In my previous posts found on Land University, I discussed getting water and power hooked up to your new home. The last item that needs your immediate attention is how to deal with waste on vacant land. In this post I’ll discuss the most common methods for septic handling including a municipal connection and a tank/field combination. There are some other options for waste disposal and for more information on those you can check out my Off the Grid – Waste post.
Hooking Your Home to Municipal Sewer
The most common method used for disposing of waste on vacant land is via the municipal waste system. If you have ever lived within the limits of a village, town, or city, then more than likely the water you flushed down the toilet or that flowed into the drains of your sinks entered a main sewage line that ran to a water treatment facility where it is processed to remove the harmful substances and filtered for safe re-use or discharge into the environment.
The process of getting hooked up to the municipal waste system is similar to that of getting municipal water. The first step is to contact your local public works department to find out what steps will be required and the timeframe of each. This is also the time to find out if you will need to pull any additional permits for the work that will be done. You will get the specifications of where you will need to run the pipe and what size/type of pipe to use of which you’ll want to pay close attention to.
More than likely it will be your responsibility to run the sewage drain from your home to the street edge where the works department will then connect it to the main line. If you have excavation experience you can get away with digging the trench yourself however if not, you should leave it to the professionals as the trench will have to maintain a strict pitch set forth by the works department to ensure proper flow from your house to the street which is gravity based. The standard pitch used within the industry is ¼” per foot meaning that for every foot the pipe will drop ¼”. You can go steeper than this if needed but any shallower and you run the risk of waste not leaving your home as it should. Running the actual pipe is fairly straightforward and can be done by yourself or a licensed plumber, check the local code first to verify.
Of course nothing is free so be prepared to shell out some serious cash for this municipal connection. Every municipality is different however you can expect the cost to run anywhere from $2,000 – $5,000 with extreme cases being closer to $10,000. This cost is to help the municipality expand the system to accommodate the additional load on the treatment facility and other components. Your monthly/quarterly bill simply helps to cover the operating and maintenance costs.
If you are connecting to the municipal system from an existing leach field and septic tank system, you will need to follow very specific instructions on how to decommission the tank and field. This process will likely involve either filling the tank with dirt or fill or crushing the tank and backfilling the void. Again your local code will dictate exactly what process you should use but do expect there to be additional costs associated with this. Keep in mind these requirements are put in place for your own and public safety. The last thing you want to happen is for your tank to collapse and someone to fall into the subsequent crater.
Rural Septic Systems
If you are building a home in a more remote area that doesn’t have a municipality to hook up to, then in all likelihood you are looking at installing a traditional leach field based septic system. Although these types of septic systems have been around for decades, technology still has its way of leaching in… pun intended. Tanks are made of a variety of materials and the leach field lines might not even be pipe anymore.
In simple terms, the waste from your home exits the foundation via a non-perforated pipe similar to that used to make a municipal connection however instead of going to a main line buried under the street, the pipe enters a septic tank. Overflow from the tank is piped into a distribution box and then spread across a number of long runs where the “black water” is allowed to leach back into the ground allowing the soil to filter any harmful substances before it enters the water table.
With the basics explained, let’s look at each piece of the puzzle individually. The first part of the system is the septic tank. As mentioned these tanks can be made of a variety of materials. In the past they were constructed of steel however due to its likelihood of failure due to rust, a majority of today’s tanks are constructed of either concrete or plastic; with the construction of the tanks in either case being similar. There is a pipe fitting on each end of the tank towards the top. The sewage enters one end of the tank where the solids are allowed to settle out. One option is to use a dual compartment tank where a partial height wall is placed in the tank to help keep the solids further away from the outlet fitting. It is reported that these dual compartment tanks are more efficient at keeping solids from entering the leach field. If that happens, things can back up in places you don’t want if you catch my drift. If your tank is sized appropriately for its use, it should be a low maintenance deal not requiring pumping as the natural enzymes inside will break down the solids. If the septic tank is undersized, you should plan on having it pumped out occasionally (every one to two years).
The black water, the term typically used for wastewater containing human waste, leaves the tank and heads to a distribution box and leach field. The distribution box does exactly that, distributes the outflow to the leach runs. These leach runs are basically long runs of perforated pipe or other shielding forms that allow the wastewater to free flow over buried trenches. This wastewater seeps into the ground allowing the soil to naturally filter it. Surrounding this pipe is usually some sort of spacing medium that further helps keep soil away from the drain holes ensuring good flow. Another method is via a plastic tunnel product like the Infiltrator that both protects the internal pipe and also ensures free flow and better percolation.
For more information on percolation or if you know that you have slow perc and think you can’t have a leach field, check out my post on Off the Grid septic systems for details on how address these issues. In short, even with slow percolation, a septic system can still work using a version called a raised bed field.
Hopefully this post was able to shed some light on the process of dealing with waste on vacant land and present some options that will work depending on your particular area. Be sure to explore Land University for more information pertaining to land ownership and use.
Image Credits: Farmers Weekly, Great Lakes Echo, Catawba Riverkeeper, Flickr