For those non-city folks that rely on a septic system instead of a city sewer, having a failed septic system is a major headache. It is amazing to hear the horror stories, as well as, the vast amount of mis-information being circulated about septic tanks, leaching systems, septic system repair costs, etc.
With over 30 years of experience in the design engineering of subsurface sewage disposal systems, commonly called “Septic Systems”, I’ve prepared this easy to follow 12 step outline as a guide in replacing a Septic System. There is one very important pre-qualification before you start, you need to retain a qualified professional civil engineer or registered sanitarian. I have to stress the word “qualified”, unless you want to enjoy being the leading role in the next release of “Horror Stories from the Leaching Field”. Take the time to do a little homework, such as going to your local Health Board office and asking what civil engineers are designing septic systems in your Town and whose design plans are typically approved without having to be sent back for corrections and revisions. Once you get a few names, do a little research on the web, Better Business Bureau, etc. Then you should contact these civil engineers and talk with them about your problem septic system and ask for a written proposal that will outline the tasks and costs. Just like you wouldn’t eat a rotten piece of fruit, if you don’t have a good feeling about a particular civil engineer, then do not hire him!
Now you are ready to go forward with the 12 steps.
- A test application is submitted to the local Health office (some States, like Rhode Island, control the testing, etc. so the application would have to go to a State agency.)
- You hire an excavation contractor to dig the test holes. If you do not know a local excavating contractor, then your engineer should provide you with a few contact names. (FYI – by hiring a contractor for the test holes, you are not making a commitment or obligation to hire him to install the replacement septic system.) This excavation contractor will need to follow local / state safety regulations (such as obtaining a “dig-safe” number and having the underground electric, telephone, CATV, gas, etc. located before the test holes are dug.
- The engineer coordinates with the Health Agent, excavating contractor and you (the client) to set the testing date.
- The engineer performs the official deep hole soil evaluation and associated “perc” percolation testing. Soil samples may have to be obtained and taken to a lab for further testing. The engineer prepares the official forms (soil logs) and submits a copy to the local health office and to you.
- The engineer performs a limited existing conditions topographic “topo” survey of your property where the replacement septic system is proposed. (FYI – Unless you have a small lot or do not know where your lot lines and/or lot corners are located, you typically would not need to have your property line surveyed.)
- The engineer uses the results of the soil evaluation, perc. testing, topo survey in combination with the current and anticipated building use (number of bedrooms, garbage grinder, etc.) and State / Local Sanitary Codes to design a replacement septic system for your property.
- The formal design plans (with the original seal and signature of the professional civil engineer) and construction permit application are submitted to the local Health Agency for review and approval.
- The engineer provides you with additional copies of the design plans for you to submit to licensed contractors to obtain a price quote / bid.
- Once you have selected a contractor, he coordinates with the local Health Agency (to obtain the permit) and the engineer, prior to starting the work.
- The Health Agent visits the construction site as the work progresses to observe and confirm Code compliance.
- The engineer, in most States, must visit the construction site to observe the critical construction stages, make measurements and prepare a formal plan showing the completed “as-built” septic system. The engineer submits a copy of this plan to you and the local Health Agency along with a signed compliance statement. Some States also require the contractor to sign and submit a compliance statement.
- The local Health Agency reviews the “as-built” plan, etc. and issues a “Certificate of Compliance” which signifies that the replacement septic system as installed is in compliance with the State and Local Sanitary Code.
One other item, if you have wetlands on or near your property and the anticipated work will be within 100 ft. of these wetlands, then additional permitting will be necessary before you can have the replacement septic system installed.