Good Neighbors Partner to Solve Tricky Onsite Challenge

Twin Presby AES fields placed on a shared lot help adjacent lakefront homeowners continue to enjoy their Lake Michigan beachfront getaways.
Good Neighbors Partner to Solve Tricky Onsite Challenge
Jon Houseknecht, and his sons Cody and Colt, inspect a tank at the shared wastewater system on the shore of Lake Michigan.

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On the northern coast of Indiana, cooperative neighbors were key to a wastewater solution that serves the needs of adjoining properties on the sandy shore of Lake Michigan.

The two homes are only a few hundred feet from the water. The eastern one was built in the 1950s, and the owner wanted to update it. Builders took it apart, reused some of the material, expanded it to eight bedrooms from the original three or four, and put the whole thing back into the same footprint as the original house. (Keeping the same footprint made permitting easier.) The four-bedroom house to the west had an old wastewater system with some dry wells.

Both homes needed new wastewater systems, and the owner of the eastern house planned to host large family gatherings. The eastern home sat on a lot that is 80 by 150 feet. The lot for the western house was 40 by 150 feet. A vacant lot between the homes was put up for sale, says Jon Houseknecht, owner of Sunset Septic & Excavating Inc. in La Porte, Indiana. Rather than have another house between them, the owners of the existing homes purchased the 40- by 150-foot lot for use as an absorption field.

They split the lot, each adding half to their original lakefront properties. In a creative solution, Sunset was called in to build systems featuring side-by-side Presby Environmental Advanced Enviro-Septic (AES) fields, each sized to serve the individual needs of the homeowners. Because of the grade, the Presby fields had to overlap the boundary of the split lot, so the homeowners granted each other an easement for construction and maintenance of the fields.

“I’d done work for both of these customers,” Houseknecht says. “After the winter winds pile up mounds of sand along the shore, we go up there in the spring with a bulldozer and level the beach.”

Too much water

“When I first looked at the project, there had just been a rain. The lot is one of the lowest spots on Lakeshore Drive, and it sheds a lot of water to the lake. They had 1-foot-deep erosion right at that lot, and it worried me because a Presby system must be kept out of the water,” he says.

Dealing with future water from rain and melting snow was the first task. The landscape architect on the project thought a 4-inch tile would suffice, but Houseknecht knew it would not move enough water to protect the proposed Presby AES installation. He looked at the vacant lot between the homes and suggested another solution: a parking area that would serve both homes.

That’s what Sunset built. Technicians took off about 18 inches of soil in an area of 40 by 20 feet. For drainage lines, they laid 4-inch pipe covered with a fabric sleeve, and filled in around and over them with about 10 inches of septic slag. (Septic slag is a porous byproduct of the process that converts iron ore into steel, and it’s easy for Sunset to obtain from the nearby steel-making city of Gary, Indiana.) On top went 6 inches of pea gravel.

Lines from the parking area run into a 500-gallon catch basin that settles dirt and grit. From there an 8-inch SDR 35 pipe runs about to the beach. The elevation change was about 10 feet, enough so the pipe could discharge over the top of the seawall. To provide a splash basin that would not erode, Sunset technicians removed some of the sand, laid a base of geotextile fabric and covered it with stone.

Custom systems

Each home has its own septic tank arrangement feeding a Presby field.

The east house has three 4-inch lines converging in a 1,250-gallon concrete tank from Rochester Concrete in Rochester, Indiana. Wastewater flows next into a second 1,250-gallon tank, also from Rochester Concrete. A third 1,250-gallon concrete tank holds a Zoeller model M267 pump and sends water through 2-inch lines to a distribution box.

From there, 4-inch pipes dose 420 feet of Presby AES pipe.

The west house has a single 4-inch line feeding a 1,250-gallon Rochester tank followed by a 1,250-gallon dosing tank with a Zoeller M267 pump that sends water to 240 feet of Presby AES pipe.

The Presby fields were constructed with 6 inches of spec 23 sand below, a foot of sand around the pipes, and 6 inches of sand above. Topsoil went above that, and the grade was sloped toward Lake Michigan. The property owners laid sod to finish the site. Technicians excavated about 2 to 3 feet of soil to build the bed so that the new grade matched the original grade when they were done.

The dosing pumps are controlled by floats. The eastern house already had an alarm system, so technicians tied the new floats into that. For the western house they installed an Alarmbot from CSI Controls. Houseknecht likes the Alarmbot system because electrical components are outside the tank.

“I’ve always had an issue with components inside a tank. When a pump fails you often find a tank completely full or more than full, and if components are inside the tank, then you have electricity mixing with water,” he says.

Excess sand from the excavations was spread on the beach. The state of Indiana forbids people from removing sand from the lakeshore, Houseknecht says.

Technicians did the job with the company’s Takeuchi TL126 skid-steer, John Deere 450H dozer, Takeuchi TB125 mini-excavator and Hitachi 120 excavator.

Water and more water

Not only was moving rainwater off the site a concern, but so was dealing with the water technicians found when they began work.

“The easterly house had a low backyard, and when we dug that out we hit water, so we had to start pumping, and we had to use more than one pump,” Houseknecht says.

One pump moved water out of the excavations and toward Lake Michigan. Another was a sewage ejector pump placed in the bottom of a plastic barrel cut in half and with notches cut in its sides to let in water. Water from the barrel flowed into the septic tank to hold it down during installation, and excess water flowed over the sides of the barrel and was picked up by the first pump.

The tanks were custom ordered in halves. Technicians set the bottom half, filled that with water to hold the tank in place, then applied the sealant and set the top half.

The west home was slightly higher in elevation, but technicians still had to use the barrel technique to pull water out of the excavation.

A smaller challenge was the vent pipes.

“We started with green SDR 35 pipe, but that would give you just a green stick very visible against a white house,” Houseknecht says.

Spray paint solved that problem for pipes placed against the west house. The east house also had two pipes, but the property had an arbor, so technicians could support the pipes with the arbor, and the arbor conceals the pipes.

“Aside from allowing water to flow easily, another reason for the stacks is to move more air through the Presby fields. The more air we can put through there, the more drying we can have throughout the field,” Houseknecht says.

Homes along the lakeshore in this part of Indiana have municipal water service, and many residents wanted municipal sewer, but it was never installed probably because of the cost, Houseknecht says.

Yet because of onsite technology these homeowners can remain in their homes and enjoy the lake while their wastewater systems help keep it clean.


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