Installing a New Septic System?
Don’t Know Where to Start?
Whether you are building a new home or replacing an existing system that is malfunctioning, obtaining a permit is the the first step to installing an approved septic system. This permit should be obtained from your local regulatory agency. The regulatory agency for municipalities in Allegheny County (PA) is the Allegheny County Health Department. The regulatory agency for almost all of the municipalities in Washington County (PA) is the Washington County Sewage Council. Outside of these counties, if there is any question as to whom the regulatory agency is, check with your local township/municipality for guidance.
A fee is usually required to obtain a permit to begin testing for a new system. This fee can vary widely and may or may not include the Septic Enforcement Officer’s time and site visits during the testing process. This fee does not include hiring a contractor to dig the probe pits and prepare the site for the percolation test, the fee for a soil scientist (if required) or the fee for the new system design.
Once the permit is obtained, probe and percolation tests are the first steps in determining if or what type of on lot sewage disposal system would be approved for a particular property. Without first conducting soil testing, there is no guarantee that a system will be approved for any lot.
The probe test involves digging test pits on the property along with the Sewage Enforcement Officer (SEO.) During the probe test, the SEO checks the site for suitable locations for the new system. Considerations include the slope of the ground as well as setbacks to water wells, utility lines, property lines, and streams. Once a site is located that meets all requirements, probe test pits are dug with a backhoe and the SEO evaluates the soil in each pit. PA Onecall should always be used to mark for utilities and is required by law before using powered digging equipment in Pennsylvania.
Depending on the type and size of system being tested for, two to three consecutive probe pits that pass testing are usually sufficient to move on to the percolation test. On average, one to three hours is sufficient for the probe test. If 48” or more of acceptable soil is found during the probe test for a new system or repair to an existing dwelling, then you may be permitted to install a traditional leach field style absorption area. Only about one in 3,000 sites in southwestern Pennsylvania has this quality of soil. If 60” or more of acceptable soil is found during the probe test for a new system installation for a new construction dwelling, then you may be allowed to install a traditional leach field style absorption area. Only about one in 5,000 sites in southwestern Pennsylvania have this quality of soil.
A percolation test would follow the probe test. The percolation test involves digging a series of holes in the ground using a posthole digger. These holes are spaced evenly between the probe pits and are loaded with water over a 24 hour period. The SEO measures the rate at which the water “percs” or percolates into the ground. Based on the readings, the SEO will be able to tell if the site passes the test. If a site passes both the probe test and the percolation test, the site is deemed suitable for a sand mound or an at grade bed system. These readings can then be given to a system designer who can, along with a site visit, produce a design for the new system. The price to have the system designed varies based on the type of system and the designer. Once a design is in hand, you can have any number of contractors bid on the new system installation. Until you have a design in hand, one would only be speculating about what the new system might cost. We can produce a contract price to install a system after design is complete. An accurate price for any system cannot be calculated without a design. It is our experience that either a sand mound or an at grade bed system for most single-family dwellings would cost on average between $20,000.00 and $32,000.00.
If the site does not pass both probe and percolation tests, then further testing is needed for an alternate on lot system such as a drip irrigation or an A/B system. This testing would require the services of a soil scientist. It may be advisable to have the soil scientist on hand during the original probe test along with the SEO. Then he can also evaluate the soils for alternate systems if the probe/ percolation tests were to fail, and at the very least it would give you more options as to the systems available for consideration. These alternate systems cost on average between $25,000.00 and $45,000.00. Of course, individual sites can vary in cost to install a system depending on topography and accessibility. All of the above prices are only estimates because an accurate price cannot be calculated without a design and site visit.
10 Acre Exemption systems: The Pennsylvania DEP allows for 10 Acre Exemption systems based on the amount of ground you own and how long you have owned it or that it has been in your family. A permit is still required to install a 10 acre exemption system however you usually would not have to meet the same new system testing and design criteria as outlined above. Some municipalities do not allow the 10 acre exemption. Check with your local regulatory agency and municipality for more information. Costs for this type of system can vary widely depending on what system you would install but would generally be less expensive than a sand mound or at grade bed system.
Stream discharge systems: If a system cannot be approved using the methods and procedures outlined above, there may be the possibility to discharge the treated water to a stream if one is on or adjacent to the property. This type of system treats and disinfects the effluent of the system before it reaches the stream. This type of system requires a permit from the regional DEP office. The process to obtain the permit and get a design for this type of system can be quite lengthy. Often, periodic sampling and reporting to the regional DEP office is required once the system is installed. Cost for this type of system for a single-family residential dwelling is estimated at between $25,000 and $45,000.
Holding tanks: Holding tanks can provide a legal means to dispose of sewage. A holding tank has no outlet pipe. Once the tank fills up an audible/visual alarm activates that lets the occupants know that it is time to get the tank pumped out. The holding tank may be a good option when there is no other option for a new system due to limitations at the site or for part time/ seasonal dwellings. A permit is required to install a holding tank. As with the 10 acre exemption, some municipalities do not allow holding tanks. The long-term cost of pumping a holding tank can be very prohibitive. Depending on the number of occupants in a dwelling being serviced by a holding tank and the water usage of the occupants, some tanks need to be pumped as often as every week or two. Financially, this can be the equivalent of the cost of a mortgage payment that lasts indefinitely until a new septic system can be installed or public sewage is available.
Hapchuk, Inc. is equipped and able to provide new system testing and installation services as described above. We have years of experience obtaining permits, performing soil tests alongside SEOs and Soil Scientists, working with designers, and installing new systems.
We take extra steps to ensure that your system is installed correctly so that you are not paying to have components of the system replaced prematurely. These types of repairs can cost thousands of dollars and can easily exceed the price difference between a less expensive and a more expensive quote for a new system. In other words, as with so many other things in life, you get what you pay for when it comes to a new septic system. Unlike many other new system installers, we perform regular maintenance on septic systems. Because of this, we install our systems in such a way that they are as easy to maintain as possible. This makes it safer, easier, and quicker for us to work on your system in the future; ultimately saving you, the customer, and money.
Because of the expense of repairs and new system installations, we take great care to inform and educate our customers about proper septic maintenance. We believe that an educated customer is the best partner in the management of their on-lot system.