homelinksEmployment OpportunitiesContact
About UsBLOGLand DevelopersCommercial DevelopmentMunicipal ConsultingSeptic SystemsArchitectural Team ProjectsCase StudiesResource DirectoryFAQ

PMP Associates Blog

Archive for January, 2010

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.

How to backfill a Septic Tank with style!

Monday, January 18th, 2010

A bagpiper was asked by a funeral director to play at a graveside service for a homeless man.  He had no family or friends, so the service was to be at a pauper’s cemetery in a remote location in the country.

The bagpiper was not familiar with the area, and got lost. Being a typical man, he didn’t ask for directions. He finally arrived an hour late, and saw the funeral director was already gone, and the hearse was nowhere in sight. There were only the diggers and crew left, and they were eating lunch.

Bagpiper

Bagpiper

The bagpiper felt badly and apologized to the men for being so late. He then went to the side of the grave and looked down and saw that the vault lid was already in place.

Not knowing what else to do, the bagpiper started to play.

The workers put down their lunches and began to gather around. He played out his heart and soul for this man with no family and friends. He played like he never played before for this homeless man. As he played his last song, Amazing Grace, the workers all began to weep.

When the bagpiper finished, he packed up his bagpipes and started for his car with his head hung low and heart full of emotion.

Septic Tank

Septic Tank

As he opened the door to his car, he heard one of the workers say, “Sweet Mother, I never seen nothin’ like that before and I’ve been putting in septic tanks for over twenty years.”



What qualities do you look for?

Friday, January 15th, 2010

You have finally decided that it is time to replace your old septic system. You have been told by the local Board of Health that you need to hire a Civil Engineer and a bunch of other stuff that you forgot as soon as you left the office.

Your friends aren’t much help either.

What are the qualities that you are going to look for as part of your decision to hire a civil engineer?

Price?  Reputation? Knowledge? Recommendation? Local Firm?

Are you going to just hire a contractor and let him hire the engineer? oops! you may not want to do that, especially if you are concerned about the Price!

There is a regional furniture store that has a marketing jingle, “Quality, comfort and price, that’s nice”?

So tell me, what qualities do you look for?

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.

Results:

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.

“Do-it-yourself” Septic System Design

Wednesday, January 6th, 2010

Having trouble with your Septic System? Can’t take a shower and run the washing machine at the same time without having to clean-up a system back-up? You have a nice wet green area in your yard when the rest of the lawn is brown? Do you think it is time to replace the old Septic System?

Why not “do it yourself”?

While some of the following information could apply to other States, the focus of this Blog is to address residential septic systems in Massachusetts.

The first step is to understand what is a Septic System, which is also known as an on-site sanitary wastewater disposal system. The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MA DEP) maintains a website with lots of information. The trick is navigating through the site (link to the main DEP Septic System page)  to find the answers you need. In Massachusetts, the design of septic systems is controlled by the State Sanitary Code (310 CMR 15.00) which is also known as Title 5 which can be obtained at this MA DEP Septic Systems/Title 5 link . Each community can also establish local regulations that have to be followed. You should check with the local Board of Health office.

Before you get started using the Code to do the design, let’s become familiar with the basic septic system components.

Septic Tank & Pump Chamber

Septic Tank & Pump Chamber

Sanitary wastewater leaves the house through the building sewer and flows by gravity into the Septic Tank. In some instances, the design requires a pump to move the septic tank effluent to the leaching system (also know as the soil absorption system or SAS)

The effluent leaving the septic tank and/or pump chamber has to be piped to a Distribution Box (“D” Box) before entering the SAS. The Distribution Box  is designed to allow the effluent to be distributed evenly into the leaching system by gravity (there are pressure dosed systems that do not use a “D” box).

Gravity Distribution Box with a force main inlet pipe

Distribution Box with force main inlet pipe

Distribution boxes are typically made of concrete and are available with multiple pipe openings and sizes.

The SAS or “leaching area” allows the distributed effluent to pass into the ground.

There are multiple types of systems and components that have been approved for general use in the design of this system component. The decision to use a pipe and stone leaching field, pipe and stone leaching trench, chamber system or other type of system should be based on the specific site conditions and property constraints.

No Aggregate Chamber Field

No Aggregate Chamber Field

The MA DEP web site also published a series of technical design documents that are available at this Guidance and Policy link.

Now that you are more familiar with the systems components and have copies of the regulations, there are a few more steps that need to be accomplished before you can work on the design. You will need to prepare a plan of your property to show the existing house as well as the site features, such as the driveway, trees, swimming pool, etc. This plan needs to show your property line (your deed will describe your property and may even reference a plan that shows your lot lines). This plan also needs to show topography (your town may require the topography to be based on a national datum and not an assumed elevation) and spot elevations at certain locations.  It is also helpful to know the location and invert elevation of the building sewer pipe at foundation as well as the location of your water service and other utilities (gas, electric, CATV). If you or your neighbors have a well (drinking water and or irrigation well), then they (all the wells) also need to be located and shown on the plan.

Topographic / Existing Conditions Plan

Topographic / Existing Conditions Plan

Do you have wetlands within 100 feet of your property or where the new septic system would be installed? Then you will need to have the edge of the wetlands determined, located and shown on the plan. Some towns have local Wetlands By-laws & Regulations which are more stringent that the State Regulations, so it may be best to contact your local Conservation Commission office.

Now that you have your worksheet plan, you can determine what area is available to locate the new septic system. The Code has a list of set-back distances that need to be followed, such as 10 ft. off the property line, etc.

The next step will require the services of a MA licensed Soil Evaluator to perform the official soil evaluation and percolation testing. This testing is witnessed by the local Board of Health and typically involves submitting an application along with a fee payment. The testing will involve the excavation of several deep (10 ft. plus) holes in the proposed system location, so you will need a larger backhoe.  You (or your excavating contractor) will need to obtain a “dig-safe” number and a Trench Permit (issued by the town).

Soil Evaluation

Soil Evaluation

The soil evaluation will determine the depth and suitability of the soil, the elevation of the estimated seasonal high groundwater and the percolation rate. These items are all used in determining the elevation of the system components as well as the size of the SAS.

If you have a property that has high groundwater and the good soils are saturated (can’t perform the percolation test), then a soil sample can be taken to a State Certified Soils Lab to perform an analysis to determine the classification for establishing a percolation rate. This is only allowed for system replacement when no increase in flow is proposed.

Speaking of flow, the Code requires you to use a design flow based on the total number of bedrooms. If you have a house with more than 10 rooms, you are required to do a mathematical calculation to arrive at the bedroom count. The Code uses 110 gallons per day per bedroom with a three bedroom minimum design. Some towns require a higher design flow amount.

Now you can take all of this information and do the design for your septic system! The Code has a listing of all the items that must be presented on the design plan and some towns have additional content requirements.

In Massachusetts, the final design plans that are submitted to the Board of Health for approval must be prepared by a Registered Sanitarian or a Registered Professional Engineer.

Maybe the “do-it-yourself” method is not a good idea.

However, by knowing what is involved with this process and the multiple options for replacing a failed septic system, you can use this knowledge in hiring the Sanitarian or Professional Engineer who will work closely with you in preparing a final plan that is best suited for your property.