Morse Engineering and Construction Industries

Perc Testing and What to Do If The Site Fails

Joseph Coupal - Thursday, May 31, 2018
Morse Engineering and Construction Industries - Septic System Repair

Traditional septic systems only work if the soil in the leach area is sufficiently permeable that it can readily absorb the liquid effluent flowing into it. Also, there must be at least a few feet of good soil from the bottom of the leach pipes to the rock or impervious hardpan below, or to the water table.

Less commonly, a site can fail because the soil is too permeable, allowing the effluent to reach the groundwater before it is fully treated. Very steep slopes are also unsuitable for a conventional leach field.

The specific standards vary from town to town, but any of these characteristics can prohibit the use of a standard gravity-fed septic system. In some cases, a more expensive alternative septic system may be allowed. To determine if a building site is suitable for a septic system, a percolation test (typically called a “perc test’ or “perk test”) is required.

NO PERC, NO HOUSE

On rural sites without municipal sewage systems, a failed perc test means that no house can be built – which is why you should make any offer to purchase land contingent on the site passing the soil and perc tests. As prime building sites become increasingly scarce (or prohibitively expensive) in many parts of the country, rural sites that will not pass a percolation or perc test are increasingly common.

In general, soils with high sand and gravel content drain the best and soils with a high clay content or solid rock are the worst. Most soils fall somewhere in the middle with a mix of course sand and gravel particles, small silt particles, and miniscule clay particles – the smallest.

The two main tests used to determine a site’s suitability for a septic system are a perc test and visual observation of the soil in a test pit, sometimes referred to as a deep hole test. Testing requirements vary greatly from state to state and often from town to town, as most states allow individual towns to establish separate rules within state guidelines.

Make sure you talk to your town health officer about what tests are needed, when they can be done, and who should perform them. Whether or not a licensed professional is required, it’s a good idea to hire an seasoned expert with local experience as many of these tests have a bit of wiggle room.

DEEP HOLE TEST

Most evaluations start with a deep hole test dug by machine to well below the bottom of the proposed leach field – often 7 to 10 feet deep or greater. Soil samples may be taken back to the lab, or visual observations of the soil layers may be sufficient.

Soil tests or observations are used to identify the drainage characteristics of the soil, the seasonal high water table, and the depth of the “limiting zone,” where the soil is unsuitable for treating sewage. The high water table is identified visually by looking for “mottling,” splotches or streaks of color in the soil indicating the occasional presence of water.

The limiting zone is defined by upper layer of the water table or impermeable rock or soil. If the limiting zone is too close to the surface to allow for a conventional leach field, then a mound or other alternative septic system may be required. Typically, the water table or impermeable soil must be at least 3 feet below the bottom of the trenches in the leach field.

While most soil experts believe they have enough information at this point to design an effective septic system, most states today also require perc testing to directly measure the rate at which water percolates through the soil. The test measures how fast water drains into a standard-sized hole in the ground. The results determine whether the town will allow a septic system to be installed, and system designers use the results to size the leach field.

PERC TESTING

To conduct a perc test, first talk to the local health department official as requirements can vary significantly from town to town as far as who can conduct the test, the minimum number of holes, depth of holes, required absorption rates, and when the tests can be performed. In general, tests cannot be conducted in frozen or disturbed soil, and some areas only allow tests during certain months of the year – so plan ahead.

Test results are usually good for two to five years, and in some cases can be renewed. However, with all things perc, rules vary greatly from town to town so don’t make any assumptions. Always check with the town health department before proceeding.

OTHER SITE CONDITIONS

Septic system regulations vary widely, but most municipalities require that the leach field meet specific requirements above and beyond the perc test. Some common limiting factors are:

  • Steep slope. The maximum allowable slope for a conventional system typically ranges from 20% to 30%.
  • Filled land. Native soils are typically required, although engineered fill may be acceptable in some cases.
  • Wetlands or flood zones. Not acceptable for leach field.
  • Site drainage. The leach field should not be in the path of runoff during rain storms, which could cause erosion or flooding of the system.

SETBACKS & CLEARANCES

Minimum distances are required from the septic tank and leach field to buildings, property lines, water pipes, wells, and open water. On small sites, a variance might be required to allow sufficient space. You may be required to find suitable space for both the active leach field and a replacement field, for use in 20 or 30 years when the original field is exhausted. Clearances vary from one town to another so always check with local codes

OPTIONS IF SITE FAILS

Even if your site fails a perc or deep-hole test, all is not lost. For sites with high water tables, you may be able to “de-water” the leaching area by strategically placing gravel-filled trenches and subsurface drain pipe to conduct water away from the drain field. You’ll need a highly experienced earthwork contractor, and possibly the help of a civil engineer or geotechnical engineer, to make this work.

Also, a wide range of alternative septic systems have been developed in recent years for use on almost any type of site. Find out which systems are approved for use in your area and which might be suitable for your site. In general, these systems cost more and many require pumps, alarms, and other components that require more monitoring and maintenance than a standard septic system. As these become more common and more widely accepted, formerly unbuildable lots may all of a sudden become approved building lots. As with all new building technology, however, look at products and systems with a proven track record in the field.

For more information contact Morse Engineering and Construction.

Source: buildingadvisor.com


What to Do if Your Septic System Fails

Joseph Coupal - Thursday, May 24, 2018
Morse Engineering and Construction Industries - Septic System Repair

If your septic system fails inspection, Title 5 allows up to 2 years to get it fixed or upgrade the system. The local board of health needs to be contacted first, and they need to approve all upgrades and most repairs. The board of health will tell you what you will need to do.

Shop around. Get written estimates, check qualifications and references. You are under no obligation to have the person who inspected your system do the work on it. In fact, you may want to hire separate contractors to evaluate it or work on it. That way you know the work you need done is accurate and that you. While most septic system professionals are honest, as in any other profession there may be a few "bad apples" who try to take advantage of the consumer.

Repair or upgrade costs will vary depending on the nature of the problem, soil conditions, distance to water supplies, and the size of the lot. If you are planning to sell your home, keep in mind that Title 5 does not specify who must pay for the system inspections, repairs or upgrades. You may find during negotiations that the prospective buyer is willing to assume some or all of the costs.

Even if you plan to stay in the home, you may qualify for financial aid programs for septic system or cesspool repair or replacement:

  • Many cities and towns have "betterment" programs for long-term, low-cost financing.
  • State law provides for a system repair tax credit of up to $6,000 per homeowner.
  • The Massachusetts Housing Finance Agency (MHFA) offers septic-system repair loans.
  • USDA Rural Development offers single-family housing repair loans and grants.

For more information on Title V, upgrading or repairing your septic system, contact Morse Engineering and Construction.


Septic System Inspections: What a Home Inspection Might Find

Joseph Coupal - Friday, May 18, 2018
Morse Engineering and Construction Industries - Septic System Construction Fiskdale, MA

When should a septic system be inspected?

The septic system should be inspected once a year, including as soon as the house is put on the market for sale. This will enhance the home’s value and avoid any liability issues that might result from a malfunctioning system. It is in the interest of a prospective buyer to insist that the septic system be inspected before they purchase the home if it has not been done recently.

What might InterNACHI inspectors look for?

  1. Find the date that the tank was last pumped. Ultimately, sludge level should determine whether a tank should be pumped, but knowledge of previous pumping dates can be a helpful reference.
  2. Check the sludge level with a “sludge judge” or a similar device. Sludge accumulates on the tank bottom and should not occupy more than 1/3 of the tank’s total volume or rise to the level of the baffles.
  3. The septic tank and drainfield should be far from wells and streams.
  4. Ensure that the system is large enough for the home that it serves. A four-bedroom home, for instance, typically requires a 1,200-gallon tank. The more occupants living in the home, the larger the tank that is required. Capacity in gallons can be calculated by tank dimensions. For rectangular tanks, length x width x depth in feet x 7.5 = capacity in gallons. For round tanks, 3.14 x radius squared x depth in feet x 7.5 = capacity in gallons.
  5. Check for liquid waste that has made its way to the ground surface. This condition is unsanitary and indicates that the system is overloaded. Make sure that the tank is watertight so that wastewater does not contaminate groundwater, and groundwater does not flow into the tank and cause it to overfill.
  6. If riser lids are present, they should be inspected for cracks and made sure they are secure.
  7. Make sure that the baffles are firmly connected to the tank’s inlet and outlet pipes.
  8. Drain lines should each receive the same amount of wastewater. They can be examined by opening the distribution box. If the box becomes tipped or clogged, it will disproportionately allocate effluent, and potentially flood sections of the drainfield.

For more information on Title 5 Inspections, contact Morse Engineering and Construction.


When are Title 5 Septic System Inspections Required?

Joseph Coupal - Thursday, May 10, 2018
Morse Engineering and Construction, Fiskdale, MA

Are you considering adding on to your home, or selling and taking advantage of the spring market? If so, you probably have a long "to-do" list. But, one thing you can't overlook if you live in Massachusetts is your septic system. At Morse Engineering and Construction we often have homeowners wondering when Title 5 inspection are required. Here's your answer:

  • Within 2 years before a sale. If weather conditions prevent inspection at the time of a sale, the inspection must take place within 6 months afterward.
  • When there is a proposed change to the facility which requires a building or occupancy permit.
  • Any change in the footprint of a building, to make sure that new building construction will not take place on top of any system components or on the system’s reserve area.
  • For large systems with a design flow of 10,000 to 15,000 gallons per day or more at full build-out, on the basin schedule shown in 310 CMR 15.301(6), and every five years thereafter.
  • Every 3 years for shared systems.
  • When the property is divided, or ownership of 2 or more properties is combined.
  • When MassDEP or the local Board of Health orders an inspection.

Arranging for the Inspection

The property owner or operator is responsible for arranging the inspection. The buyer and seller may change the responsibility for arranging the inspection prior to title transfer, provided that this change is put in writing and that the inspection still occurs within the specified timeframes.

The purpose of the inspection is to determine if the system in its current condition can protect public health and the environment. The inspection does not guarantee that the system will continue to function adequately, or that the system will not fail at a later date. This is particularly important if you plan to increase the flow to the system.

The inspection includes determining the location and condition of cesspools, septic tanks and distribution boxes. Often, this will not require extensive excavation.

For more information on Title 5 Inspections, contact Morse Engineering and Construction.


How to Finance Upgrading Your Septic System

Joseph Coupal - Wednesday, May 02, 2018
Septic System Construction - Fiskdale, MA

Substandard septic systems are the primary cause of the deteriorating water quality in area ponds, and an aging septic system can be a fetid accident waiting to happen.

For homeowners who want to upgrade failing septic systems but don’t have the funds, there are several forms of financial aid available.

The Homeowner Septic Repair Loan Program, a co-venture between the Department of Environmental Protection, the Massachusetts Department of Revenue, and MassHousing, offers below-market-rate loans for homeowners with septic systems that don’t meet Title V requirements.

The loans range from $1,000 to $25,000, and interest ranges from 0% to 5%, depending on applicant income. The loans are amortized for a period of three to 20 years, depending on the size of the loan, and must be paid in full if the house is sold, refinanced, or transfered. Rates vary in different parts of the state. A household of two with income below $92,000 can qualify for a loan at 5% interest. A household of three or more making less than $104,000 can also qualify for a loan at 5% interest.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently established a loan program for septic upgrades and other home repairs through its Rural Development Housing Program, known as the Section 504 Home Repair program. Loans are available for low-income homeowners under the age of 62, for up to $20,000 at a 1 percent fixed interest rate for up to 20 years. Homeowners age 62 and older who do not have repayment ability for a loan may be eligible for a grant of up to $7,500. USDA funds can cover all upfront and construction costs, including septic system designs, permits, and installations. Program eligibility is based on household income that cannot exceed 50 percent of the area median income (AMI) and the property must be in a rural community. According to the USDA website, much of Massachusetts qualifies as a rural community.

For homeowners who make too much to qualify for either program, there is the Massachusetts Income Tax Credit, which can provide up to $6,000 in tax credits over four years.

The amount claimed in a tax year cannot exceed $1,500, but any excess credit amount can be applied against the taxpayer’s personal income tax for three years following the year in the credit is claimed. The Title V credit becomes available in the tax year in which the work to repair or replace the failed cesspool or septic system is completed.

For more information on Title V Septic, contact Morse Engineering and Construction.

Source: mvtimes.com