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Subject:  Re: Open question: What to put into a new house? Date:  3/27/2004  10:56 AM
Author:  davy02 Number:  48420 of 137201

This is a great discussion! I've been catching up on it every couple days. One thing I'm surprised nobody's mentioned, that is troublesome to upgrade later, is the septic system. If you're putting an on-site septic system in, I would consider buying the largest tank possible. If there's any possility of additions to the house, or finishing a basement or attic, I would recommend putting in an appropriately sized drainfield now also. Check with your local Dept. of Health first though, and make sure you're not in an area that's likely to get sewer before any such additions.

Reasons are:

The larger your tank, the less often it needs to be pumped.*

In our area, applying for a building permit for any work on a property with an existing septic system requires approval from the Dept. of Health. They want to verify that your outbuilding or addition is not going to be sitting too close to any part of your septic system, or if you're adding a bathroom or bedrooms, they want to be sure your septic system is adequately sized.

On the other hand, if a sewer line has been put in your street since your septic system was built, you're generally required (in this area at least) to connect to the sewer if you do any remodeling that might alter your septic requirements, whether your existing system is adequately sized or not (the city has to recoup its investment somehow).
I have also heard that in some areas (not ours) new work will always require a septic system upgrade, whether it was oversized already or not. So, if your DOH requirements are more strict, or if your neighborhood is certain to be annexed by the city and have sewer lines put in before you get around to that remodel, any larger drainfield will just be wasted money. If that is not the case, however, making both drainfield and tank larger than necessary now would be an excellent investment.

*Footnote: Somebody will probably say you shouldn't need to pump your septic tank unless something's wrong with it. The DOH position is that even a properly working system will accumulate sludge in the tank, which will reduce its capacity, eventually causing solids to flow into the drainfield rather than settle in the tank. Solids clog the drainfield, it stops percolating liquid effluent into the ground, your drains start rebelling, and suddenly you have no choice but to spend at least a couple thousand dollars replacing the drainfield. So they want you to pump the sludge out on a regular basis.
However, I know many people who use some kind of additive to keep their septic system working properly, even though the DOH in this area strongly discourages it. We've started adding a jug of warm water with a 1/4-cup of yeast once a month, to try to keep our 50 year old 500 gallon tank and 2 drywells working a little longer. My father-in-law uses Septic Helper once a week, and every few months checks the depth of sludge in his tank by poking a PVC pipe down into it and feeling the difference. After about 8 years of that regimen, he has a few inches of sludge on the bottom of a 1000-gallon tank, in a household with three kids still living at home during most of that timeframe. A coworker brews his own beer (a lot of it), so is always flushing highly active yeast cultures down the drain, and hasn't had his septic tank pumped for over 10 years.
Most people probably would rather just go with the DOH recommendation. Yeast or enzyme-based additives really do seem to work fine, but you can't be sure unless you're checking your tank periodically. There are other products (acids, bases, organic solvents) that will keep your system free of sludge, but at the cost of groundwater contamination or eventual failure due to corrosion of your pipes, or both, and these products are usually prohibited by law.

Well, my footnote has become a whole leg, but I hope it helps.
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