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Septic System Design for Small Lakefront Lots

- Thursday, August 31, 2023
Morse Engineering and Construction - Septic System Design

Many factors require homeowners to consider alternative septic systems for small lakeMorse Engineering and Construction front lots. Coping with the limitations of a small leach field on their property prompts them to seek alternative small lot septic systems to safely, effectively and affordably treat their wastewater.

Factors that Limit Leach Field Size

A few of the most common factors that can limit a property’s available leachfield space include: tight property boundaries on a small lot; required setbacks to a well, water body, or property line; large mature trees that inhibit space-clearing for a leach field; existing landscaping considerations; and inadequate soil elevation issues.

Any of these space-limiting factors will compel a homeowner to seek an alternative septic tank solution, since the smaller available leachfield space typically cannot support a traditional septic system.

For example, a small, heavily-wooded lot often contains several mature trees. For waterfront properties, the Shoreline Protection Act requires a tree survey that assigns points based on the height and circumference of each tree, and limits the number of points you can use to cut down trees. This is important for small lot space clearing, since the points-limit often determines the size of the leach field space.

Another example of a small-lot, small-leachfield footprint challenge is the 4-ft setback to the water table required by the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services unless you use an alternative technology. For traditional septic systems – and some alternative small lot septic systems as well – this can necessitate the creation of soil-mounding to raise up the leach field.

People Often Seek Guidance on Alternative Compact Septic Systems

  • When they wish to purchase or build on a small lot with tight setbacks, their real estate agent suggests the need for an alternative septic system that allows for a small leach field.
  • When they wish to add bedrooms that will expand their home’s footprint – thus shrinking the property’s available leachfield area – so they ask their designer for a wastewater treatment system that will perform well in the new smaller-footprint leach field.
  • When they wish to add bedrooms to an existing residence, without adding to the home’s footprint.

Your property’s value – and the health of your home and family – depends on selecting an efficient, value-engineered wastewater treatment system designed for a small leach field footprint.

For more information on septic design and installation, contact Morse Engineering and Construction.


Massachusetts Funding for Septic Systems

- Friday, August 25, 2023
Morse Engineering and Construction

Federal Funding Sources, U.S. EPA Programs

EPA Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF)

Under the CWSRF, EPA provides grants to all 50 states plus Puerto Rico to capitalize state CWSRF loan programs. The CWSRF programs function like environmental infrastructure banks by providing low interest loans to eligible recipients for water infrastructure projects. CWSRF-eligible decentralized wastewater treatment projects include:

  • Upgrade (e.g., nutrient removal), repair, or replacement of existing systems:
  • Construction/installation of new systems; costs associated with the establishment of a responsible management entity (RME) (e.g., permitting fees, legal fees, etc.); and
  • Septage treatment works and pumper trucks to support the proper maintenance of decentralized systems.

States are responsible for the operation of their CWSRF program and for selecting the projects that receive assistance. You can contact your CWSRF state representative to learn more about the application process and eligibility requirements.

Learn about potential state funding sources for your septic system:

  • Massachusetts Community Septic Management Program - provides loans through the Massachusetts Water Pollution Abatement Trust to homeowners to fix failing septic systems. Three programs assist onsite septic system owners with wastewater management problems: the Community Septic Management Program, the Homeowner Septic Loan Program, and a tax credit program.
  • Title 5/Septic Systems: Financial Assistance Opportunities for System Owners - These programs may help septic-system owners with failing systems.

For more information, contact Morse Engineering and Construction.

Brochure and Guide to Septic Systems for New Homebuyers

- Friday, August 18, 2023
Morse Engineering and Construction - Septic Systems for New Homebuyers

If you are about to purchase a new home with a septic system, the homebuyer's brochure and guide are for you.

These documents provide information homebuyers need to know before purchasing a home with a septic system, how a septic system works, and the importance of having it inspected prior to purchasing a home. The documents also provide information on everyday, preventative, and corrective maintenance for when you are living in your new home.

Click here for the New Homebuyer’s Brochure to Septic Systems

Click here for the New Homebuyer’s Guide to Septic Systems

For more information, contact Morse Engineering and Construction.


Septic System Service Coming? Need to Know

- Friday, August 11, 2023
Morse Engineering and Construction - Septic System Service

When you call a septic service provider, he or she will inspect for leaks and examine the scum and sludge layers in your septic tank.

Your septic tank includes a T-shaped outlet which prevents sludge and scum from leaving the tank and traveling to the drainfield area. If the bottom of the scum layer is within six inches of the bottom of the outlet, or if the top of the sludge layer is within 12 inches of the outlet, your tank will need to be pumped.

Remember to note the sludge and scum levels determined by the septic professional in your operation and maintenance records, as this will help determine how often pumping is necessary.

The service provider should note any repairs completed and the tank condition in your system’s service report. If additional repairs are recommended, be sure to hire someone to make them as soon as possible.

The National Onsite Wastewater Recycling Association (NOWRA) website has a septic locator that makes it easy to service professionals in your area.

For more information, contact Morse Engineering and Construction.


What Causes a Septic System to Fail?

- Thursday, August 03, 2023
Morse Engineering and Construction

If the amount of wastewater entering the system is more than the system can handle, the wastewater backs up into the house or yard and creates a health hazard.

You can suspect a system failure not only when a foul odor is emitted but also when partially treated wastewater flows up to the ground surface. By the time you can smell or see a problem, however, the damage might already be done.

By limiting your water use, you can reduce the amount of wastewater your system must treat. When you have your system inspected and pumped as needed, you reduce the chance of system failure.

A system installed in unsuitable soils can also fail. Other failure risks include tanks that are inaccessible for maintenance, drainfields that are paved or parked on, and tree roots or defective components that interfere with the treatment process.

Failure symptoms

The most obvious septic system failures are easy to spot. Check for pooling water or muddy soil around your septic system or in your basement. Notice whether your toilet or sink backs up when you flush or do laundry. You might also notice strips of bright green grass over the drainfield. Septic systems also fail when partially treated wastewater comes into contact with groundwater. This type of failure is not easy to detect, but it can result in the pollution of wells, nearby streams, or other bodies of water. Check with a septic system professional and the local health department if you suspect such a failure.

Failure causes

Household toxics

Does someone in your house use the utility sink to clean out paint rollers or flush toxic cleaners? Oil-based paints, solvents, and large volumes of toxic cleaners should not enter your septic system. Even latex paint cleanup waste should be minimized. Squeeze all excess paint and stain from brushes and rollers on several layers of newspaper before rinsing. Leftover paints and wood stains should be taken to your local household hazardous waste collection center. Remember that your septic system contains a living collection of organisms that digest and treat waste.

Household cleaners

For the most part, your septic system’s bacteria should recover quickly after small amounts of household cleaning products have entered the system. Of course, some cleaning products are less toxic to your system than others. Labels can help key you into the potential toxicity of various products. The word “Danger” or “Poison” on a label indicates that the product is highly hazardous. “Warning” tells you the product is moderately hazardous. “Caution” means the product is slightly hazardous. (“Nontoxic” and “Septic Safe” are terms created by advertisers to sell products.) Regardless of the type of product, use it only in the amounts shown on the label instructions and minimize the amount discharged into your septic system.

Hot tubs

Hot tubs are a great way to relax. Unfortunately, your septic system was not designed to handle large quantities of water from your hot tub. Emptying hot tub water into your septic system stirs the solids in the tank and pushes them out into the drainfield, causing it to clog and fail. Draining your hot tub into a septic system or over the drainfield can overload the system. Instead, drain cooled hot tub water onto turf or landscaped areas well away from the septic tank and drainfield, and in accordance with local regulations. Use the same caution when draining your swimming pool.

Water Purification Systems

Some freshwater purification systems, including water softeners, unnecessarily pump water into the septic system. This can contribute hundreds of gallons of water to the septic tank, causing agitation of solids and excess flow to the drainfield. Check with your licensed plumbing professional about alternative routing for such freshwater treatment systems.

Garbage disposals

Eliminating the use of a garbage disposal can reduce the amount of grease and solids entering the septic tank and possibly clogging the drainfield. A garbage disposal grinds up kitchen scraps, suspends them in water, and sends the mixture to the septic tank. Once in the septic tank, some of the materials are broken down by bacterial action, but most of the grindings have to be pumped out of the tank. Using a garbage disposal frequently can significantly increase the accumulation of sludge and scum in your septic tank, resulting in the need for more frequent pumping.

Improper design or installation

Some soils provide excellent wastewater treatment; others don’t. For this reason, the design of the drainfield of a septic system is based on the results of soil analysis. Homeowners and system designers sometimes underestimate the significance of good soils or believe soils can handle any volume of wastewater applied to them. Many failures can be attributed to having an undersized drainfield or high seasonal groundwater table. Undersized septic tanks—another design failure—allow solids to clog the drainfield and result in system failure.

If a septic tank isn’t watertight, water can leak into and out of the system. Usually, water from the environment leaking into the system causes hydraulic overloading, taxing the system beyond its capabilities and causing inadequate treatment and sometimes sewage to flow up to the ground surface. Water leaking out of the septic tank is a significant health hazard because the leaking wastewater has not yet been treated.

Even when systems are properly designed, failures due to poor installation practices can occur. If the drainfield is not properly leveled, wastewater can overload the system. Heavy equipment can damage the drainfield during installation which can lead to soil compaction and reduce the wastewater infiltration rate. And if surface drainage isn’t diverted away from the field, it can flow into and saturate the drainfield.

For more information, contact Morse Engineering and Construction.


Failing Septic Systems: How to Prevent Them

- Friday, July 28, 2023
Morse Engineering and Construction

How can I prevent a septic system failure?

  • Regular maintenance is the best method to prevent a septic system failure. Septic maintenance includes inspecting the entire system every 1 to 3 years and pumping the tank every 3 to 5 years. The frequency for pumping the septic tank depends on the tank size, number of people in the household, the water habits and use, if a garbage disposal is used, and the amount of solids accumulated in the tank. A rule of thumb is to pump the tank when the solids are two-thirds of the volume in the tank. Routine maintenance is the responsibility of the home or property owner. If you rent a home, you have responsibility for the proper use and operation of the system.
  • In general, you can avoid a septic system failure by:
    • Inspecting your system every 1 to 3 years
    • Pumping the tank every 3 to 5 years or as needed
    • Avoiding excess water use (e.g. spreading out laundry use over the week)
    • Flushing only human waste and toilet paper down the toilet.

What are common signs of a failing septic system?

  • Water and sewage from toilets, drains, and sinks backing up into the home’s plumbing
  • Bathtubs, showers, and sinks draining very slowly
  • Gurgling sounds in the plumbing system
  • Standing water or damp spots near or over the septic tank or drain field
  • Sewage odors around the septic tank or drainfield
  • Bright green, spongy lush grass over the septic tank or drainfield, even during dry weather
  • Straight pipe discharging untreated wastewater to the ground surface
  • Algae blooms in nearby lakes or water bodies
  • High levels of nitrates or coliform bacteria in surface waters or drinking water wells

If I smell a foul odor coming from my septic system, does that mean my system is failing?

  • There may be several reasons for the smell, which can occur inside or outside your home. If you notice an odor, it may be coming from a roof vent or other vent pipe that allows the system pressure to equalize. This is a normal part of your system. Sometimes these vents can become obstructed and clogged (from leaves, debris, etc.) or the vent pipe can freeze during prolonged cold spells. These situations could cause an odor inside or outside of your home. Another possibility is a downdraft (changes to wind pattern) or other location-specific conditions, which can create an odor inside or outside your home. In these cases, the vent may need to be cleaned or raised. There are charcoal filters available for roof vents that may also alleviate the odors.
  • If your drainfield is not working properly, that could be another reason you smell an odor inside your home or around the septic system. Soft, wet, or spongy soil (especially when there have been no significant rainfall events) around your drainfield is a good indication of a system failure.
  • It is not possible to diagnose the exact cause of an odor remotely. EPA recommends you contact a local septic system service provider and/or plumber to address the issue.

For more information, contact Morse Engineering and Construction.


Inspecting Septic Systems

- Friday, July 21, 2023

What should I expect in a typical septic system inspection?

  • Septic system inspections are a vital step in making sure your system is operating properly. Regular inspections ensure you and your family do not get sick due to a leak or other problems with your septic system. Since these wastewater systems are located underground, homeowners may overlook having a septic inspection. Routine inspections help prevent expensive repairs to your system or avoid a sewage backup in your home. In many states, a septic system must be inspected with the transfer of real estate. However, it is not only when you are buying a home that these inspections are needed. Septic system inspections should be done every 1 to 3 years for as long as you own your home.

In general, an inspection will involve the following:

  • Review of the system permit, design, and installation records (including system age)
  • Review of the septic tank pumping and system maintenance records
  • Opening and inspecting all tanks (septic tank, pump tank, distribution box)
  • Evaluating the septic tank sludge and scum levels and determining the need to pump
  • Assessing the condition of the septic tank effluent filter (if installed)
  • Looking for signs of leakage, such as low water levels in the tank
  • Looking for signs of backup, such as staining in the tank above the outlet pipe
  • Evaluating the integrity of the tank, inlet and outlet pipes and looking for signs of corrosion
  • Verifying all electrical connections, pumps, controls, and wiring are intact
  • Possibly using a camera to look at solid pipes and leach lines for blockages or collapsed piping
  • Evaluating the drainfield for signs of system failure, such as standing water (surfacing) or unequal drainage
  • Possibly excavating parts of the drainfield to look for signs of ponding in the system or groundwater impacting the drainfield
  • Examining the distribution box for structural integrity and to make sure drain lines are receiving equal flow
  • Reviewing other available records on water use and required inspections, monitoring, and reporting to ensure system compliance with local regulations regarding function and permit conditions.
  • EPA’s Quick Tip Video walks through a typical inspection, “Protect It and Inspect It!”

Contact Morse Engineering and Construction.


Septic Systems - What to Do after the Flood

- Friday, July 14, 2023
Morse Engineering and Construction - Septic System

Where can I find information on my septic system?

Please contact your local health department for additional advice and assistance. For more information on onsite or decentralized wastewater systems, you can visit EPA's Septic Systems Web site.

Do I pump my tank during flooded or saturated drainfield conditions?

No! At best, pumping the tank is only a temporary solution. Under worst conditions, pumping it out could cause the tank to try to float out of the ground and may damage the inlet and outlet pipes. The best solution is to plug all drains in the basement and drastically reduce water use in the house.

What if my septic system has been used to dispose wastewater from my business (either a home-based or small business)?

In addition to raw sewage, small businesses may use their septic system to dispose of wastewater containing chemicals. If your septic system that receives chemicals backs up into a basement or drain field take extra precautions to prevent skin, eye and inhalation contact. The proper clean-up depends of what chemicals are found in the wastewater. Contact your State or EPA for specific clean-up information.

What do I do with my septic system after the flood?

Once floodwaters have receded, there are several things homeowners should remember:

  1. Do not drink well water until it is tested. Contact your local health department.
  2. Do not use the sewage system until water in the soil absorption field is lower than the water level around the house.
  3. Have your septic tank professionally inspected and serviced if you suspect damage. Signs of damage include settling or an inability to accept water. Most septic tanks are not damaged by flooding since they are below ground and completely covered. However, septic tanks and pump chambers can fill with silt and debris, and must be professionally cleaned. If the soil absorption field is clogged with silt, a new system may have to be installed.
  4. Only trained specialists should clean or repair septic tanks because tanks may contain dangerous gases. Contact your health department for a list of septic system contractors who work in your area.
  5. If sewage has backed up into the basement, clean the area and disinfect the floor. Use a chlorine solution of a half cup of chlorine bleach to each gallon of water to disinfect the area thoroughly.
  6. Pump the septic system as soon as possible after the flood. Be sure to pump both the tank and lift station. This will remove silt and debris that may have washed into the system. Do not pump the tank during flooded or saturated drainfield conditions. At best, pumping the tank is only a temporary solution. Under worst conditions, pumping it out could cause the tank to try to float out of the ground and may damage the inlet and outlet pipes.
  7. Do not compact the soil over the soil absorption field by driving or operating equipment in the area. Saturated soil is especially susceptible to compaction, which can reduce the soil absorption field's ability to treat wastewater and lead to system failure.
  8. Examine all electrical connections for damage before restoring electricity.
  9. Be sure the septic tank's manhole cover is secure and that inspection ports have not been blocked or damaged.
  10. Check the vegetation over your septic tank and soil absorption field. Repair erosion damage and sod or reseed areas as necessary to provide turf grass cover.

Remember: Whenever the water table is high or your sewage system is threatened by flooding there is a risk that sewage will back up into your home. The only way to prevent this backup is to relieve pressure on the system by using it less.

  1. What are some suggestions offered by experts for homeowners with flooded septic systems?
  2. Use common sense. If possible, don't use the system if the soil is saturated and flooded. The wastewater will not be treated and will become a source of pollution. Conserve water as much as possible while the system restores itself and the water table fails.
  3. Prevent silt from entering septic systems that have pump chambers. When the pump chambers are flooded, silt has a tendency to settle in the chambers and will clog the drainfield if it is not removed.
  4. Do not open the septic tank for pumping while the soil is still saturated. Mud and silt may enter the tank and end up in the drainfield. Furthermore, pumping out a tank that is in saturated soil may cause it to "pop out" of the ground. (Likewise, recently installed systems may "pop out" of the ground more readily than older systems because the soil has not had enough time to settle and compact.)
  5. Do not dig into the tank or drainfield area while the soil is still wet or flooded. Try to avoid any work on or around the disposal field with heavy machinery while the soil is still wet. These activities will ruin the soil conductivity.
  6. Flooding of the septic tank will have lifted the floating crust of fats and grease in the septic tank. Some of this scum may have floated and/or partially plugged the outlet tee. If the septic system backs up into the house check the tank first for outlet blockage. Clean up any floodwater in the house without dumping it into the sink or toilet and allow enough time for the water to recede. Floodwaters from the house that are passed through or pumped through the septic tank will cause higher flows through the system. This may cause solids to transfer from the septic tank to the drainfield and will cause clogging.
  7. Locate any electrical or mechanical devices the system may have that could be flooded to avoid contact with them until they are dry and clean.
  8. Aerobic plants, upflow filters, trickling filters, and other media filters have a tendency to clog due to mud and sediment. These systems will need to be washed and raked.

To get your septic system professionally inspected, contact Morse Engineering and Construction.


Septic Tank Problems During Heavy Rain

- Friday, July 07, 2023
Morse Engineering and Construction -Septic Tank During Rain

Most of your septic system is sealed and unaffected by heavy rain, but one part — the drain field — is not, and a heavy rain can definitely affect it. If it has been raining particularly hard and there's a pond forming in your drain field, you may experience the symptoms of a blocked septic system. The best course of action is to reduce water consumption in the house until things dry out.

Symptoms of a Flooded Septic System

You don't need anyone to tell you when it has been raining hard, but you may not recognize the symptoms of a flooded system at first. As the soil in the drain field becomes saturated, septic water can't soak in, and it may rise to the surface and create an odor. As the condition worsens, water backs up into the tank, and if you have a transfer pump, the pump may start running continuously. Eventually, because the water has nowhere else to go, it ends up in your plumbing. You'll notice slow draining, poor toilet flushing, and, in extreme circumstances, overflow from floor and shower drains and even from toilets on the ground floor.

How to Handle Septic Flooding

If you notice puddles and septic tank odor during a heavy rain, reduce water in the drain field by rerouting any roof drainage that goes there. Temporarily shut off the power to the transfer pump in the tank, if you have one. This not only saves electricity, it prevents the pump from burning out. You should reduce water usage in the house to what's absolutely essential, because every time water goes down the drain, it adds to the excess in the tank. Take short showers or use a no-rinse body wash, flush toilets as seldom as possible, and avoid using the dishwasher and washing machine.

To get your septic system professionally inspected, contact Morse Engineering and Construction.


Consumer Protection Tips: Septic System Inspections

- Friday, June 23, 2023
Morse Engineering and Construction

If you need to hire someone to inspect or repair your septic system, this guide will help you make informed decisions.

Why You Need to Inspect Your Septic System

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. This information will help you make the right decisions about who to hire and how to finance repairs.

You'd Better Shop Around

When you need to hire a 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.

    What to Do if Your System Fails

    If your system fails inspection, Title 5 allows up to 2 years to complete repairs or an upgrade. The first thing you should do is contact your local board of health, which needs to approve all upgrades and most repairs. The board of health will tell you what you will need to do.

    Again, shop around. Get written estimates, check qualifications and references. Remember that you are under no obligation to have the person who inspects your system perform any other work on it. In fact, you may want to hire separate contractors. 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. If you have a complaint, contact your MassDEP regional office and speak to the staff responsible for Title 5. If you receive an inspection report that appears to have been altered or contains false or misleading information, call the Massachusetts Environmental Strike Force at 617-556-1000 or toll free at 1-888-VIOLATE (1-888-846-5283).

    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. Title 5 does not specify who must pay for the system inspections, repairs or upgrades. Keep that in mind if you are planning to sell your home. You may find during negotiations that the prospective buyer is willing to assume some or all of the costs. Be sure to consult with a lawyer or mortgage lender who is familiar with Title 5 before closing the deal.

    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.

    To get your system professionally inspected by contact Morse Engineering and Construction.