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PMP Associates Blog

Archive for the ‘General Forum’ Category

# 1 Septic System Maintenance Tip

Saturday, April 23rd, 2011


septic tank outlet filter
septic tank outlet filter



New Septic Systems and replacement septic tanks in Massachusetts are being constructed with a filter device that is inserted into the Septic tank outlet tee. There is supposed to be a cover to the finished ground surface (the cover is bolted down to avoid unauthorized access). There are multiple companies that manufacture these outlet filter devices. These filter devices are typically the same and serve the same basic function, which is to help prevent solids from leaving the Septic Tank and entering the leaching system. A premature failing of the leaching system can occur when soilds and grease are allowed into the leaching system. The filter is simply inserted into the outlet tee.

This filter must be cleaned as part of your septic system maintenance.

Septic Tank outlet filter & Manhole Cover


The Massachusetts Sanitary Code requires the installation of a manhole access cover extended to the final ground surface over the outlet of the Septic tank when an outlet filter is installed. This manhole cover eliminates the digging & searching for the Septic Tank outlet. For safety reasons, these manhole covers are bolted, so you will need a wrench to remove the bolts before opening the cover.

How to clean the Septic Tank outlet filter

The septic tank outlet filter should be cleaned at least once every year and when the septic tank is pumped.

To clean the septic tank outlet filter, you will need rubber gloves, tools to open the manhole cover and a garden hose.

WARNING: this maintenance work will expose you to sanitary waste, so if you have health issues, hire a sanitary pumping company to do this maintenance work. ALSO, do not touch your face or eye when you are doing this job.

U044_PIPING_ASBUILT_2-5-13 004      Outlet filter with handle

                                                                    Outlet filter with handle

Are you ready?

1.   Put on the heavy rubber gloves and un-bolt the manhole cover. Remover the cover.

2.   Reach into the septic tankand grab the handle of the filter.

3.   Pull the filter up and out, keeping it above the open septic tank.

4.   Use the garden hose to spray wash teh scum off the filter and back into the Septic Tank.

5.   Reinsert the filter back into the outlet. BE SURE to have the arrow pointing toward the direction of the outlet pipe.

6.   Put the manhole cover back on (align the bolt holes) and tighten the bolts (don’t over tighten them!).

7.   Remove the rubber gloves (most people will throw them away and take them off by turning them inside-out to avoid touching the outside of the gloves). You should disinfect the end of the garden hose and then wash your hands with pleanty of soap & water

 Why do I need to clean the outlet filter?

The Septic Tank outlet filter blocks material from flowing out of the tank and into the leaching system. Eventually the filter device will collect too much material and the filter will plug up with solids. When that happens, the effluent water is prevented from leaving the Septic tank. If the water can not leave the septic tank, it will back-up into the house. Depending on your home plumbing, a Septic Tank back-up could cause a nasty mess.

My #1 Septic System maintenance Top —- Be sure to clean your Septic Tank Outlet Filter every year!

Top 5 Red Flag Warnings about Septic System Design Engineers

Saturday, February 5th, 2011

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Here are the Top 5 warnings why you should not hire an engineer to design your septic system:

#1. He will beat any other engineer’s price by $100.00!

#2. He has a contractor that will give you a combined price for the  engineering and construction and furthermore, that contractor will beat anybody’s price!

#3. He can do the job cheaper than any other engineer because he has worked in your neighborhood before!

#4. He gives you a very simple keyword outline fee proposal that does not actually describe the engineering services to be performed!

#5. His fee proposal is only for the septic system design and does not include the fees for work that he has to perform during construction!

Your septic system is having problems or it has failed. You have been told that you need to hire an engineer to design a new septic system.

international-symbol-label-sym6-a-smIf during this hiring process you hear any of these Top 5 reasons, consider it to be a Red Flag Warning!

You are about to be fooled into spending more money than necessary and adding a considerable amount of aggravation to an already stressful problem.

Red Flag Warnings?

#1. He will beat any other engineer’s price by $100.00!

Isn’t that great? You do not have to do any further searching for an engineer. You don’t need to know about his qualifications or what services are to be performed by him, because this guy is saving you money (well at least $100.00). Engineering design services are not like buying a bag of cement at Home Depot. The fee for engineering design services is based on the amount of time being used and the staff that is performing these services. How can he guarantee that his fee will be lower? What is he not doing? Maybe he is not doing a design that is best suited for your property? Maybe he is using his standard design regardless of the construction cost?

#2. He has a contractor that will give you a combined price for the  engineering and construction and furthermore, that contractor will beat anybody’s price!

They must be psychic! The size of the leaching system is based on the results of the percolation test and the number of bedrooms in the house. The amount of excavation depends on the depth of the “good” soil (determined by the deep hole soil evaluation) and how much sand (if any) needs to be brought in to construct the system. The groundwater also causes an impact on the elevation of the system and the high groundwater could add a pump chamber to the system design.  How can a contractor know how much the construction will cost without actually having the holes dug and the design plan prepared? As for beating everybody’s price, what corners are being cut to do this?

Also, when its the contractor who hires the engineer, who does the engineer really work for? Not you! When it comes time during the construction of the system and the engineer has to go out to the site to observe the contractor’s work to confirm that it is properly built, does he represent you if something is wrong? If he is teamed up with the contractor, he is not going to mess-up his deal for future work with the contractor. Can you say, “Conflict of interest”?

#3. He can do the job cheaper than any other engineer because he has worked in your neighborhood before!

Knowing where you live does not really change the amount of work that the engineer needs to do in order to design the septic system. Does this sound like the gypsy work crews sealing driveways who are in your neighborhood and happen to have extra materials that they can sell you cheap, since the neighbor already paid for it? If he has records for your property lines, then this information will assist him in doing his work. He may have worked in your neighborhood, but did his previous plan have any problems with its approval? Check him out at the local Board of Health office and take a look at his work. Ask the neighbor about their experience with him and did he ask for extra fees once the project started.

#4. He gives you a very simple keyword outline fee proposal that does not actually describe the engineering services to be performed!

We don’t need no stinking paperwork!  You have to give him credit for trying, when the scope of his services just states, “Design septic system”! Well? This is what you want him to do, right? Will that design include the soil evaluation & percolation testing, existing conditions topographic survey and determination if wetlands issues will require other permits, location of your existing system and elevation of the pipe leaving your house, determination of the best technology to use at your property and possible local upgrade approvals to minimize impacts and construction costs? How about the testing fee and plan review fee that is typically paid to the Town? What about the cost of the excavating contractor to dig the percolation test hole and the deep holes for the soil evaluation?

If you hire this engineer, you can be assured one thing, that you will be told, “Oh, that was not part of my scope of work and it is an extra fee.”

#5. His fee proposal is only for the septic system design and does not include the fees for work that he has to perform during construction!

If you do get a defined scope of work, be sure it includes construction phase services. During the installation of the septic system the engineer (in Massachusetts) is required by the State Sanitary Code to make multiple site visits to view several stages of construction and to make measurements necessary to prepare a plan of the constructed system (this is called an “As-built” plan). When the system is elevated above the natural grade or additional filling is needed for Sanitary Code compliance, a topographic survey is performed after the system is back-filled /covered. This is called a “topographic  as-built” plan. The final as-built plan is submitted by the engineer to the Board of Health with a document that states his opinion that the system was constructed in accordance with the design plan and the permit issued by the Board of Health. This step is needed so you can get your Certificate of Compliance. There is a cost / fee associated with these construction phase services. If you do not have these construction phase items as part of your agreement, then you know you are going to pay more, especially if he cut his fee for the design phase.

international-symbol-label-sym18-a-sm But I need to hire a civil engineer to design my septic system.

What should I do?

The best advice to follow is to spend a little time and understand exactly what services your are buying and what costs are associated with those services. It is only human nature to want to follow the easier path (have someone else do the work for you). When it come to a septic system repair project, you could end up spending much more that was necessary. A little time spent now could mean larger savings for you in the future.

  • Be sure that the engineer has a good reputation and the quality of his work is also good. The local Board of Health is a good source of information, especially about engineers whose plans are always being returned for corrections and revisions before being approved.
  • The internet is a good research tool. If the engineer has a web page, review the information on septic system design.
  • When you call the engineer, do you get to speak with him and if you leave a message, does he promptly return your call?
  • Be sure to talk with the engineer to discuss your needs and project completion requirements. Ask him to send you a complete proposal. Don’t be intimidated if it takes several pages to describe the services. Take the time to read it and call the engineer back to ask your questions. Even visit his office to go over the scope of services and fees. This visit will also give you the opportunity to see the office.
  • Ask the engineer about other septic system projects that he has designed in your town.
  • Ask the engineer about his design approach. Does he design each system based on the individual property conditions or does he limit his designs to a few types of systems.

It you have any reservations about hiring a particular engineer, then don’t hire that engineer!

Before making calls and talking with an engineer about your project, you may want to get a better understanding about the process of replacing a failed septic system.

A straight forward description of this process is available free to download and it is called, “Valuable Information on Title 5 Septic System Perc. Testing, Soil Evaluation & Design Engineering.”

Do you have any other Red Flag Warnings to add to this Top 5 list?

You can comment and add them to this blog for all to see.


What’s the Buzz?

Tuesday, May 11th, 2010

Yes, we are using Social Media marketing, or trying to, anyway.

First we were linking from Face Book and then we were Tweeting on Twitter.

We post our blogs on Hub Pages, comment on Yelp, Propeller & Fluther.

Now we are using Google’s new “Buzz” application.

You can follow us using   pmp.associates.engineering@gmail.com

How to design a Septic System – Understand the Sanitary Code

Wednesday, February 10th, 2010

Since the late 1970′s, as a Civil Engineer, I have been involved with the design of Septic Systems, including the training of other young engineers.

If I was limited to only one piece of advice, it would be:

Understand the Sanitary Code!

In Massachusetts, the Sanitary Code was issued in 1978 under 310CMR15.00 and commonly called “Title 5″. A major revision took place in the mid 1990′s with further revisions during the last few years. In addition to the Code changes, the State has been issuing “policies” that clarify the Code and allow for the use of various “innovative and alternative” systems and components.

I have never subscribed to the “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” mentality. As each Code revision is published, I and my staff of civil engineers become familiar with the changes and new requirements. As new technologies are approved (for both remedial and general use) we get technical data from these companies, including in-house demonstration seminars.

I can’t understand how a designer will insist on using a conventional pipe and stone leaching system when there are so many choices available that would reduce the cost of the system. Well, maybe I do understand, they either don’t want to change, or, they are cutting their costs & fee and limiting the time spent on preparing the design plan. Some people like vanilla, but there are other flavors available and while you might pay a little more, there are added benefits in the long term.

Think of this as a round peg in a square hole. Depending on the size of the peg, you might be able to make it fit. But one size does not always fit all!

Do you remember Mission Impossible? At the beginning of the program, the team is selected from the stack of available members. While the design of a septic system is not an impossible task, having the right “team” of system components should be the ultimate goal.

In order to select the “team”, you need to understand the Code!

Engineering Services are not Commodities

Friday, January 29th, 2010

A recent article in the Point of Beginning magazine, “Dynamic Pricing
by Larry Phipps, PLS talked about professional surveying services being treated as a commodity, like buying a bunch of bananas. That article could have also been written about the general public’s perception of engineering services.

With the housing market and the overall economy at an all time low, it is obvious that people will try to get the best “lowest” price when making a purchase. Everyone loves a bargain!

Engineering services are not really understood and for the most part, considered to be basically the same from firm to firm. These consumers are told they need an engineer, so they hire an engineer in the same manner as buying a bag of cement. While looking only at the price, they don’t understand that every engineering firm is different and the services offered are very different.

A good example is the need to have engineering design services performed for a replacement septic system for a family that is selling their house and moving. The family wants to limit their costs in order to “get out of Dodge” as quickly as possible. They shop around for an “engineer” like they would shop for a bag of cement and select the lowest price. They get what they paid for and then the “extra” costs start to add up beyond the amounts proposed by the established engineering firms. The quality of the plans, while meeting the basic requirements, did not show enough detail that allowed bidding contractors to fully define the construction costs, which typically results in the contractor seeking additional money for “unanticipated” extras. The family is caught in a trap and they pay more than they expected.

What happens to this low-priced “bag of cement” engineer? Nothing! The family becomes totally frustrated, pays the extras and moves out of town. Future consumers have no one to contact so the cycle continues.

There is a clothing store called, Syms, that has a slogan, “An educated consumer is our best customer”. That slogan is also true for customers seeking an engineering consultant.

When engineering services are not treated like a commodity, everyone benefits.

Question – Should you have to pre-register to comment?

Wednesday, January 13th, 2010

Should you have to pre-register before you are allowed to comment on a blog?

This question has caused a small debate in our office.

If you don’t force the registration, then Spammers can take over the Blog and add trackback & pingback links.

If you do allow instant access, then our readers will be able to post comments right away and see the comment post.

So tell us your opinion!

Please use the “no comments” or “comments” link on the posted in line below.

You will be asked to fill in a name and e-mail (this notifies PMP that a comment has been posted) when you post your comment).

I have  adjusted the settings to allow your comments to be posted instantly.


The Russians are coming, the Russians are spamming! At least once a day I am deleting the spam!

I will still keep the restrictions off and hope that I catch & delete all the spam crap.

I also want to thank all the ED product Spammers for visiting my Blogs and adding their links!  That gives me an opportunity to work on my blogs every day to delete your postings.

Wow! We are now getting about 15 ED related posting every night!  I have turned off the ability to comment on two blogs that seem to have attracted the attention of the spammers.

I am spending too much time deleting spam. I still want people to be able to post comments without pre-registering but I also want to control the publishing of the spam. You can still comment without pre-registering, but all posts will have to be approved before they are published, so I can delete the spam.

Septic System Construction – Do you need an Engineer?

Wednesday, January 6th, 2010

The local Board of Health has approved the plans for your Septic System; you have accepted a bid from a contractor and you are ready to start construction.

Do you need an engineer?

If you are working in Massachusetts, the answer is Yes!

The State Sanitary Code under Section 310CMR15.021 actually defines what your Engineer needs to do during the construction of the Septic System.

Here is a listing of the Tasks that your engineer needs to do.

Task 1 – The engineer needs to observe and confirm the initial excavation of the system area.

Bottom of Excavation

Bottom of Excavation

Task 2 – The engineer needs to observe the construction / installation of the system components (Septic Tank, Distribution Box & Leaching System).

Septic tank installation

Septic tank installation

Task 3 – Prior to the contractor back-filling the system, the engineer needs to take measurements of the constructed system components (location and elevation) to confirm that the components were installed in accordance with the approved plan.

Leaching Chamber System Construction

Leaching Chamber System Construction

Task 4 – The engineer needs perform additional measurements when a system has grading to prevent “break-out” in order to confirm that the grading was constructed properly.

Final grading over Septic System

Final grading over Septic System

Task 5 – The engineer needs to prepare an “as-built” plan for the constructed system and submit the “as-built” plan to the local approving authority (Board of Health for example) along with a form that clearly states that the system has been properly constructed.

During these tasks, the local Health Agent also visits the construction site to make observations of the work progress.

The contractor also has to submit a form stating the construction of the system has been properly completed.

Once all these tasks are done, the local approving authority can issue the Certificate of Compliance.

FACEBOOK……..Yes we are on Facebook!

Sunday, November 1st, 2009

Are You on Facebook?   We are!

P.M.P. Associates, LLC has now created a primary page

P.M.P. Associates, LLC – Civil Engineering & Land Planning

and still has the two initial pages:

Civil Engineering & Land Planning by P.M.P. Associates, LLC


Septic System Design by P.M.P. Associates, LLC

Why not become a fan and also subscribe to the RSS feed?

You can also “check in” at P.M.P. Associates, LLC

The professional staff at P.M.P. Associates, LLC also have an individual presence on Facebook.

Free Engineering may be costly

Saturday, November 15th, 2008

It may be human nature to want to get something for nothing. Free samples. Free trial services. Free membership. Buy one, get one free.

With tough economic times, why not try to get something for free or a a great discount? Comparison shopping is becoming the rule and not the exception. There is nothing wrong with this.

What about free engineering or discounts for engineering services? Does the consumer really get a discount or engineering services for free? A favorite author of mine used the acronym “TNSTASFL” (There is no such thing as a free lunch). I am a firm believer that when it comes to professional engineering services, there is no such thing as free engineering services.

For example, a potential client will call to request a proposal to provide engineering design services for a replacement septic system. During this call, we listen to his request, ask specific questions to gain a better understanding of his needs, answer his questions and based on his request and generally describe the professional engineering services that we offer. We then follow-up with a detailed written proposal outlining our services and associated costs that are specific to the potential client’s property and situation.

Since this process of engineering and replacing a failed septic system can be overwhelming, we contact the potential client to discuss the proposal and answer any questions.

This is where the concept of free or discounted engineering services enters.  The potential client has a family member or friend that told him that our prices are too high and he knows a guy that will “do it” at 2/3 of the price, or some other low number.

Are the services being provide by the “guy” the same? Are they clearly spelled out in a written contract?

What I have found, when I have lost a client to the “guy” with the discounted price, is that he did not include the construction phase services and had to charge extra. The “guy” never returns a telephone call or is hard to contact. The “guy” takes “forever” to complete the design. In some instances, the “guy”, in order to reduce his costs, he provided the client with a standard minimal design, even though it may not be suitable for the individual property.

To perform services at a reduced cost, the amount of time being spent has to be reduced (no one works for free). When this happens, the quality of the design is compromised. The reviewing authority may question the design and require revisions prior to approval (careful, these revisions may be charged back as an extra). While the basics are provided on the design plan, the details, specific to a client’s property may not be clearly shown.

Maybe the “guy” has reduced overhead costs and can pass these savings onto his clients. For example, the “guy” may not have any Professional Liability Insurance or General Liability Insurance.

So the client now gets a set of plans at a discounted price, then asks several contractors for a bid price for the installation. While contractors know the costs for installation of various components, each design for an individual property needs to be reviewed and priced. When the plans are vague and the details are not really or clearly presented, the contractor will need to include extra costs in his bid. A complete set of plans that are well presented will minimize the need for a contractor to include a large contingency in his bid.

What was “saved” on the design plans can easily be spent during construction. So much for a discount.

There is noting wrong with comparison shopping among qualified engineering consultants. The consumer however, may not find out until it is too late, that the discounted price actually cost him more.

Trade Shows – Are they for Civil Engineers?

Thursday, June 19th, 2008

By Michael Perrault, P.E.

My first real experience as a participant in a “Trade Show” was with the local community business association. They decided to hold a trade show on the Town Common in September on the same day as the opening day for the fall community soccer program. The soccer program, in our Town, has an opening day parade for about 1,500 children of all ages, that ends at the Town Common. The business association hoped that the parents and the children would also stop by the big tent on the Common to visit the tables being manned by the various merchants in the Town. In anticipation of that show, I created a nice display with photographs of typical engineering projects as well as technical promotional handouts, company pens and coffee mugs with our company logo, etc.

The business owners arrived early and set up their table displays with great anticipation. What happened that day was similar to a biblical story describing swarms of locusts devouring everything in sight. If it was not firmly attached it was gone, baby gone. Children grabbing every and any free item as quickly as possible. A well seasoned magician could not have made those items disappear as fast as they did that day.

Parents did wander through the tent at a more refined pace and sometimes paused at the booths to talk with the business owners. Even long time Town residents came by to say hello and some actually asked a few questions. Those same people in subsequent years stopped by and asked the same questions again.

The intent of the trade show was to have the townspeople become more aware of the local business and what they have to offer the community. If the overall quantity of pens and other “freebies” bearing the names of the various businesses that were distributed that day are considered, then the intent of the trade show was met, provided that the children shared their “booty” with their parents and these collected items were not confined to the kitchen junk drawer.

For several years I participated in this September trade show. Each year I updated the display, handouts and give-away items. After four years, I noticed that certain people became regular returning attendees, like the elderly Maine couple that returns every year to the Fryeburg Fair (you will have to ask me about this story, it’s worth the $10). Same questions asked and the same answers given.

With all the costs, time and effort made to prepare for these annual trade shows, I could not clearly state that my business received any new customers as a direct result from participating in the trade show.  When I decided, after several years, not to participate any longer in the local Business Association trade show, several of the business members were surprised. Of course they represent local Banks, Insurance Agencies, Restaurants and other similar businesses. Civil Engineering and Land Planning consulting firms are a little different from these types of local businesses.

The idea of doing another Trade Show was not on my top-ten list of things to do. However, I decided that a change of location, a different market target and new participants may have different results. The Metro South Chamber of Commerce was having a trade show / exhibition in conjunction with their annual awards luncheon. Being a member of this Chamber of Commerce, I thought that maybe this was an opportunity to network with other members that would be attending the luncheon meeting. The type of booth display, promotional handouts and “free’ items needed to be brought up to a more professional level as compared to the local show. The booth looked great and I was correct that members attending the luncheon would be present to visit the various displays on exhibit.

Experience is a harsh teacher. First, not all persons attending the luncheon arrived early enough to visit the various tables and displays, nor did a large number of these participants linger after lunch to view them either. Second, the total potential number of Chamber Members and Associates, etc. was limited to those people who chose to participate in the luncheon. Third, the reason that some people attended was simply that their boss bought a table for the luncheon and needed bodies to fill the empty seats. These casual participants, while not being interested in networking, became a new breed of trade show locusts.

What I did learn was to not hide in my display area, but to wander around and talk with the other businesses manning their own booths while leaving one person at my booth. The exchanging of business cards and brief introductions provided as many leads as the booth’s “raffle box”.

Having learned this valuable lesson, I experimented with a slightly different type of business exposition. One of the target markets for potential leads for a civil engineering and land planning consultant is the real estate sales industry. The Jack Conway Real Estate Company, who is probably the largest real estate firm in southeastern Massachusetts, holds an annual conference for their sales staff. This conference includes training seminars, workshops, presentations and a luncheon banquet. This conference includes a limited trade show exhibition area for businesses associated with the real estate industry. Having already made a presentation to over thirty sales managers, I thought that this show would be a good opportunity to re-introduce PMP Associates to not only the sales managers but to over a thousand sales professionals. New handouts and “freebies” that were associated with the real estate industry needed to be prepared and distributed. For this type of venue, the “raffle box” was quite valuable in harvesting business cards. Since all the participants are the “target”, it was important to feed these locusts. Since that day at the Jack Conway conference, I have been allowed to present a small seminar at six of the Jack Conway regional offices during a monthly sales associate meeting.

Since the experience with the Metro South Chamber was not everything that I had hoped, I decided to participate in the Plymouth Area Chamber of Commerce Business Expo. This one-day event had a luncheon for Chamber Members but the exposition hall was open to the general public. The event was well advertised and was well attended.  For this event I kept the “freebies” limited to avoid having the display look like a tornado blew through the hall. Because of the larger scale of this Expo, there were more opportunities to network with the other business and have these businesses visit my booth and hopefully gain a better understanding about what we as civil engineers do for our clientsPMP's Booth at Plymouth Area Chamber of Commerce 2008 Business Expo

The photo to the right is the trade show booth at the Plymouth Area Chamber of Commerce 2008 Business Expo.

The leading question, “Trade shows – Are they for civil engineers?” can not get a simple answer.

If the intent of the Trade Show is to generate new work, for example, a kitchen sales company at a Home Show, then my answer in NO.

If the intent is to be introduced and network with the other businesses participating in the Trade Show, then I have to ask, why did I spend the time and money? I could have just attended without manning a booth. Final answer on this one is also NO.

Participation in a Trade Show may be worthwhile if the intent is for a long term marketing program that combines networking and name recognition. This long term program can not be limited to an annual trade show but must be combined with monthly events.