How to Know if You Need a Septic System Permit
One of the less glamorous pieces of the home design and construction puzzle involves gaining clarity about your septic system. If the lot you’re building on, or planning a renovation for, has municipal water and sewer connections, then you can skip this article. You will not need to obtain a septic permit because you will not have a septic system. If you DO have or need a septic system, this article contains vital information that will help you be better educated about septic system requirements when you apply for the permit you need from your county’s division of Environmental Health.
How to Tell if you Have a Septic System or Not
Septic systems are typically used in more rural areas that do not have access to a centralized sewer system. Knowing whether you have a septic system or not will be important for effectively preparing and planning for your renovation or a new home design and build.
You likely have a septic system if:
How Your Septic System Works
Your home’s septic system is an underground wastewater treatment system that consists of a septic tank and a drain field. All wastewater from your home flows out of one main pipe into a septic tank.
The septic tank is a buried, water-tight container usually made of concrete, fiberglass, or polyethylene. Its purpose is to hold wastewater long enough for separation of solids and oils and to allow the anaerobic digestion of the waste by a microbial ecosystem. The resulting liquid wastewater (effluent) exits the tank into the drain field.
The drain field is a subsurface arrangement of trenches containing perforated pipes and porous material (usually gravel), covered by soil and grass or other ground cover to prevent surface runoff. New septic systems and old systems that have been modified also require a backup ‘Repair’ drain field area, should the initial drain field fail. Trees, shrubs, or other deeply rooted plants are not to be planted in the drain field locations. And NOTHING can be built on top of the entire septic system.
The pretreated wastewater slowly trickles out of the perforated pipes down through the porous material where it eventually percolates into the soil which naturally removes harmful bacteria, viruses, and nutrients.
Very important to note is that your septic system is designed specific to the number of bedrooms in your home (not, the number of bathrooms) to accommodate the typical amount of wastewater produced by the number of occupants.
If the septic system is designed properly, the wastewater leaving your house will be completely cleansed, with all harmful components removed, before the water ultimately makes its way back into the water table. This is why understanding all of the requirements, including number of bedrooms, is important when planning for your new or upgraded septic system so that your system is designed to meet the needs of your home and property while meeting environmental health regulations.
Nobody enjoys a malfunctioning septic system!
Regulations on Septic Systems
Because a failed septic system is a major source of water pollution and can create a terribly toxic and unpleasant mess to clean up, almost all property is subject to state and local laws governing the installation and maintenance of septic systems.
A septic permit is required by the county before installing a septic system. A site evaluation is usually required before a septic permit can be issued. Most site evaluations include a topography assessment, as well as a soils test including a percolation or “perc” test. The perc test will indicate the largest number of bedrooms your septic system can handle.
What the Site Evaluation Will Tell You
The site evaluation is performed by the local health department and will determine whether you can build a conventional (gravity fed) septic system or if an alternative system will be required. Alternative septic systems are engineered to work with particularly challenging soils and/or topography.
For example, if your property has an issue with soil permeability then a pump might be included in your septic system. Or if your property has a high water table, an additional sand layer or mound system might be incorporated.
Alternative systems typically cost more than conventional systems, so it’s important to get the site evaluation early on in the home design process to know how to budget for the septic system required by your property.
How your Home Design is Affected by Your Septic System
There are some rules and regulations regarding your septic system you may need to navigate before designing your new home, remodel, or addition. Consider the following:
The following are reasons why you might need to obtain a permit for your septic system:
Important to note, if any existing septic systems are modified (i.e. drain field added onto or relocated) then a backup ‘Repair’ drain field is also required. Keep in mind, this takes up more space on the property where nothing can be built.
Steps to Proceed
If you are now certain that you need a septic system permit, follow these steps:
The following are some links to help our locals get started:
York County, SC
Working with Pippin Home Designs assures that all your septic system questions are answered and all the proper permitting, site evaluations, soil perc tests, and setbacks are accounted for before you spend your hard-earned money investing in your one-of-a-kind home design.
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