Morse Engineering and Construction Industries

Soil and Perc Testing

Joseph Coupal - Friday, September 07, 2018
Morse Engineering and Construction Industries - Septic System Construction Fiskdale, MA

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 is 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.

To get a rough idea before investing time and money in testing, dig below the top few inches of topsoil (loam) to the lighter soil beneath. If you can form a small lump of damp subsoil into a long, thin ribbon or worm shape that holds together, and has a sticky firm texture, then the soil has significant clay content. A ribbon 2 in. or longer in the ribbon test indicates that the soil has high clay content and may fail a standard perc test.

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.

So 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, a good idea to hire an seasoned expert with local experience as many of these tests have a bit of wiggle room.

For more information on percolation testing, contact Morse Engineering and Construction.


Septic Tank Repair and Construction: What You Need to Know

Joseph Coupal - Thursday, August 30, 2018
Morse Engineering and Construction Industries - Septic System Construction Fiskdale, MA

We often get asked questions about the repair and construction of septic tanks. We thought we would share some FAQs on some common topics and areas of concern.

Q. I am thinking about adding living space to my home (family room, garage, etc), but am maintaining the same number of bedrooms. Am I required to have a Title 5 inspection to get a building permit?
A. A system must be inspected upon any change of use or expansion of use for which a building permit or occupancy permit is required. However, if the change of use or expansion does not increase the existing design flow, the requirement is for an assessment only, in order to determine the location of all system components, including the reserve area. This will ensure that the proposed construction is not placed on top of any system components. The requirement for an assessment can be waived if an official record exists that shows the location of system components as they relate to the proposed construction. (310 CMR 15.301(5).

Q. Can a Board of Health require the replacement of an undersized septic tank?
A. Yes, if its continued use will jeopardize the soil absorption system or the environment. Any tank smaller than 1000 gallons may be judged to be too small, depending on individual circumstances.

Q. A property owner with a failing septic system is in the process of obtaining local approvals for an upgrade. In the meantime, the system is experiencing breakouts of sewage onto the ground. What should be done in the interim?
A. Breakout of sewage onto the ground is a significant threat to public health and the environment, and the Board of Health should take immediate action to address the situation. Interim steps could include requiring the system owner to seal off any discharges from the septic tank and begin a pumping program with a licensed septage hauler. Ultimately, responsibility for the failing system falls on the system owner, but Boards of Health have primary responsibility for enforcing Title 5 in order to ensure public health and safety.

Q. Does a Board of Health have to issue a Disposal System Construction Permit (DSCP) for the replacement of a single component such as a Distribution Box or septic tank?
A. Yes. Title 5 allows system components to be replaced without replacing the entire system, but requires a DSCP and a Certificate of Compliance once the work is done (see Conditional Pass).

For more information on septic tank construction and repair, contact Morse Engineering and Construction.


Types of Septic System Repairs

Joseph Coupal - Friday, August 24, 2018
Morse Engineering and Construction, Fiskdale, MA

Septic tank repairs range from replacing the bacteria inside a system to replacing broken pipes or digging a new drain field. Due to the nature of a septic tank and what it does, septic repairs are serious projects best left to licensed, insured professionals who fully understand the construction and composition of the system. Here are three common types of repairs and what they entail.

Broken Pipe

Septic systems use pipes to carry household waste to the tank and wastewater from the tank to the drain field. Pipes may break when wayward tree roots grow into them, the soil surrounding the pipe shifts, or the pipe material deteriorates. If not repaired, a broken septic pipe leads to bigger — and costlier — problems. The costs of these repairs vary depending on the location of the pipe and the extent of the damage.

Drain Field Failure

The septic system's drain field — the section of land reserved to filter water from the septic tank — does not last forever. If the top and bottom layers inside the tank grow so thick that they leave little space for water, grease and solid waste will slip into the drain field. This clogs the soil in the leaching area, which lets contaminated water and waste rise to the surface. Sometimes naturally occurring microbes clog the soil to such a degree that the only option is to dig a new drain field.

Replacing Bacteria in an Aerobic Unit

Aerobic septic treatment units use an aeration system to break down waste faster than traditional anaerobic units. The bacteria in these units sometimes die when they go unused for a period of time, forcing homeowners to replace the bacteria so the system works properly again.

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


Repairing a Septic Tank

Joseph Coupal - Thursday, August 16, 2018
Morse Engineering and Construction Industries - Repairing a Septic Tank, Fiskdale, Sturbridge, MA

If you're like most people, you probably don't think much about your septic system very often, and you might take it for granted that, when you flush a toilet, take a shower, or turn off the sink faucet, the dirty water disappears into a hidden series of drains and pipes. In fact, properly installed septic systems last for years before showing signs of age or damage. When disaster strikes in the form of a broken pipe or sewage buildup in the yard, however, you'll be thinking about your system quite a bit: it's time to consider whether to replace or repair the septic tank.

Costs and Paying for It

Some factors that increase or decrease the cost includes materials and labor. Intensive repairs that require digging up large areas of ground cost more than simple repairs like replacing a filter. Tanks located on a slope may cost more to repair than tanks resting on flat land if the slope forces the workers to take extra precautions. Similarly, in regions where the ground freezes during the winter, workers may need to rent additional equipment and spend more time accessing the system than those working in milder climates where the ground is not as firm. Other cost factors include:

  • Septic tank construction material
  • Location of the damage within the system
  • Type of soil on the property
  • Local requirements for permits

Type of system

In some municipalities, the local health department or environmental agency may have funds available to assist homeowners with major septic repairs. This is because a damaged septic system is considered a health hazard. These agencies may offer tax credits or low-interest loans for those in need, especially in the event of an emergency. Check with your local municipality to determine if financial assistance is available for certain types of septic work.

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


Sewer Smells in My Home

Joseph Coupal - Friday, August 10, 2018

Morse Engineering and Construction Industries - Septic System RepairThere are a variety of reasons that sewer smells may be entering a home or business.

These include:

A common reason is the lack of required traps or vents. Every fixture should have a trap and a vent pipe to keep smells from entering the home. If traps and vent pipes are missing, you may need the help of a plumber to install them immediately.

A common reason is broken seals around the toilet that allows water to siphon or dry out the traps and thus allowing smells to enter the home. There could be an air leak at the wax ring of the toilet or in the vent pipe. Rotted or damp wood can also cause the smell. Check to see if the toilet is tightly sealed to the floor. Grab the bowl of the toilet and try to slide it from side to side. It should resist a few pounds of pressure. If the toilet rocks from side to side, the wax ring has failed. You may need the help of a plumber to fix these problems.

A frequent cause for inside odors is a dry trap. Pouring a quart of water into all sinks, showers/tubs and floor drains may correct this problem. All drains to a sewer system have a "P" shaped trap that is usually filled with water. The trap provides a seal to keep out sewer gas. If your basement floor drain is rarely used, water evaporates from the trap over time. Eventually the seal is eliminated, allowing sewer gas (and smell) into your house. The solution is easy: pour water into the drain.

Specifically, the trap under the basin may not be holding enough water and is allowing sewer fumes into the room. You may want to inspect your trap and be sure it holds enough water.

If you have an old "house trap" in your basement the trap may be cracked or broken allowing smells to seep through the cracks and into your home.

If the smell is noticeable mainly around a sink, try flushing a strong cleaner and bleach down the sink's overflow-the small hole(s) inside the bowl near the rim. When the sink fills to near overflowing, water is routed through an inner chamber to the drain. Debris can collect inside the inner chamber, causing odor. There may be a small leak in one of the vent lines of the plumbing system, or a small leak around the base of a toilet or other fixture. You may need the help of a plumber. Check for loose fittings, corrosion, or holes in vent piping. Also, check the top side of horizontal drain pipes. If the top is rusted, it may never leak liquid, but it will leak sewer gas. Drain lines made of copper, steel or cast iron may all exhibit this problem.

If you have older cast iron piping you may be getting smells through cracks in your pipes. This type of piping has a habit of forming a crack along the topside of the pipe over time, and this could be where your smell is coming from. You may need to inspect every inch of piping for cracks or openings where the smell is coming from, and then make the repair from there. If an entire length of pipe is cracked (quite common), you should replace it using PVC drain pipe of the same size, with no-hub couplers to fit the pipe into place.

A frequent cause for inside odors is a clogged vent. You may need the help of a plumber or a handyman to disconnect the vent pipes inside your home and clean your vents all the way through the roof.

Another common problem is the plumbing vent located on the roof. It is necessary to allow the pressure in the drainpipes to equalize as wastewater flows through them. Without this vent, sinks, tubs, and toilets would gurgle, and in some cases, the toilets and drains would act like they were plugged. These plumbing vents can freeze closed during prolonged cold periods or get clogged with leaves or other debris. A warm day or two will thaw out the frozen pipe but leaves will need to be cleaned out. The pipe can be thawed using a high pressure water jetter used for cleaning sewers or warm water.

Down drafts from wind pattern changes can also create odors in the home. The vent may need to be raised which can be accomplished by just adding onto the existing pipe.

If you have question regarding septic odors in your home, contact Morse Engineering and Construction. We may be able to help determine the source. 


Safe Detergents and Cleaning Products for Septic Tanks

Joseph Coupal - Thursday, July 26, 2018
Morse Engineering and Construction Industries - Septic System Construction Fiskdale, MA

Septic tanks use special concrete drainage tanks, buried underground in your home's yard, to let waste products from the home decompose naturally. These tanks require a delicate balance of bacteria and enzymes to quickly break down waste, and some home cleaning products and detergents can disturb this balance. Using the right chemicals can prevent expensive tank maintenance and serious health problems.

Natural Drain Cleaners

Drain cleaning and clearing products often contain harsh degreasing agents and other toxic chemicals. These unclogging products can damage your septic tank drain fields by disturbing decomposing grease in the tank. They also can loosen accumulated material on the inside of plumbing pipes and create a clog in the septic system. Natural drain unclogging products include those that use vinegar and baking soda, according to the Kent County, Delaware, Department of Public Works. Pouring a half-cup of baking soda and a cup of vinegar into your clogged drain also can remove the clog through the foaming process of the two safe household materials.

Liquid Laundry Detergents

Powder laundry detergents, even those that claim they are safe for use in septic systems, can create serious clogs in your tank, according to Laundry Alternative. Powders contain granulated plastic and other materials that don't break down fully during the laundry process. When these materials enter your drain pipes and septic tank, they settle or stick to the sides and build up over time. Eventually you have a clog that requires professional removal. Liquid laundry detergents dissolve completely, and many are available with nontoxic and natural ingredients that do not disturb the enzyme balance of the septic field.

Phosphate-Free Dishwasher Detergents

Phosphates are a common surfactant used in all types of detergents, including dishwashing liquids. Flushing high amounts of phosphates into your septic tank can kill bacteria and enzymes used in the waste decomposition process, according to Inspectapedia. Surfactants pollute water and kill fish and other wildlife, and some forms like phosphates can stay intact until they reach an open body of water. Phosphates also cause dangerous algae blooms. Dishwashing detergents rarely disclose exactly how much phosphate is in the product, so choosing a detergent that is completely free of phosphates is the best choice.

Non-Antibacterial Products

Overuse of antibacterial sprays and hand cleaners can disturb your septic tank's performance, according to the Arizona Cooperative Extension. Products containing bleach are also problematic. Toilet bowl cleaners, sink or bathtub sprays and hand soaps all contribute to the destruction of beneficial bacteria in the septic tank. Limit the use of antibacterial and bleach-based cleaners to keep your septic tank healthy.

For more information on septic tank care, maintenance, and repair, contact Morse Engineering and Construction.


How Often Should I Pump My Septic System?

Joseph Coupal - Friday, July 20, 2018
Morse Engineering and Construction Industries - Septic System Repair

We get this question a lot. It is important to know that regular maintenance is the most important thing in making sure your septic system works well.

Regular pumping helps prevent solids from escaping into the drainfield and clogging soil pores. While pumping frequency is a function of use, MassDEP recommends that systems be pumped at least once every three years for homes not having a garbage disposal. If the home's system has a garbage disposal, it should be pumped every year.

If you are a nonresidential system owner, you should determine how often to pump based on prior accumulation and pumping records. Often you can look at pumping intervals to gauge your pumping schedule (i.e., previously did you wait too long before having your tank pumped and it was filled to capacity, or could you have waited a little longer to pump?).

An amazing number of system owners believe that if they haven't had any problems with their systems, they don't need to pump out their tanks. Unfortunately this is a serious and sometimes costly misconception. As your system is used, solid materials settle to the bottom of the tank, forming a sludge layer. Grease and lightweight materials float to the surface of the septic tank as scum.

Normally, properly designed tanks have enough space for up to three to five years' safe accumulation of sludge. When the sludge level increases beyond this point, sewage has less time to settle properly before leaving the tank. As the sludge level increases, more solid wastes escape into the soil absorption system (SAS). If the SAS becomes so clogged that it cannot absorb liquid at the rate at which it enters the tank, the plumbing will "back up" or unsanitary wastewater will bubble to the surface.

When hiring a pumper, be sure the local Board of Health has licensed them, and always make sure you get a paid receipt from the pumper that spells out the details of the transaction (how many gallons were pumped out of the tank, the date, the charges, and any other pertinent results). Retain this receipt for your records. The pumper sends a copy of this report to the local Board of Health.

For more information, contact Morse Engineering and Construction.

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.