Info: How to Add or Replace a Septic Sewage System

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Suceress

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Disclaimer: I am not an expert. I am not an installer or plumber or contractor. I am a homeowner who had a septic tank and leach field system replaced. I'm sharing this info to help people avoid some of my mistakes as well as to better understand the process involved in having this done.
This is just for information for anyone who wants to get a septic system installed or replaced.

How To Add or Replace a Septic Sewage System
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So you want to build a home in a rural area that will not be able to attach to city sewage OR the septic sewage system in your current home needs to be replaced.

Things you will need:

1. Official paperwork to prove you own the property-- sometimes including an outline of the property size/lines.
2. Sketch of the property with the areas you are considering placing the septic tank and leach field lines.
3. A shovel or post-hole digger (I found the latter to be easier to use)
5. At least five 5 gallon buckets or one 5 gallon bucket and a water hose or supply within reach.
6. Transportation to go to the health inspector's office (if you are unable to correspond with your health inspector via e-mail and he/she requests a face-to-face meeting).
7. The temporary permit which allows you to hire an installer. (Potential installers may ask you for the permit # to make sure that you have permission to have the installation)
8. A list of licensed installers and their contact information.
9. A sketch or detailed drawing of the installer's plans that will need to be approved by the health inspector
10. The full permit for the installation once everything has been approved.
11. At least $3,000 to $4,000 (if not more) to spend on the project.
12. Enough space for large trucks to move around (there may be 3 or 4 or even more trucks needed for the job)
13. A phone (possibly even computer access to send e-mails if you need to correspond with anyone via e-mail)
14. Time and patience. The process can take awhile since you will have to arrange things to work within the schedules of yourself, the inspector, and the installer.

The Steps:
1. Contact your local Department of Health. You can find websites by state at http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/international/relres.html

2. You will need to show proof that you own the property. You can either bring your property title OR you can go to the tax assessor's office that has property information. Get them to print out paperwork affirming your ownership of the property and shows the property lines.

3. Talk to the health inspector to determine if a septic system will be allowed on your property and make sure you know where you want to put the leach field. The health inspector should give you a printout with information on the rules for field lines and explain how to do a percolation test.

3. Arrange for a date to do the percolation test (the inspector will have to come out to inspect it) and have the inspector check it to determine the percolation rate of the soil. It is best to check the weather forecast to ensure that it will not likely be raining on the day of the test. An example of a test is to select the general area in which you are thinking of running the leach field lines and dig about 5 holes that are at least 20ft away from one another. Holes should be at least 8 inches in diameter and at least 24 inches deep (your jurisdiction may have different rules). Pour 5 gallons of water in to each hole (its best to have a 5 gallon bucket near each hole). Note the time of the pour and let the health inspector know. The next day the inspector will come out and check each hole to see if there is still standing water. He/she will measure to see the depth of the water (if any is left). You will need to have 5 gallons of water ready or have a water hose within reach to be able to pour 5 more gallons into each hole. The inspector will check back in about an hour and test the water levels.

5. Wait for the recommendations and permit from the inspector. The inspector will use the data from the perc test and write up some paperwork stating what the perc rate was, the minimum size of the septic tank, and the length of the leach field needed. They will generally give the measurements for a standard pipe and gravel leach field. There are many different types that can be used, but you will have to ask the inspector which ones are allowed in your area. Things that will be taken into consideration will be:
a) Percolation rate of the soil
b) Distance from house (particularly water supply-- it must be at least 50feet from the water well)
c) Distance from edge of property line (it must be a sufficient distance from the edge of the property to avoid contaminating outside property)
d) Type of system being installed (gravel, cloth, infiltrator segments, mechanical system, etc)

6. Select the type of leach line system that would work best for you. You may want an extra effluent reduction system to clean the water. You may want to have a mechanical system that turns the cleaned water into a sprinkler system for your garden. You may just want to have Infiltrator Systems which reduces the overall length required. There are many differnt options and varying costs.

7. Research your options for contractors. Try to find out what you can about your various options. Check the records to see if any of them have violations and talk to local plumbers to find out if they know the installer and what they think. (I had an installer who was recommended but he was booked up and I needed my system replaced asap). Health inspectors are not allowed to recommend any particular contractor, nor are they allowed to advise you to avoid anyone-- however, if you watch his/her microexpressions, you might get some clues. If the inspector flinches when you mention a certain name, you might not want to go with that installer (My local health unintentionally flinched when I mentioned a certain name and my plumber later said that particular installer was awful and to avoid him). Your inspector might have a good poker face so that last method is not a guarantee.

8. Call multiple installers and get estimates. Tell them your location and what the recommendations of the health inspector were. Some of them may ask for the permit number. You may end up with a lot of answering machines or "sorry, we don't go out to your area" or "sorry, we are booked up" so you will need to be patient. Avoid anyone who says they don't have to follow the rules and that try to fast-talk you. Don't go with the absolute cheapest option just because it is the cheapest. Sometimes they will give you a low price and then jack the price up after the install. If possible, get someone who is willing to come out and actually look at the property and check elevation and such prior to installation. There may be a fee involved, or some installers may consider this a cost of doing business and not charge you. Make sure that the installer has experience installing the type of system that you want installed. If you are getting a mechanical system, ask specifically how many mechanical systems he installed before. If it is non-mechanical, ask specifically about that type.

9. If possible get an itemized contract. (In my area, septic tank installers do not do written contracts and they rely on "handshake deals"). You will want to make sure that you are protected if something goes wrong and likewise, the contractor will want to make sure he doesn't get gypped out of payment. Keep in mind that sometimes the price may change if there are unforeseen problems.. Making sure that the elevation is checked ahead of time (before the day of install) is very important because there is a specific slope/incline allowed for the field line. It cannot exceed 12" in height change over 100'. Each field line run cannot exceed 100'. (If 300' is recommended you will need at least 3 separate lines connected via a D-box-- distribution box).

10. Submit plans to the health inspector. Your selected contractor should draw up a plan (it can be a sketch or a detailed drawing depending on your local requirements) that details the location of the septic tank, the location of the lines, what sort of material for the lines, where everything hooks up, and where the field lines will be placed. The inspector will then either reject or approve of the proposal. If it is rejected, the inspector should include notes on what needs to be changed. If approved, you can then proceed.

10. Shortly before the installation is done, the installer will contact the local utility companies (if you have any utilities) and ask them to come out and mark any underground lines (power, gas, cable, water, phone, etc). If you don't have any of these, then nobody will come out and mark anything.

11. If you do not have an existing septic tank and field line, skip to step 13. IF you have an existing septic tank and leach field in place, you will need to make arrangements to have the old septic tank completely drained on the day of the installation. Unless your installer has a permit to suck the sewage or has sublet to someone who regularly does the work, you will need to hire someone to do the job-- it can cost around $240 or more depending on your area. The old tank will have to either be removed, destroyed, or filled in with dirt. If it is filled in with solid waste still there, the solid waste will work its way up to the surface and contaminate the topsoil. If the old tank is removed or destroyed you may be able to have the new tank set in its place. Having the old tank removed and transported off of the property will be more expensive as the installer will have to pay extra disposal fees to authorities.

12. If your existing leach field is in good working condition, you may possibly be able to re-use some of it and add on to it with a D-box. That will have to be determined beforehand. If it is insufficient, done improperly, full, or otherwise unusable you will either have to work around it or just dig it up. The size/length of the trenches will depend on what sort of system you decided to go with. Standard gravel and pipe will require slimmer trenches but of longer lengths. Depending on your perc rate, you may not need the gravel. In some cases you may need a special efluent reducing cloth. Both gravel and cloth can add to the price. Keep in mind that the installers often charge per ft when they have to dig. So if they charge like $5 per linear ft and you need 300ft plus the length for the distance from the tank to the leach field, it will cost at least $1500 just for the digging (its best to see if you can get your contractor to tell you how much is charged per ft). The installer should have a backhoe to make the job go faster and those things are expensive to buy, transport, and maintain (my installer got his cheap for $50k).

13. A hole large enough to fit the new septic tank will need to be dug (if it was not already done so when removing an old tank). This part can be tricky because it has to be a certain size without hitting the groundwater line and it will have to be relatively level. There are different types of tanks and this will affect the way it is installed. My installer did not actually give me a choice on tank as he was using the one patented by his father-in-law. If you have soil with pervasive large tree roots or large rocks it might make it harder to dig. If you have sandy soil it might start to collapse in as they dig.

15. The tank will then be installed. There are plastic tanks, metal tanks, fiberglass tanks, and concrete tanks. (I was not given an option by my contractor as he only worked with the concrete tank patented by his father-in-law). For concrete a large truck with a part that extended off of the back of the truck and powerful winch system was used to set the tank in place and get it level.

16. The lines pipes will all be secured together via PVC cement or whatever medium they use and the inspector will check everything and make sure that it is done properly. He/she will check to make sure that everything is at the proper incline and instruct them to make changes if necessary. This can be a long process as he/she will need to go along and check the elevation all along the length of each field line to make sure that it does not exceed the allowed slope. Once he/she signs off on the job, the installers can then bury everything that needs to be buried, provide the appropriate license and permit paperwork to the inspector-- you may be asked to sign something for finalization, collect payment, and leave.

17. The inspector will generally send the finalized permit in the mail within a few weeks. Keep it with your records in case you ever need work on your system or need to provide it when selling or insuring the home.

18. Make sure you get literature on your particular system to find out about any maintenance/repairs or whatever that may be necessary. Ask about how often you will need to have the tank sucked. Make sure that whoever you hire to do the sewage sucking is known to drain the tanks all the way and especially that they suck out the solid waste. If your guy refuses, either insist that he sucks it all and if he doesn't report him to the health inspector and find a different service. Don't let a sewage sucking guy tell you that it is ok to leave stuff in the tank. It's not, and he/she can get in trouble for not draining it all the way if reported.

19. Enjoy your new system (but be gentle on it-- no flushable wipes, don't use too much antimicrobial soap, no draino, and do make sure that if you use a garbage disposal that you don't just dump food down it that might get stuck in the pipes or not digest/deteriorate quickly).


Some info:
*A percolation test (often referred to as "perc test") is used to determine how well the soil will absorb and distribute water. If your soil does not percolate well, the water will not dissipate quickly enough. In some places this needs to be done by the health inspector or designated person. In others you can do it and the inspector will check it.

*The septic tank must be at least 10' from the house.

*D-box= distribution box. If you need more than 2 runs of leach line, you will need this to equally distribute the water to each line.

*The general incline needed for the field line is 1/4" per ft. The lines cannot be more than 100' each and cannot drop more than 1' in a 100' run.

*Make sure you plan your field line to be in a place that will not be driven over frequently (if possible). You most definetely want to make sure that the sewage sucking truck is not going to drive ove the leach field lines. In some cases, this means you may need to have a run of thick pipe connecting your leach lines. The pipe should be able to be driven over every once in awhile. Certain types of leach lines can be driven over with a tractor or small vehicle so long as it does not compact the soil and you can only have it run across (perpendicular) and not along the run.

*Generally the leach field will be covered in no more than 12" of soil. This is so the soil will not be compacted too much to allow water to pass through it.

*The soil under the leach line should NOT be tamped down and compacted.

*How much does it all cost? It depends on your needs and your area. To have my system completely redone, it was around $3,400 plus the $240 for the drainage of the existing system. In some areas it may cost more-- I've heard quotes of up to $10k in some areas.

*Why go to the tax assessor's office? The tax assessor's office keeps files on who owns what property and what size it is, where it is, what structures are on it, and so forth so they can determine how much property tax to charge.

*Does it cost anything for the permit? It depends on your jurisdiction. In Louisiana there was no fee for the permit.

*Talk to your local plumber and ask about the various potential contractors. If you trust your plumber's judgement, he/she might lead you in the right direction in terms of choosing an installer. Talk to people who used the services of the installers and ask them about their experiences (if you can find anyone).

If anyone has any corrections or additional info, please let me know.
(I hope this is in the right section)
 
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hj

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You should start with step #8. Once you do that, and decide on the contractor you want to use HE should do steps #1 thru 7 and #10. If I were doing the installation, I would probably NOT use your drawings for the permit, or anything else you did in the first 10 steps. All I would care about, from you, would be step #11, to be sure you could pay for the job. Once that is established, you can go to a movie or on vacation, until the job is finished.
 

Suceress

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You should start with step #8. Once you do that, and decide on the contractor you want to use HE should do steps #1 thru 7 and #10. If I were doing the installation, I would probably NOT use your drawings for the permit, or anything else you did in the first 10 steps. All I would care about, from you, would be step #11, to be sure you could pay for the job. Once that is established, you can go to a movie or on vacation, until the job is finished.

Thanks for the tip. The health inspector actually suggested that I be a bit more hands-on in some of the planning and doublechecking to make sure that a permit was pulled. For the record, I did not submit any drawings. I just pointed on a map of my yard where I wanted my field line to go and he scheduled the percolation test. I think I got a bit more involved than most homeowners probably would. I was very curious about the whole process. There were a few setbacks and some unpleasantness with the sewage sucking guy. Toward the end I wanted the job to just be done so I started picking up segments of Infiltrator Systems myself and started setting them up near the trench so they could just be rolled in. I stayed outside and watched the entire process from start to finish.

Unfortunately, I couldn't convince the installer to come out beforehand to check elevation and the place where the lines were supposed to go was not feasible because of too much slope. So the lines had to go in a different direction that happened to intersect through a waterline to a faucet out in the garden. They hit the waterline and had to cap it. So now I no longer have water to that faucet. It wasn't being used though, so it wasn't a big deal, but it was still annoying. And although he had bragged about having installed many systems, apparently he'd only installed mechanical systems and he had to fix some things. He used the wrong fitting to connect the house to the septic tank, had the wrong slope on some of the pipe, and had to do quite a bit of tweaking to get it to pass inspection. There was also the problem that the glue he brought was dried up so he had to go buy a fresh can and he didn't bring all of the right fittings so he had to drive back in to get the right one. On the way back a rock kicked up from the gravel road and punctured something in his truck that started leaking like crazy so I had to drive his co-worker back into town to get some stop-Leak. Meanwhile the inspector had a break for lunch and on his way back he slid into a ditch and dinged up his car.

I will say that other than some of the inexperience, the guys were very nice. Transplanted a tree for me at no extra cost because it was going to get destroyed and moved a fallen branch that was blocking part of the driveway. They even took the cutouts from the concrete septic tank up to my porch so I could use them as steps (siding people broke the top front step and we never found a suitable replacement).

The whole process took a lot longer than it should have and cost more than they estimated. They said they would charge a lot more to the next person who wanted the same job done.

In retrospect, with all of the waiting, I wish I had waited for the one recommended guy to be available because with all of the delays it ended up taking over a month to get to the installation. One problem arose from there being only one inspector who can't receive e-mail and he didn't realize that his fax machine had run out of paper for an entire week. And he's only in the office like 3 days a week and only for a few short hours. So getting everyone scheduled was a nightmare.

At least the septic sucking guy actually sucked everything out for the first time ever. Probably the last time because I'm going to find a new guy. Old guy just had a bad attitude.

Ultimately the installation set us back about $3,600 but I'm glad it is done.
 

hj

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FRom your description of the process, I get the impression that the person you gave the job to was not really qualified to do it, otherwise those "things" would not have happened, and you would still have water in that faucet. In fact, from his comment about charging the next person, I assume you were the first one he had done, otherwise he would have charged YOU more.
 

Suceress

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Yeah. He didn't know his license number and didn't even know he was supposed to bring it to the job site. It was a new starting business apparently. His father-in-law had been in the business for a very long time and even patented his own septic tank. The health inspector recognized the father-in-law's name and said that he'd seen many installations by him.

Oh, and you are right that it was his first job doing a non-mechanical system. He'd always done mechanical ones before and he was doing things the way it would be done on a mechanical system because apparently there are different procedures for mechanical vs non-mechanical and certain things that don't matter for mechanical do matter for non. If he had checked the elevation beforehand-- which I had asked him to do but he didn't-- he would have known that the slope was too steep. The one major thing that he should have known was that he couldn't use a sanitary tee in a horizontal position. (I like to say sanitee because it sounds like sanity-- something I thought I was going to lose via the process). As for the water line, in all fairness, it was not marked and I only had a general idea of where it was under the ground. The lines were originally planned to go straight out from the tank and follow a similar path to the old ones but that was nixed because of the slope and they had to go perpendicular instead. It was a problem that could have been avoided and more planning to avoid the waterline could have been done if the elevation had been checked ahead of time.

I called over 20 potential installers and got a bunch of answering machines and had several "we don't go out to your area" answers. Of all of those that I called, there were only four willing to do the job but two were booked up and the other was the one that the health inspector flinched over. I did talk to that guy, but he started telling me that he didn't have to make it only 100' and that he could do it any way he wanted and "they can't stop (him)". I told the health inspector what he said. The impression I was getting from that guy was that he wasn't planning to do the installation to code. So I ended up going with the inexperienced guy-- I just didn't know how inexperienced he was until he showed up and there was a major clusterf****. He knew how to sell his business on the phone though. And he managed to not punch the jerk who sucked the sewage-- he was actually being really nice to the guy despite the fact that the guy was trashtalking his family and interfering with the progress. The septic sucking guy would not STFU and leave even after I paid him. He was trying to get the new guy to hire him to drain tanks after he had just trashtalked the guy's father-in-law.

It was like a mini- soap opera unfolding-- and I despise soap operas.

It was a learning experience for me and I can't say that it was entirely negative. The installers were funny and kept cracking jokes. The health inspector had the same first name as one of the installers so there was some joking over that and the health inspector is a very nice guy. The laughter somewhat made up for it.

I just have bizarrely unfortunate luck in some regards-- stuff that is better suited for another thread.

Also, I should point out that my neck of the woods just tends to be rather assbackwards in things, so things being screwed up and people not doing things right is par for the course.

I should add that one of my mistakes was to feel obligated to continue on with the contractor I eventually hired even after I started to have misgivings about him. I started to feel like maybe he wasn't properly prepared but he had already had the septic tank poured and I felt that it would be wrong to just stop the process and opt to go with someone else-- especially when the the install was delayed to the point that it could have been done by the more experienced and recommended installer if I had just called him. I had not signed any contract at that point and the contractor had not even met me face-to-face so I don't know if he would have had any grounds if he'd tried to get money out of me for canceling. I just felt it would be a jerkwad thing to do.
 
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