep trench with a backhoe tractor. By digging a trench several feet deep, health officials can better examine the makeup and quality of subsurface soils and decide how well your land will accommodate a septic system. You always need to check local requirements for sewage disposal if your property requires a septic system. And, in order to make sure your own interests are protected, make your buying offer only if you obtain satisfactory soil test results.

When they got home, Sandra and Mark researched sewage disposal information on the Internet. They learned that septic systems are always regulated by environmental protection acts, especially, like Claude explained, the septic system is to be placed anywhere near the water resources. Besides the soil tests the sewage disposal system needs to be tested for other things, for example to see how close it is to the trees – tree roots can invade and block sewage disposal system.

If your country home has a septic system already it is important to check when it was last tested and when was the last time the tank was pumped out. It is also important to find out about previous backups and sewage blocks. Also, it should be possible to find out whether there are any municipal developments in action that will require that you connect the home to a town water and sewer supply. Such transformations may cost several thousands of dollars.

Avoid Health Hazards

Furthermore, in order for the septic system to be effective, to not cause any health hazards it needs to meet the following requirements:

· There has to be a working pipe or sewer line that runs from the country home’s plumbing to the septic tank.

· The septic tank should provide the initial treatment of the waste; it should decrease pollutant levels and should have inlet and outlet elements that decrease the strength of liquid and waste that moves through the tank and will also stop leakage.

· There should be a distribution system that will direct the flow of waste from the septic tank to the leaching system; this is usually obtained by the flow running through the pipes and distribution boxes. You shouldn’t need any other device to help achieve this such as a pump.

· The leaching system that functions properly should remove and dispense the waste into the surrounding soils. The type of a leaching system depends on soil conditions that were determined before the septic system was installed.

Sandra and Mark have also found some good information about the leaching system itself. As it turned out, the leaching system had to also meet certain standards in order to function to the best of its ability:

· There has to be enough area of surface soils around the leaching systems where the waste is distributed. As with the type of a leaching system the size of this area is determined by the type of soils on the property and the average of the daily flows that come from the house.

· It is ideal if the leaching system is surrounded by natural soil conditions because that way it is possible to disperse the waste without the soils becoming oversaturated.

Extra Space

There should be enough space to store waste when the septic tank is used more or when there’s any flooding due to a rainfall.

Finally, the couple also found out some information about how to obtain more information about the specific septic system. There were few common advices as to what future country home owners could do to avoid possible future problems and expenses:

· First of all, ask for drawings about the particular septic system location as well as the records of septic system maintenance. A well-functioning septic tank should have a record of having been emptied, at least, every two to five years.

· What sort of pumping contractor has been employed and how often is the pump maintained? Were there any repairs and how serious were they?

· Make sure you have enough research about the past performance of the septic system, if there are certain recurring problems talk to your broker before you buy and find out what can be done to fix it for you, if there were problems.

If it’s possible ask for health department files and get a sanitarian to look through the files with you and give you an opinion on how and if the existing septic system meets all the health requirements.