There are many websites to read with information from companies and engineers and videos, too, that are very helpful. Here are suggestions to achieve septic system installation success and completion from the consumer's point of view. This is a map. Here is our story.
1. Have a septic inspection performed to decide if you need a new one. I cannot emphasize the importance of this enough, as my story below details,* but if you are selling your home, and you have a septic system, an inspection must be made, at least here in New Jersey. It is the job of the septic inspector to check the current size of the tank(s) and decide whether they are sufficient in proportion to the number of the bedrooms in the house.
2. Hire a Septic Designer. If you do not think you need a new septic system, pay for another, more thorough septic inspection. If the need for a new septic system is required, ask around, specifically to the septic inspector, for the name of more than one Septic Designer. These are engineers with degrees in agricultural engineering and experience with land management of all kinds. They will be your official planner and manager of your project that you hire to draw a physical plan, organize the visits by various town officials for approvals and recommend and help supervise local septic system companies who will question your engineer on the design.
The Septic Designer will make a plan for a new system on your land, listen to your opinions, and design it wherever on your property you can both agree on, and should take the tension and fear out of the project for you. It is not necessary to be on site for this project, except perhaps meeting with the Septic Designer at a bare minimum. Signings of a new septic system plan and eventually the septic system installation contract must be completed, but a good Septic Designer is a great asset to guide the project to successful completion. (Nobody would want an unfinished septic system on their property.)
3. Have a field test performed. Your Septic Designer will want to test the ground and have a large hole dug six to twelve feet deep into the earth to test the composition of the soil, and to take water tests to determine the depth of the water table. He (or she) will organize this dig and have excavations performed. Charges will be made depending on the quantity of work done (i.e. the number of exploratory holes dug). This will involve the company's delivery (temporarily) of equipment (backhoe(s)) to your home.
4. Obtain a design from the Septic Designer. When your Designer draws up a design he is likely to ask you for remuneration for his services rendered. This amount is very worthwhile as he makes the project run without a hitch, or at least it did in my case. He will tell you the approximate cost you should expect to have to pay for the installation, and that will help define your financial responsibilities. Then the Designer gives you an official copy (or three) of the septic system plan and he also gives some copies to the municipal office.
5. Pay for permits and approvals.These fees can usually be mailed, paid in person or by the Septic Designer. The town health officer visits and okays the project in this town.
6. Choose a septic system company. You will likely wish to speak to those who will be responsible for digging up the earth and finishing the project. These septic system installers are the ones you will be paying the most to for the project. The Septic Designer should be able to provide you with a list of four or more experienced and reputable local septic system installation companies. The septic system companies can make estimates and sign contracts at your convenience, even on weekends. You should look for a company with great experience, capability and reliability.
By now, your Septic Designer is on speed dial and can be consulted as an independent sounding board as you carefully choose your septic system company. Your landscaper and local municipal officials will also likely have definite opinions on the work of local septic system companies and can be another valuable source of information as you choose the appropriate company. You may or may not wish to use the company that performed the Septic Designer's field test. (We used a different company for the installation.) The septic system companies will look at the project and come up with an estimated price that the Designer will already likely have estimated for you as the approximate price you should expect to pay. The actual installation process takes seven days or less.
7. Sign a contract with the septic system company and firm up the date. The date of completion can be included in the contract to protect yourself. Specifying continuous days (except weekends) is also achievable and desirable, weather permitting.
After signing off on the contract, all you need to do is to come up with the money to give to the septic system company in regular checks during and after they dig.
Earth-moving machinery will arrive on your site. Meeting the septic company's lead managing supervisor is always nice. They love to be thanked throughout the process, although of course, you, the consumer deserves to be thanked. I know. The contractors will remove earth and dig a large hole according to the Septic Designer's plan. The location of the hole might have to be shifted if there are boulders hidden underground.
The house system is connected to the new system, and disconnected from the old system, and only requires about six hours use (or less) of the house interior water supply to build that connection.
The installation of new piping is followed by truckloads of sand (at least this location required sand from the Jersey shore) to embed the septic equipment. By now there will be much upheaval of the ground, and many trucks (about 75 truck visits in my case, mostly repeating). There will also have been many visits by the town health and engineering divisions (coordinated by the Designer and septic system company) to further okay the project.
8. Expect it to be landscaped after the project to obtain final approval. After the work has been completed, the earth must all be roughly leveled to grade, then more finely graded for landscaping and seeded by professionals hired by the septic system company. This is all part of the cost from the septic system company.
9. Obtain all necessary final approvals to complete the project so that when it comes time to sell the house, everything will be in order.
From first inspection to final approval our project took four months to complete. Our permits for the project totaled $1,000.00. And our entire project cost about $400.00 for the septic inspection, $3,000.00 for the septic design, $1,600.00 for the field test and about $36,000.00 for the installation of the project. The actual installation was dug continuously taking less than a week because of the excellent weather conditions in late August, on time and on budget. Final municipal approval came after grass was growing on top, four months from the beginning.
The outline above is intended to to assist you in a helpful way with the steps involved in the project of getting a new septic system installed. Your experience and costs will ultimately likely vary somewhat from this. But it is a road that many others have traveled on and we hope from this you can foresee the general route.
Getting a new septic system installed is a daunting prospect for those unfamiliar with the process. After it’s all done, and works perfectly, you will feel virtuous, environmentally correct, and very relieved that it is over.
*Here’s our story: Our old stone house in west central New Jersey is about 200 years old (c. 1810), with a 1930s addition on one side. To sell it we needed to have a septic inspection completed even though there was not a single thing wrong with our existing system.
A septic inspector (step 1) who was recommended to us by a friend dug down to our septic tank and estimated the size, but the size was not sufficient to the number of bedrooms we had, something the town officials require. He guessed that another tank I mentioned to him was a cesspool or something but did not dig down and find it. He said he couldn’t find it. He orally failed our system but has not, seven months later, provided us with a report.
The Septic Designer took the word of the septic inspector that we needed a new septic system and drew up the plan. When it came time for the septic company to dig, they disconnected and completely disabled the septic tank and then went to the other tank and found while digging that the second tank was not a cesspool but was another good septic tank, and that the two together were sufficient for the number of bedrooms we had. They decided that we had two septic systems, one coming out of the old part of the house, and the other coming out of the 1930s addition. But by then, it was too late in the process to stop, and the work continued. We now have a brand new septic system.
The town housing inspector now says that we should have had another septic inspection made, but only told us that information after the new system was installed. One would think that the first person, the septic inspector, paid to make the decision would do the job properly. Getting another general septic inspection and maybe several would have been a good idea.
Also, I am less than happy that we had to have a new mound in the grass above the septic field. An unmounded look was my one requirement that was not met. I was assured all around, but only during and after the installation, that the mound is absolutely necessary and unavoidable in our area to obtain final approval. A small elevation was threatened, but a large mound is there now. Perhaps bushes and small trees will disguise it.
Maybe someone out there can benefit from this and not get a new septic system if there is no need for it.
If you are near the Princeton, New Jersey, area, I highly recommend these companies:
Craig Patterson, of Septics by Patterson, Inc., 887 New Road, Churchville, PA 18966, (215)942-9017. Our gratitude goes to our Septic Designer and son, for his patient explanations and strong but gentle guidance throughout the process.
Thomas Burd Excavations, Lambertville, NJ 08530-2610 (609) 397-1157. Awesome field test performance on a hot day.
Ernest Consoli & Sons Incorporated, 155 Hopewell Wertsville Rd., Hopewell, NJ 08525 (609) 466-3258 did the septic system installation. Thanks for doing such a big job.