What is the first step in preparing for a septic system?

The first step in preparing for a septic system is to consult a qualified person who specializes in waste water treatment system planning and/or installation. Not only will they tell you what is likely to be the best solution for you but they can also tell you how much you need to budget. If you are using an architect then you should ensure the architect and the engineer can work together, the results may amaze you.

In BC, you can only get a building permit after you have filed a Record of Sewerage with the local Regional Health Authority; a copy of this document is what you (or your agent/engineer) files with the building permit office.

The Record of Sewerage requires a detailed plan of what is to be installed for a septic system. This includes site data and flow calculations as well as a site plan and details of the installed system and components. Remember too that the site assessment, and subsequent design for that matter, also has to address surrounding properties; this is so that surrounding properties are not negatively affected by what you plan to do.

The qualified person we spoke of may be either a practitioner, as registered with ASTTBC or an engineer licensed to practice in BC. If the individual you have chosen has neither of these designations or has not filed a plan then the installation is not allowed under the Health Act. However, unregistered persons, including homeowners, may install systems if supervised by an engineer [but not by a registered practitioner]. All engineers and registered practitioners must carry errors and omissions insurance to cover the work they do.

Whether you choose an engineer or a registered practitioner depends on the complexity of your site and plans. When sites are complex, flow volumes are above certain mandated levels or advanced treatment plants are being considered then you should consult an engineer.

Designing and filing typically may take from 2 weeks to a month. A site assessment is always required and the data gathered is used along with survey information and your building plans to create the plan that is filed. A simple site installation can take as little as a couple of days if everything is on site already however if it is a new building site then typically this may occur in stages over a longer period as other construction work on the site proceeds.

How much does it cost? First, keep in mind that equipment and material costs have gone up a lot in the last few years due in part to the cost of energy and shipping. Second, the current sewerage systems regulation is much more stringent than the old regulation so more materials are required. There is a prevalent misconception that septic systems are supposed to be inexpensive – they are not and never were if correctly installed. However a properly designed system can be very reasonably priced keeping in mind that the bigger the house you build the bigger the septic system will have to be. A typical Type 1 system (anaerobic treatment only) will be between $9000 and $11000. A typical Type 2 aerobic treatment system will be between $12000 and $17000. A typical Type 3 advanced treatment system will be between $18,000 and $35,000+. This may seem steep but considering that you should get at least 30 years of reliable service [out of site out of mind] from such a system then its certainly much better value for your money than a car. Where a system has been properly maintained the lifetime of the system (with maybe a pump replacement) should be indefinite.

Any time the site is more challenging and requires more machine work the cost will increase; very small sites also are more difficult to work with and the system will cost more.

In comparing treatment levels Type 3 systems are always more expensive because they are designed for much more demanding applications, although there are exceptions.

Remember, you need space for the system, the lower the treatment level the greater the amount of space required.

Compiled by: Bert Telder, P. Eng. – MB Telder Engineering.