Morse Engineering and Construction Industries

Septic Systems & Title 5 New Construction

Joseph Coupal - Thursday, July 12, 2018
Morse Engineering and Construction Industries - Septic System Repair

Whether you're building a new septic system or upgrading an existing one, there are Title 5 requirements that apply to new construction. If you are building a new septic system (including a conventional septic system or an innovative/alternative (I/A) system) or upgrading an existing one, there are Title 5 requirements that must be followed in order to prevent damage to human health and the environment. Whether or not you are the person actually doing the construction, it is always the system owner's responsibility to ensure things are done in accordance with Title 5 regulations. If you have questions related to building or expanding a new Title 5 system, you should contact your local Board of Health directly as they are the primary regulatory authority for new construction.

Bear in mind that building a new septic system or upgrading an existing one is very different from repairing a system that has failed. If your septic system has failed, you need to take action to fix it. Failing septic systems are expensive to repair or replace, and poor maintenance is often the culprit. Check with a septic system professional or your local Board of Health if you have problems with your system. If you have financial hardship, you may want to look at opportunities for financial assistance.

For new construction of a system, the first step is to go to your local Board of Health as well as your local Building Department. You will need to obtain permits from both separately. You should initially provide each department with a verbal explanation of what you're proposing.

In your initial conversation with the Board of Health and Building Department, it is important to ask them what Title 5 requirements and local requirements must be complied with in your particular case, and what specific approvals are needed from them. Both Departments will give you applications to be completed and returned. Once the Board of Health and Building Department have approved your applications, they will send you a letter in writing that either a) approves the request, b) approves the request but with specific conditions that must be met or c) denies the request.

Also, the Board of Health will tell you whether MassDEP has to approve any of the applications. MassDEP reviews an application only after the Board of Health has made a final decision. You must ensure that all of the necessary approvals from the Board of Health, the Building Department, and MassDEP, if appropriate, are received before you or anyone else begins any work.

Depending on the type of work you're proposing and approved for, you may need to hire a licensed system inspector to verify the location of system components, and perform the necessary work. There can be a variety of professionals involved: designer, soil evaluator, installer, inspector. However, even if you've hired a licensed inspector or system designer to do the work, you as the system owner are always responsible for your system. As work is being completed, you should be getting regular and detailed information and receipts from the professionals you've hired. For more information, refer to the Local Septic Management Homeowner Checklist.

If you have specific questions, contact Morse Engineering and Construction.


Septic Tank Pumping: When to Clean the Tank

Joseph Coupal - Wednesday, July 04, 2018
Morse Engineering and Construction Industries - Septic System Construction Fiskdale, MA

Common septic tank pumping frequency mistakes

Failure to pump the septic tank frequently enough: leading to an early drainfield failure and costly repairs

Pumping or cleaning the septic tank too frequently, wasting money (though you're wasting a lot less money than the cost of a new drainfield.

Some septic pumping contractors and some other "experts" give a fixed rule of thumb that serves their own interest, such as "pump your septic tank every year" or "pump your septic tank every two years".

Contractors may give this advice without first having actually considered any information about the septic system capacity, level of usage, age, or other conditions. It's a great example of "OPM" or "other people's money" - spending someone else's money to reduce your risk that they'll complain that your advice wasn't safe enough.

Pumping the septic tank with the fantasy that doing so will "fix" a clogged or failed drainfield. All you really gain is a few days of toilet flushing before the tank has re-filled.

Actually inspecting the septic system, diagnosing any problems or failures, and inspecting conditions inside the septic tank will tell us whether the tank is being pumped at the correct frequency.

The removal of septic waste by cleaning the septic tank is a critical step in septic system care as it extends the life of the septic field. Even if you don't care how septic systems work you need to know when to clean the septic tank by pumping out septic waste.

For more information on septic system pumping and inspections, contact Morse Engineering and Construction.


Homeowners with Failed Title 5 Septic Systems get a Personal Income Tax Credit on Repairs or Replacement

Joseph Coupal - Thursday, June 28, 2018
Morse Engineering and Construction, Fiskdale, MA

Any owner of a residential property in Massachusetts who occupies the residential property as their principal residence can claim a credit ("Title 5 credit") against personal income tax for certain expenditures associated with the repair or replacement of a failed cesspool or septic system.

The repair or replacement of the failed cesspool or septic system must be made in accordance with the provisions of the State Environmental Code, Title 5.

Who may claim the credit

To claim the Title 5 credit, the taxpayer must be the owner of the residential property, must occupy the property as his or her principal residence, and may not be a dependent of another taxpayer.

An owner is a taxpayer who, alone or together with other persons, has legal title to the residential property. If a residential property has more than one owner who otherwise meets the criteria for claiming the Title 5 credit, each co-owner may claim the credit proportionate to the amount of total qualified expenditures made by each co-owner. The maximum amount of the Title 5 credit that may be claimed by the owner of a residential property is $6000.

The property must be the taxpayer's principal residence.

In general, taxpayers claiming the Title 5 credit will be Massachusetts residents. However, a nonresident owner of Massachusetts residential property who occupies the property as his or her principal residence, and is not the dependent of another taxpayer may claim the Title 5 credit.

For information on replacing failed Septic Systems, contact Morse Engineering and Construction.


Need to Hire a Septic System Inspector?

Joseph Coupal - Thursday, June 21, 2018
Septic System Construction - Fiskdale, MA

Then you'd better shop around.

When you need to hire a septic system inspector, there are two important things to remember:

  1. MassDEP does not regulate inspection fees, nor does any other state agency. Inspectors can charge whatever their customers are willing to pay. The fee also may vary depending on the complexity of the inspection.
  2. Only certain professionals may perform Title 5 system inspections:
    • Professionals who meet experience requirements and have passed a MassDEP-administered exam;
    • Registered Sanitarians;
    • Certified Health Officers; and
    • Registered Professional Engineers who specialize in civil, environmental or sanitary engineering.

For a list of qualified system inspectors in your area, contact your local Board of Health. You can also see lists of approved system inspectors on the New England Interstate Water Pollution Control website.

  • Before hiring anyone, do some comparison shopping:
  • Get written estimates from several inspectors. Ask them whether the price of the inspection includes pumping the system; often it does not.
  • Ask for and check each inspector's identification and references.
  • Before signing a contract, be certain that it spells out the work plan, the cost and payment terms, and any guarantees the inspector is willing to provide.
  • Once the inspection is complete, make sure the person who signs the form is the same person who conducted the inspection.

For more information on septic system inspections, contact Morse Engineering and Construction.


Septic System Maintenance: Protect Your Investment

Joseph Coupal - Thursday, June 14, 2018
Morse Engineering and Construction Industries - Septic System Construction Fiskdale, MA

One of the best ways to ensure that your septic system will pass inspection is to follow a routine maintenance schedule. You should have the septic system pumped out every three years. If you use a garbage disposal, annual pumping is a must.

A word about septic system additives: There isn't one on the market that can make a failing system pass inspection. MassDEP approves septic system additives, but only to ensure that they will not harm your system or the environment. MassDEP does not check manufacturers' claims about the performance of their products.

Remember that even the best-maintained system in the world cannot last forever. Like anything else, it will wear out over time, stop working properly and need repair or replacement. For more information on septic system inspections, contact Morse Engineering and Construction.


Why Do You Need a Septic System Inspection?

Joseph Coupal - Thursday, June 07, 2018
Morse Engineering and Construction Industries - Septic System Construction Fiskdale, MA

Failing septic systems and cesspools can contaminate drinking water, shellfish beds, and beaches. Title 5 of the State Environmental Code protects us by requiring inspection of private sewage disposal systems. Local boards of health receive these inspection reports. Most systems will pass inspection. Title 5 requires the replacement or upgrade of systems that fail.

If you own a home with a septic system or cesspool and plan to put it up for sale, add a bedroom, or change its use, you will need to get a system inspection. For more information on septic system inspections or upgrading a septic system, contact Morse Engineering and Construction.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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.