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Posted by Mary in PA on 4/24/2010

I had flirted with the idea of getting the septic system permit last fall when we were working on the driveway.  I had met with the Sewage Enforcement Officer and got an explanation of the steps involved for getting a septic-system permit. I would need a deep probe test and if that was OK, then a perc test. I also got some helpful advice on planning the size of the system, which is determined by the number of bedrooms, not bathrooms as I had been thinking. We’re planning for three bedrooms, but will put in a septic system capable of handling five bedrooms. We plan to live here a long, long time and haven’t been a slave to the ‘resale’ issue in our design choices. And while we won’t likely need the five-bed septic system, I could easily see a young family with children wanting to expand the house someday. It’s not that much more upfront cost for the larger septic system and in these parts, if you think you’re ever going to need a bigger system it’s best to do it as part of initial construction. Expanding the system later is much more difficult (and sometimes impossible) in terms of permits, not to mention the additional construction cost and hassle.


So that was all decided last fall, but not implemented in terms of doing the actual test and getting the permit… which brings me to this post. I scheduled with the excavator and sewage enforcement office and got the holes dug and tested. Wrote a few checks. And in the end, yeah, a septic permit is in hand.


An interesting thing we noticed about the deep-hole probe was that there is one heck of a lot of topsoil on this property. It looks to be about 11 or 12 inches of topsoil. That brought back to mind our experience with putting in the driveway last fall. I had hired an excavator to take off 6” of the topsoil and then construct the driveway. John had noticed on that day that we didn’t see a change in the soil color during that excavation, so we know there was still some topsoil left there. And the bare soil seemed a bit spongy to us, even after initial compaction. But a six-inch excavation was the typical deal, as all of the contractors had quoted. Fortunately we went the extra step of installing geotextile below the large and then the smaller base of stones. The driveway seems rock solid even after this miserably cold and wet winter, so maybe the extra topsoil isn’t too much of a problem. But nonetheless, I will discuss this issue with the excavator as we schedule the remaining portion of the driveway up to the shop & house.


And on a lighter… ahem… I mean heavier note. Normal procedure is to fill in the deep-probe hole right after it is dug, because the sewage officer meets you on site for that. But in our case, due to it raining cats and dogs on the day the hole was dug, it wasn’t checked until a few days later. So now I’m filling the hole by hand. Well, with a shovel, by hand. And let me tell you, 7’ deep and 2’ wide is a lot ‘o' fillin'. Every time I’m out at the site, I do some shoveling. Fun stuff indeed.


Lots of topsoil.
That's the hole I'm now filling with a shovel. Well, at least it was dug with a machine. :-)

Posted by Rich in Suffolk, VA on 4/24/2010

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I also think you are smart to put in a large septic system. Upfront costs are really not all that different, but it will be much more expensive to do later, if not impossible, due to changing health standards.

Another recommendation from those of us dealing with septic permits is to make sure when your septic is done that the health dept. gives you an operational permit. The property I just bought has a septic system that wasn't finished (according to the paperwork) for over 9 years. In some localities, that would mean I would have to pay for a new permit. Very expensive because of a simple mistake. Brian Hoskens has a similar story in which he had to pay for two permits.

Good luck!
Posted by Mary in PA on 4/24/2010

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Good tip, Rich. I hadn't really thought that far ahead yet. I'll make sure to get a copy of the paperwork when it is inspected after hookup. I recall the sewage officer saying to make sure I keep a copy of the permit that states it was designed for five bedrooms, in case I ever need it. I know it should be on record with the township, but years down the line, who knows where it'll be in the record system.

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