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    A septic system is a private sewage treatment plant that must process all the wastewater from your house. Rural residents depend on an on-site septic system to treat household sewage since Municipal Sanitary Services do not extend to all areas. In Ontario, a septic system conventionally consists of a septic tank and a septic bed. There are, however, many alternatives to this conventional system and many options to consider when installing a new system or repairing, renovating, or replacing an existing system.

    Conventional septic systems can be very large and require extensive area on a property. This style of system is commonly found at many older residences since it was once the only type of system available. These systems are still a desirable choice but are often not capable of fitting into today’s smaller building lots. A typical conventional system consists of a standard septic tank with two compartments which outlets liquid waste (effluent) out to a leaching bed. The conventional tank simply holds waste until it breaks down on its own accord. Often the liquid waste in these systems is moved by gravity so mechanical pumps, which require occasional maintenance and can break down, are not needed. Even with a pump, these in-ground and raised bed systems provide the most dependable form of on-site waste disposal.

    Modern alternative systems typically use mechanical, electrical, or other means to help speed up the treatment and breakdown of the wastewater from a residence and therefore can discharge to a relatively smaller leaching bed area. Some of the systems use means such as agitators, aerators, or the natural properties of peat, sand or synthetic media to enhance effluent quality. These systems can cost more since they are often proprietary units, but this cost can be offset with a lower cost for the smaller leaching bed area. These types of systems can often be the only choice for properties without sufficient area for a conventional system, or in an area with 'poor' soil properties.

    When considering the type and location of a new sewage system, the following should be considered:

    1. Regulations: The chosen system and its location must conform to the Ontario Building Code and to local zoning bylaws.

    2. Installation cost: although modern sewage systems can be expensive, savings in imported sand and aggregate often outweighs the extra cost. Septic systems can be very expensive; obtaining a cost estimate early in the planning stage is strongly recommended.

    3. Operating costs: Several sewage systems use pumps and/or air compressors to provide treatment. Other pumps can be avoided by ensuring that the house is built high enough to allow gravity flow into the sewage system. Annual maintenance costs should also be compared.

    4. Aesthetics: Does the chosen system blend well into your landscaping or will there be an unsightly hump or plateau in the yard? Are there access hatches, compressors, control panels, etc., that must be left exposed?

    Johnson Engineering does not sell septic systems and can therefore provide you with un-biased and knowledgeable advice to help you select, locate, and design a sewage system that best suits your needs and budget.

    When building a new house:

    Before applying for a building permit, your municipality will require you to submit an application to install a new sewage system. Each municipality will have its own way of dealing with these applications: some municipalities review these applications within their building departments, others may ask that you deal with your local Health Unit or Conservation Authority.

    Not all municipalities require an Engineered Septic System, but it is still a good idea. Mortgage and insurance companies often ask about the state and age of a septic system, especially at the time of re-sale of a property. A final inspection approval from an engineer is often asked for by the mortgager or insurer with regard to the septic system. If these documents are not available or are not adequate, then an engineering review is likely needed for an exisiting system.

    Johnson Engineering will provide a complete design package that will gain you a septic permit, provide on-site inspection during construction, and provide a final inspection approval report to keep on file for future use.

    When designing a system for a specific lot, Johnson Engineering can also provide the lot grading and drainage plans that are often needed for the building permit. By having these plans designed by us, we can ensure that the design of the lot grading and septic system work together to achieve a safe and functional property.

    When buying a house:

    Many real estate agents will/should recommend that before you consider purchasing a rural home or cottage, you should have the septic tank inspected. Septic tanks are rarely damaged so typically the inspection, conducted by a sewage hauler, will reveal that the tank is in good working condition. What this report doesn't tell you is the state of the septic field or leaching bed. It also doesn't tell you that the septic tank represents about 10% of the cost of the full septic system. To make sure that your septic system is in good condition, have it inspected by an engineer. Johnson Engineering Consultants will conduct an inspection and provide a report that describes the current condition of the complete system, as well as maintenance recommendations, replacement options and cost estimates if required.

    Environmental Considerations

    To many rural homeowners and cottagers, a septic system is "working" as long as the toilet is not backing up and no wastewater is ponding in the backyard. However, investigators currently estimate that 30% of the estimated one million septic systems in Ontario are failing to adequately protect the environment. (Septic Smart!, 1999)

    A poor septic system can become a serious health risk. Poorly maintained, improperly installed or damaged septic systems can contaminate ground water with E.Coli or nitrates. This can affect your well and your neighbors' wells. Poorly located or poorly designed septic systems can also contaminate lakes and streams with phosphorus, which can have an adverse effect on fish populations.

    Proper care and maintenance of your septic system can greatly improve its treatment capabilities and increase its life expectancy. Many new treatment technologies are available which provide a cleaner and safer effluent. Contact Johnson Engineering Consultants for more information.

    Previous Projects:

    • Various residential systems of different types and styles all over Perth County and surrounding area.

    • City of Brampton system design for 100 acre soccer park.

    • Salvation Army Campground, Bayfield: 1995 Sewage Treatment facility and Class 'C' Environmental Assessment

    • Stratford Municipal Airport: Septic Bed design

    • Fordwich Nursing Home, Fordwich: Sewage disposal pumps, tanks, and leaching area, design and approval through Huron County Health Unit

    • Shur-Gain - Canada Packers: 1990-1991 Sewage disposal for administration buildings

    • Woodcock Brothers, Sebringville, 1994 Septic bed detail

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    Last Modified: Friday January 29, 2010
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