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Build a Septic System

How to Build a Septic System the Right Way

When you build a septic system, the main factors to consider are:

  • Size of the lot (a small lot can make installing a regular septic system difficult, even impossible).
  • The depth of the soil (in mountain areas you may only have 6” of top- soil and installing a regular septic is impossible).
  • The perk rate of the soil (slow soils can make installing a regular septic system difficult, even impossible).
  • The depth to the seasonal high water tables (high water tables can make installing a regular septic system difficult, even impossible).

Believe it or not, it is very important to first pick out the ideal location to build your septic system BEFORE deciding where to put your house, well, etc.

The process for building septic systems will vary from state to state, county to county, even township to township.  If you are considering buying a property that will have a septic system you should contact the zoning dept in that area and talk to the person that deals with that area.  Ask them what the typical conditions are in that area.  They can not give you the exact information on that particular lot but they should be able to give you a general answer.

They may say the conditions are ideal and regular systems are being used on most lots.  On the other hand they may say the conditions are bad and engineered systems are common place.  Then ask what the systems are going for. Regular systems usually run $3,000 to $6,000.  Engineered systems can run $8,000 to $20,000 or more.

Now you want to find a contractor to build your septic system. One way to narrow down your search is to ask the zoning office for a list of certified contractors that work in that area. Then you tell them you want to do this right by getting a contractor that is going to do the job properly and not take you to the cleaners.  Ask them who they would use if they were going to have some septic work done.  They can not tell you who not to use because that is preventing someone from making a living, but they will often point out the better ones because they know a bad contractor putting in bad systems will make their job tougher.

Also try and get a contractor that can do it all, design, install and pump/maintain the system after it is in.  This way you are not calling in 2 or 3 different contractors, just one.

Again the legal steps will vary but best way (and the way it should be) is to contact some systems designers/installers in that area and ask them the same questions on what types and the average costs of the systems being used.  Then hire a contractor to do a design.  They will do the appropriate soil and site tests and design a system for you and they should be able to give you an estimate for the install.

This design process will cost you $250 to $500 but it will tell you what you will be looking at before you buy the property (and a few hundred dollars is a small price to pay when you are looking at investing several hundred thousand dollars in building a home).  Now you can decide if you want to purchase the property and move on to the next step, which is purchasing the property and building the house.

Suggestion: try to find a contractor that can also do your other dirt work (the basement, footings, landscaping, etc).  If you are using several different contractors the contractor that is digging your footings will often drive over the area where the septic system is supposed to go damaging the site.  If you have one doing it all they will protect the area when they are working.  You should also have the septic designer out to assess the site before you chose your location of the house.  You may want the house right in the middle of the lot, however the location of the house may have an impact on the type of system you end up with.  Get the designers input and it could save you a considerable amount of money on the type and cost of the septic system.

This design should then be presented to the county inspector for approval.  They will look it over and if they think it will fly, they approve it.  If not they will tell the designer to make the necessary changes before they approve it.

Then the system is installed and the county inspector will come out to check if the system was installed according to the approved design.

And I will reiterate this point, when it comes to the contractors and government agencies, the knowledge, skill levels and bureaucratic process will vary around the country.  Some states are very progressive.  They require the contractors and inspectors to be well trained and certified if they are going to be dealing with septic systems.  They are also open to new technologies available to solve problem sites.

However there are areas where the contractors and the government inspectors are way behind the times.  In some regions anyone that has a dump truck and a backhoe can dig a septic system.  Some of the agencies will still allow systems to be installed that will be illegal in a few years when the local regulations catch up and are enacted.  An example is the use of deep systems like cesspools and drywells.

These systems have outlawed in most areas of the country but there are a few that still allow them today.  What this means is, you can have a cesspool put in now, but in a few years the codes will change and you will have to put in a new system.

In other words, it pays to do your homework before building a septic system.  Ask the zoning people and the contractors about any pending changes in the codes. And you may want to also contact an outside source for their input.