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Sue Ahern, 12/17/2007


Not many home repair situations are pleasant experiences for property owners, but having to deal with a malfunctioning on-lot sewage disposal system is probably one of the most unpleasant, confusing, and costly experiences. Whether you are a property owner with a malfunctioning system, a buyer or seller of a property with a system malfunction, or a realtor involved in the transaction, the entire process of repairing and/or replacing the septic system can seem like a nightmare.



"A sewage

permit is required

in order to repair

and/or replace the




A sewage permit is required in order to repair and/or replace the malfunctioning system. The regulatory process in Pennsylvania typically involves conducting soil test pit evaluations, percolation testing, and the system design. All testing is required to be completed with the local Sewage Enforcement Officer (SEO), and following completion of satisfactory testing and system design, the SEO can issue the sewage permit for construction.


Seems fairly simple and straightforward...




As a consultant having nearly 30 years of experience in dealing with the soil testing, design, and permitting of on-lot sewage disposal systems, addressing repairs to malfunctioning systems is without hesitation, ten times more complex than working on a vacant lot or proposed subdivision. In addition to finding sufficient area with suitable soil conditions, there are other obstacles such as the existing dwelling, sheds, wells, neighboring wells, water lines, utility lines, stormwater beds and swales, and possible swimming pools and play areas, not to mention the existing landscaping. Many times, the limiting issue is not the suitability of the soil, but simply having enough space to locate another sewage absorption area. Sometimes access for system construction can also limit system options and/or affect actual construction costs.



"How does a

property owner

know what options are available for

their property...

and which

seems to be

the best?"

Until recent years, the biggest decision following site testing was whether the site is suitable for an “in-ground” system, or whether an elevated sand mound was needed. Today, however, there are several other types of systems or variations of systems that are approved for use in Pennsylvania. Some of the more common systems or system components include aerobic tanks, peat filters, sand filters, leaching chambers, drip irrigation, steep slope mounds, at-grade systems, and the A/B soil system. So how does a property owner know what options are available for their property, how much the various systems cost, and which seems to be the best system for their property?



To add further complexity to the situation, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP) has proposed significant changes to the on-lot sewage disposal regulations, commonly referred to as Chapter 73. The proposed changes are currently in draft form and are under review by various environmental entities, including the State’s Sewage Advisory Committee. The proposed regulation changes have not formally been published in the PA Bulletin, and therefore will not likely be in effect for at least six months or more. As currently written, the proposed changes are very significant. There are proposed changes affecting the absorption area sizing and depths, minimum isolation distances, and the requirement in some instances to provide denitrification treatment prior to disposal. The proposed regulations include three basic levels of treatment prior to disposal, and essentially will allow for a reduction in the vertical isolation distance to limiting zones where higher levels of treatment are utilized. Advances in technology are good, but the process and options become more complex, and for a homeowner faced with a malfunction, the situation can be overwhelming.



"What is the secret

to addressing


on-lot sewage

disposal systems?"

So, what is the secret to addressing malfunctioning on-lot sewage disposal systems?


The answer is that there is no real secret if you contract a qualified consultant who is experienced in all aspects of on-lot sewage disposal systems...


past, present, and future!



During septic certification for property sale...

a septic system inspector may have identified the need to address a malfunctioning system. Is the septic inspector the best person to then address the system malfunction? He/she will likely be certified as a Pennsylvania Septage Management Association (PSMA) inspector, and may claim to have several years of experience as an inspector. But be sure to ask how many years experience he/she has in conducting site evaluations and permit designs, and specifically ask how many have been specific to system repairs. Is the inspector experienced with all conventional and alternate types of systems approved in Pennsylvania? Be sure to ask if this person is aware of the proposed regulation changes, and how they may affect your property.



Your septic tank pumper may have alerted you...

of a problem with the functioning of your septic system and the need for a repair. How does a property owner know if the septic tank pumper is the best person to engage to address the system repair? All sewage pumpers in Chester County, and most other surrounding counties, are licensed by their respective Health Departments. This license is not a contractor license and does not imply competency in on-lot sewage disposal system site testing and permit designs. Again, be specific and ask this person about their direct experience with system repairs, knowledge of various systems in Pennsylvania, and the existing and proposed sewage regulations.



Are septic contractors the right choice...

to address a malfunctioning system? Once again, be specific and ask about their experience in conducting site evaluations and permit designs for system repairs. Ask if they are experienced with all the various system types used in Pennsylvania. Consider if they have actually installed the various types of systems, because chances are good, for example, that if they are not a certified drip installer, they will likely not be considering that option for your property. Be sure to ask the contractor if they have contractual relationships with specific manufacturers of septic system components. You need to make sure they will evaluate all alternatives for your property and not just lead you toward system manufacturers that benefit them.



The bottom line for property owners...

is that certifications and licenses do not equal experience. Addressing malfunctioning systems is a complex endeavor and is best handled by a consultant experienced in all aspects of on-lot sewage disposal systems, and one who is knowledgeable about existing and proposed regulations in Pennsylvania. The experienced consultant will identify the best options available to resolve the system malfunction, and can advise property owners of both the technical and economic feasibility of various sewage treatment and disposal options. This is the secret to addressing malfunctioning septic systems.



Evans Mill Environmental, LLC...

is an environmental consulting firm specializing in soils and wastewater engineering. Jeff Miller, one of the company owners, has over 35 years of direct experience in all aspects of site testing and on-lot system design. Sue Ahern of Evans Mill has over 28 years of similar experience. Both have experience in handling malfunctioning systems from both a regulatory perspective and as a private consultant. So, if the secret to addressing septic system malfunctions is the use of a qualified consultant who is experienced in all aspects of on-lot sewage disposal systems (past, present, and future) then

give Jeff or Sue a call!



While we do not wish septic systems problems on anyone, if you have the need to correct a malfunction, Evans Mill can utilize their experience to provide you with a better experience!




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18 Nov 2013



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