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PMP Associates Blog

FACEBOOK……..Yes we are on Facebook!

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

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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.

Septic Systems – What your Real Estate Agent should know!

October 31st, 2009

By Michael E. Perrault, P.E.

How long has your house been on the market? That is a very common question, especially during this “economic slow down”.  Are you using a Real Estate firm to help you market and sell your property? What are you doing about your old Septic System?

If you have a septic system and live in Massachusetts, you are obligated by law to have your septic system inspected when you are selling your property. Before 1995 this requirement did not exist and typically only a token observation was performed. Opening the cover of the Septic Tank and proclaiming, “looks good to me” does not constitute a thorough inspection.

With the changes in the Massachusetts Sanitary Code since 1995, a licensed septic system inspector must follow the Title 5 Code requirements and document the inspection using the standard State forms. A copy of this completed form must be submitted to the local Board of Health office, the seller and a copy must also be provided to the buyer.

When you lsited your property, did your Real Estate Agent tell you about the need for the septic inspection? Did you have it done right away or are you waiting for a buyer?

Over the last 18 months I have been travelling to various real estate offices in Southeastern Massachusetts and presenting a brief seminar on septic systems. This seminar was pre-arranged to be made during the monthy meeting of the brokers, agents and sales staff and would take about 1/2 hour.

The focus of the presentation was on the need for the inspection of the septic system early in the sales process and what to do when the inspection results in a failure.

Septic System Inspection

Septic System Inspection

An important part of my presentation is the question and answer session.  One common question that is typically asked is, “My client’s septic system failed the Title 5 inspection, when do they need to replace the system?”

My advice is to have the work done sooner than latter.

What makes one property more attractive than a very similar property in the same neighborhood?  If both houses needed to have their septic systems replaced and one had all the engineering design completed and plans available for the buyer to review, would that make one house more attractive to a potential buyer?  Showing of the property would include telling the potential buyer exactly where the new septic system would be going and if it would involve building a large “hump: in the yard. What if the house had the system installed and the lawn restored. Would the completion of the work make that house even more attractive? The showing would simply indicate the location of the installed system and that there would be no delays due to the need to install a new septic system.

New Replacement Septic Tank

New Replacement Septic Tank

Some property owners simply do not have the money to pay for the design and installation of a new septic system. My advice is to suggest, as a minimum, getting the soil testing and desgin engineering completed as soom as possible. Once the design plans are completed, the owner can obtain actual construction cost estimates. The cost for replacing the septic system will play an important roll in establishing the acceptable price for the property.

As for the installation of the system, Banks and Mortgage Companies typically do not want to hold back funds at the “closing” to pay for the installation of the septic system. When they do agree to holding back the money to build the system, the amount is typically 1.5 times the bid estimate.

There are contractors that will work with sellers to install the replacement septic system when the sale documents are complete and the “closing”  has been scheduled, pending the installation of the septic system. These contractors are typically listed on the “closing documents” and are paid from the funds generated by the sale of the property.

Not all real estate professionals know about these options, have the contacts to get the engineering completed in a timely manner, obtain legitimate construction quotes or arrange for the “pre-closing” construction.

I hope that my “septic system seminar” for real estate professionals provided a little more knowledge. One other “tool” that was provided to these professionals was a copy of the brochure “Valuable Information on Title 5 Septic System, Perc. Testing, Soil Evaluation and Design Engineering”. This brochure clearly outlines the steps that need to be followed in replacing a faied septic system. This brochure can be downloaded for free from the www.pmpassoc.com web site landing page.

Municipal Consulting – Roadway Construction

October 18th, 2009

The process of converting land into residential house lots along new roads involves months of planning, engineering, permitting and construction. When design plans are first submitted to a Planning Board, they typically are presented in a “preliminary plan” format to allow for initial comments that will guide the project toward the next step. Municipal consulting peer review services at this phase are just not confirming technical compliance with the Planning Board’s Regulations and local Zoning By-law requirements, but should also include suggestions for the Developer and his design professionals to follow in preparing the Definitive Subdivision Plan.

The Definitive Plan phase is where the more detailed engineering plans are presented to the Planning Board. The peer review at this step is to confirm that the plans meet the standards and regulations before they are approved.

Even with the approval of the Definitive Plan, the Developer still needs to obtain other permits associated with the project.  For example, the proposed roadway and lot development plan has to be submitted to the local electric & telephone companies for the design of their utilities. If a site will disturb more than 1 acre, then a Notice needs to be filed with the EPA under the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) and a Storm Water Pollution Prevention Plan (SWPPP) prepared. Some properties, due to nearby wetlands, are within the jurisdiction of the local Conservation Commission and require permitting approval.

When the Developer decides to actually begin the construction of the roadway, notice is given to the local Planning Board and other local agencies. The Board’s consultant typically works closely with the Developer and the other local agencies to provide construction observation services during critical phases of this process. For the most part, these observation services are performed on an on-call / part-time basis to document the proper construction of the various project components.

Not every project moves quickly from start to finish. As an example, a small two-lot project in Abington Massachusetts required the construction of a short road with a Cul-de-Sac along with a stormwater management system as well as various utilities.

Final Paving in Cul-de-Sac

Final Paving in Cul-de-Sac

The original Developer started the project, constructed the new roadway improvements through the base course of pavement and then abandoned the project.

A new Developer purchases the subdivision after the project is left untouched for several years. Before this Developer begins working, a review is performed by the Planning Board’s engineering consultant to determine the condition of the project and prepares a list of the repairs, etc. that needs to be performed.

Compacting Process for new pavement

Compacting Process for new pavement

These repairs and long overdue maintenance items are performed by the new Developer and confirmed by the Board’s engineering consultant. Close coordination and communication at this phase of work is very important.

Double curb inlet catch basin

Double curb inlet catch basin

For this particular project, the Developer wanted to complete the majority of the required roadway construction before asking the Planning Board for the release of the two lots from the development “covenant”. Pavement activities are observed by the Board’s engineering consultant on a full-time basis since the proper placement and compaction are critical.

Final Roadway Pavement

Final Roadway Pavement

When a Definitive Subdivision in Massachusetts is approved and the plans are recorded at the Registry of Deeds, a signed “covenant” is also recorded. The covenant is a binding legal document (same term as in the Bible) that clearly states that the Developer can not sell the lots or get a building permit until he completes all of the construction improvements as shown on the subdivision plans. There is a provision to get a “release” from the covenant if the Developer is willing to post some form of surety to cover the costs for completing the project. One of the other duties of the Planning Board’s engineering consultant is to establish the list of outstanding construction items to create the “Bond Estimate” for the Board to use in determining the amount of the surety that the Developer must provide before he can get the formal release documents (which are also recorded at the Registry of Deeds).

The more work that is performed and completed by the Developer prior to the creation of the Bond Estimate results in a much lower surety amount.

The Developer of this project decided to install the final paving surface before the two houses are started. The Bond Estimate will include provisions for the repair of the pavement should damages occur.

At the end of the project, the final conditions will have to be observed by the Board’s consultant, necessary corrections and repairs made and confirmed before the Board can decide to release the surety.

(Since 1997,  Michael E. Perrault, P.E. and P.M.P. Associates, LLC has been providing professional consulting services to the Town of Abington Planning Board)

Municipal Consulting – Construction Observation Services

September 5th, 2009

Municipal consulting services for Planning Boards are not limited to peer reviews. Some projects that are approved do require oversight during construction. The extent of the involvement of the Town on a private project is typically established in the project’s approval conditions. For example, the proper installation of the drainage system would be critical to the protection of the public, including down gradient abutters. In this instance, the Board would impose a condition that would require the developer / applicant to contact the Planning Board Consultant to view the drainage system installation.

In-ground stormwater system

In-ground stormwater system in Abington, MA

By having the Board’s Consultant observe the installation, both the developer and the public will benefit. The developer has another professional viewing the construction to confirm that the developer is getting a properly installed system. The public has an independent paid professional confirming that the system is being properly installed.

Not every Town imposes these requirements.

Follow this link for more information regarding our Municipal Consulting Services.

Townhouse Condominium Projects, are they still a good housing alternative?

February 28th, 2009

Was it just a few years ago when small scale Townhouse Style condominium projects provided an alternative to single family houses?

What happened to this branch of the housing industry?

Let me first  tell you the story of the Cushing Mithcell Condominium, which is located on Central Street in East Bridgewater, MA.

The rambling, 6 bedroom dwelling at 90 Central Street was destroyed by fire and was too far gone to rebuild. Thankfully no one was hurt in the fire. The owner was not interested in replacing the building. A local developer, during his negotiations to purchase the property had P.M.P. Associates, LLC perform an initial due-diligence study to establish the various constraints to re-developing this property (Zoning set-back requirements, local groundwater protection requirements, need for new sanitary wastewater disposal “septic”  system, an existing driveway access  easement and the location within an historic area).

Since the property had a six bedroom dwelling, six bedrooms could be reconstructed on the property. However, only a single structure could be built and it needed to fit within the general footprint of the destroyed building.

After several concepts and alternatives that were developed by the project’s architect and civil engineer, three, two-bedroom townhouse units with a connecting two-car open front garage/carport were selected. To maintain the historical nature of the property, the front unit was rotated 90 degrees to face the street and the stone wall feature on the abutting property was extended along the front of this property.

Here is the final engineering site plan that was approved for the project.

Site Plan Drawing

Site Plan Drawing

This is a narrow lot that did not leave much room for the septic system. The right side of the property has a driveway easement for the abutting property, which had to be maintained. The site design took advantage of this requirement and combined it into the driveway access for the three units and guest parking.

Here is the engineering plan for the septic system.

Septic System Engineering Design Plan

Septic System Engineering Design Plan

The Town of East Bridgewater has a requirement to provide for groundwater recharge. To meet this requirement, the roof drainage was collected and directed to a recharge system that was designed specifically for the soil conditions at this property. The recharge system had to be located away from the septic system as well as the building foundation.

Here is what the completed complex looks like from the street.

Cushing Mitchell Comdominium - Front Unit

Cushing Mitchell Condominium - Front Unit

The other two units face the driveway and each unit is separated with an open garage / carport.

Cushing Mitchell Condominium - Units 2 & 3

Cushing Mitchell Condominium - Units 2 & 3

Before the first unit could be sold, P.M.P. Associates, LLC prepared, the condominium unit plans and condominium site plan for the Developer in conjunction with his attorney.

At the present time, one unit has been sold and is occupied.

These units are well built and located in a desirable location. The asking price appears to have been adjusted to the current real estate market conditions. So why are there two units still available?

Has the sub-prime mortgage fiasco and today’s banking institutions totally destroyed condominium sales?

Maybe I am an optimist, you know, the glass is have full kind of guy.  I firmly believe that the smaller condominium projects are going to play a  vital part in the recovery of the housing industry. These projects provide an affordable alternative to a single family home. As local agencies continue to increase the cost of land development through increased regulations and fees, developers need to have a more cost effective housing alternative.

The Cushing Mitchell Condominium is being marketed by:

Heritage Home Real Estate

36 North Bedford Street, East Bridgewater, MA02333

Telephone 508-378-8100

Septic System Design by a Professional Civil Engineer

February 26th, 2009

Why do you need to hire a Professional Civil Engineer to design a Septic System?

How many times have I heard, “The man who pumps-out my tank said he uses a guy who can do the design for him directly and he can give me a design & construction deal that will save me money.” Does this sound too good to be true?  Have you ever heard the quote, “There’s a sucker born every minute“? (P.T. Barnum or David Hannum, you decide who said it first, but as a Tufts U. graduate, I vote for Barnum)

Everyone wants to save money. A recent “Close to Home Cartoon by John McPherson caught my attention.

WHEW! Let me guess: You\'re the guy who died in the septic tank explosion

When it comes to a failed Septic System, you need to get professional help.

While the man who runs the pumping truck has working experience regarding the “contents” of a septic tank, unless he is a Registered Sanitarian or a Civil Engineer, he is not qualified to prepare a septic system repair design in most States.

A qualified professional will be able to provide you with design alternatives and assist you in the selection of an installation contractor when you get price quotes based on the design plans. A qualified professional will work directly for you, not work for or be paid by the contractor (Does the phrase, “conflict of interest” mean anything?)

Please download this Free Pamphlet – “Valuable Information on Title 5 Septic System Perc. Testing,
Soil Evaluation & Design Engineering” by Michael E. Perrault, P.E.

This pamphlet was specifically designed as a checklist to assist you, as a property owner, in the steps needed to have a replacement septic system designed, etc.

Is new housing construction still alive in Southern New England?

February 21st, 2009

I’m sick of hearing and reading all the negative news about “the housing industry”.  Every day there are more and more articles and news stories blasting out “doom and gloom” predictions with so-called experts lamenting about the “crisis” in the housing market.

In 1938, Orson Wells, presented an adaptation of H.G. Well’s novel, “The War of the Worlds” on the CBS Radio Network and caused thousands of listeners to panic. Seventy years later, our media outlets have perfected the science of creating panic. For example, when a New England weatherman is predicting a 1″ to 2″ snowstorm, they hype it up to sound like the second coming of the Great Blizzard of ’78! On those days I stay away from the local supermarket in fear that I would be seriously injured by the little old ladies clearing the shelves of bread and milk.

Tell the truth! Do the “media” people have any idea what happened to all the general contractors, carpenters, electricians, plumbers, etc. that work in the housing industry? They didn’t just vanish, did they? No!

In direct contradiction to the naysaying media, I say that there is new housing construction in Southern New England.

As a civil engineer involved with land development design, I get invloved with different types housing projects, right from the very beginning when a builder wants an evaluation of the development potential of the raw land. Before a single board can be nailed on a new house, the raw land has to be converted into building lots, which involves a permitting process that could make your saintly grandmother swear.

When you consider the cost of the raw land, engineering, permitting, local & state fees, roadway & utility construction costs and then the actual house construction with the lot improvement costs, it is no wonder why new housing costs have been so high.

Just last year I had the opportunity to design a five duplex-lot residential subdivision in Bridgewater, MA. My client was experienced in house construction and with my assistance, received an education in subdivision design and permitting. Upon approval from the local planning board, he proceeded with the roadway construction and then the development of the first of five duplex units.

Definitive Subdivision Plan

The construction of the new duplex house is allowing this developer to keep his crews employed during the slow winter months. One of the units will be used as a combination temporary sales office and model unit. The developer is incorporating “green” components into his construction and plans on having a variety of options available to customize each unit to the buyer’s specifications.

Since this location in Bridgewater (off High Street, just west of Route 18) has a public water supply but not a municipal sanitary sewer system, the individual lot designs needed to include an on-site sanitary wastewater disposal system (commonly know as a Septic System). The developer has elected to have each unit in the duplex served by their own individual system (Septic tank and leaching system).

Here is a photograph of the duplex unit that is under construction on Lot 3.

New duplex house in Bridgewater, MA

The developer is Mr. Michael Cochrane with Home Town Construction Co., 204 Court Street, Plymouth, MA 02360

These two units are now being listed and shown by  Keller Williams Real Estate. The developer is planning on starting the next two units this Fall.

Spring is near! Time to repair the old Septic System

February 20th, 2009

What a long cold winter! The snow is finally melting and I can actually see some lawns.

How do you know that Spring is near?   The Red Sox are in Ft. Myers?   The St. Patrick’s Day decorations are available in CVS & Walgreens? The pot-holes in the street in front of your house resemble the Grand Canyon?

I know that Spring is near when septic system contractors start constructing replacement septic systems. All those designs that were completed before the ice-age hit last December became “shovel ready” over Winter. Homeowners living with a failed septic system just want to get it fixed so the yard will be normal come Summer. The same applies for those people trying to sell their homes. They want to get the new septic system installed and the yard restored thereby eliminating last minute construction before the closing.

Checking the Excavation

Just this week construction started on one of our septic system repair design projects. The septic installer coordinated the construction with our office and the Board of Health to confirm that we would be available to perform the multiple construction phase tasks. For example, once the excavation is completed, the design engineer has to visit the construction site to observe and confirm that the unsuitable soils have been removed and that the excavated hole is ready to be backfilled with sand. The Health Agent also performs his own observations as the work progresses. The contractor had already installed the new 1,500 gallon septic tank and 1,000 gallon pump chamber in order to provide a temporary holding storage while the replacement system was being constructed.

Vented Distribution Box

Once the sand had been placed, the septic contractor installed the leaching chambers, distribution box and connecting pipes. Since this system will use gravity flow from the distribution box with a pump chamber to lift the septic tank effluent to the distribution box elevation, the distribution box and the chambers are designed with vent pipes. To help reduce the overall construction cost, our design used a chamber system that does not require any washed stone according to the State approval documents. The completed leaching area is also covered by a geotextile filter fabric. The State Sanitary Code requires the design engineer to observe this construction, make sufficient measurements to confirm that the components were properly installed and then prepare a plan showing the constructed system (This is called the “as-built” plan). The as-built plan is submitted to the Board of Health with a letter signed by the professional engineer, which states that the system has been installed in accordance with the approved plan.

Now that I have proof that Spring is near, what proof do you need?

How about some good news?  The cost of replacing a failed septic system is low. The slow down in construction has increased competition and reduced the costs. So now may be the best time to get that failed septic system replaced.

Is there bad news? Yes, be sure to investigate the qualifications and reputation of the “lowest price” contractor and carefully read the contract for items that are not included.

Economic Stimulus Package

January 18th, 2009

P.M.P. Associates, LLC has created their own, non-taxpayer funded, economic stimulus package!

On January 17, 2009 a series of e-mail blasts were sent out to over 400 Real Estate Professionals and Business Contacts outlining our approach to stimulating the economy.

The e-mail announced that, until July 1, 2009, the Massachusetts licensed septic system inspectors in the P.M.P. Associates office would perform a free preliminary Title 5 Septic System Inspection for qualified property owners in the Towns of East Bridgewater, Bridgewater, West Bridgewater, Halifax, Hanson, Middleborough and Easton. These towns are within a reasonable driving distance from the P.M.P. office.

Typically, a Septic System Inspection would cost about $250.00 plus the cost for pumping out the septic tank or cesspool. In Massachusetts, you must have your septic system inspected before you sell your property. Older types of septic systems, such as cesspools, typically fail their inspection. A preliminary inspection can usually determine if the system will not pass the inspection without having to perform the full inspection procedure and then add the cost of the pumping on top of the inspection fee. (See my blog, “12 steps to replace a Septic System“)

The offer to perform a free preliminary Title 5 Septic System Inspection did require the need to arrange for an inspection appointment.  The appointment requirement allows our office to coordinate the inspections with the other project engineering work schedules.

The intent of this offer was not to eliminate the need for an official septic system inspection, but to help a property owner save a little money when they know that their septic system is marginal and would like to have it pre-inspected.

The Secret to Success in 2009

January 1st, 2009

Do you want to be successful?

Would you like to know a secret?

Here it is………….. “To be successful, hire successful people.”

Here is a true example on how to be successful in Land Development, without having to be in the land development business.

A couple owned a single family house on several acres of land in southern Massachusetts. They assumed that the vacant land had some value, but did not how to go about the process. They hired a real estate professional that was experienced in land development to make an initial determination to see if their assumption was correct.  When he confirmed their assumption, he suggested that they hire a civil engineering & land planning consultant. This couple knew the “secret” and selected an established civil engineering consultant who was not only experienced in land development projects, but also had a good reputation. Based on the advice of their civil engineering consultant, the couple first had an initial due-diligence study performed. This study established the multiple development constraints imposed by the shape of the property, wetlands, State Codes, local Zoning Laws and local municipal regulations. This study also resulted is a conceptual development plan with recommendations for a step by step approach for the permitting process. The couple now had a full understanding of the process to convert their vacant land into new residential house lots. They authorized their civil engineering consultant to proceed with this “step by step” process and converted their property into five new house lots plus a lot for their own house.

The couple knew that their success was strongly dependent upon the performance of their hired consultants. Knowing that there are no guarantees in a land development project, the couple understood that by using a team of successful professionals, they increased their chances for a successful project.

The same “secret” applies to the real estate professional and the civil engineering consultant. By working to make your client successful, you increase your chances to be successful.

Do you want to be successful?

Then you should not only hire successful people, but you should also do everything you can to be sure that they remain successful, since your success depends upon them.