Can We Talk? Share Your Views About These Onsite Issues.

Small-town septic stories often hold widespread interest to onsite installers. Where do you weigh in on these?

When I read news bulletins concerning local septic system issues, I often ask myself, “What would installers say?” I’m sure the installer community is made up of folks with diverse perspectives and a wide range of experiences, so I don’t want to assume I would find total agreement on any single issue.

So to satisfy my curiosity, I’ve been collecting stories of interest and will share a few here. Following each brief recap, I ask a few follow-up questions for the readers of Onsite Installer. Let’s start a conversation. You can post your thoughts below the online version of this column at or at the Onsite Installer Facebook page. Or contact me directly with your thoughts at

1. Help pay for your neighbor’s septic inspection

Should every homeowner be willing to pay 50 cents per year toward the inspection of 57 septic systems in a community as a way to protect the water supply? That seemed like a fair deal to the local Town Council in Wellesley, Ontario, located west of Toronto. The vast majority of residents, who don’t use a septic system, are helping foot the bill for the few who have their own private systems.

When the inspection program was started in 2015, the provincial government covered the cost for the first five-year round of inspections. But there were no such funds for the program starting this year, so the local government had to either split the $8,636 cost between the 57 septic users or find a way to spread out the bill.

After debate, the Town Council determined that all 3,500 property owners benefit from clean drinking water, so each would have to pay 50 cents per year for the inspections that are part of the Grand River Source Protection Plan, according to a report in the Observer newspaper. Septic system users will have to pay for required pumping on their own, said to be $350 to $400 per tank.

Is this cost sharing a good way to ensure inspections are completed? Is it wrong to bill all town residents to maintain septic systems for a few? One thing is certain: The levy will benefit private onsite system inspectors hired to complete the work.

 2. Show me the money! How about direct government payments to installers?

This is an idea onsite installers could get behind. In East Hampton, New York, the town board is considering sending wastewater improvement rebates earmarked for private septic system upgrades directly to the installing contractors rather than the property owners. The town’s wastewater system upgrade program helps pay for onsite system replacements, and one suggestion being considered is paying installers directly for the work rather than sending the money to homeowners first.

Of the 19,000 septic systems identified in the town, 12,500 are said to be antiquated or failing, according to a report in The East Hampton Star. So the town is taking money from a Community Preservation Fund to upgrade systems. Officials have said paying installers directly would reduce paperwork and be an incentive for contractors who they said sometimes have to wait months for payment.

And here’s an interesting sidelight to the proposal: The town is also considering eliminating a $500,000 annual income cap for homeowners applying for the public funds. To this point, only property owners earning less than $500,000 qualified for the funding. If this passes, even the wealthiest waterfront property owners could apply for aid.

What do you think of direct government payments to onsite installers for replacing problem septic systems? Would this incentivize you to take on this type of work? And should there be an income cap for homeowners who want to apply for public funds to upgrade systems?

3. They say, “I do” to huge commercial septic systems

In my part of the world, the Upper Midwest, barn wedding venues have been popping up at about the same pace as family farms are going under. I feel bad for the plight of farmers in America, but it seems like more than a few of them are transitioning away from cows and toward well-dressed bridal parties.

According to a story in the Vermont-based nonprofit news website, this rural wedding industry trend is helping farm owners preserve historic buildings and earn a valued income during tough times in agriculture. But as I’ve often wondered when hearing of folks having barn weddings, the story also raises an interesting wastewater question: How in the world are these wedding venues handling the infrequent periods of heavy septic system flow?

“It’s not just, you know, let’s pull out the cows and start having the weddings. There’s so much to it. I think we put about $600,000 into our barn,” Grant Allendorf, barn owner and wedding barn owner, tells the news outlet. In Vermont, wedding barn owners must meet state requirements for commercial septic systems, and Allendorf says his cost $220,000. It’s a case where the onsite system is probably worth more than the barn itself.

Has your crew installed a septic system for a wedding barn? If so, how did you solve the challenge of handling the flow of 500 guests drinking beer and champagne for hours on end, but only once a week over the summer season? It strikes me that this is a unique type of onsite project.

4. The joys and challenges of a community system

I’ve always thought it would be ideal if neighbors could share certain tools and equipment. For example, why does everyone on my street have their own lawn mower when one or two riders could handle all the grass clipping in the neighborhood? Well, an interesting onsite septic situation might explain why we each need to have our own lawn mowers to keep the peace.

On Landing Road in Duxbury, Massachusetts, a homeowner built a master bedroom onto his house and then went to the board of selectmen (acting as water commissioners) to ask for permission. As you might guess, the project should have been handled the other way around — with the homeowner asking for the added wastewater capacity for the bedroom before constructing it.

The problem was that the homeowner was restricted to three bedrooms for the septic system he shares with 30 other homes; the new bedroom was his fourth. According to a story in the Duxbury Clipper newspaper, the shared system installed in 1999 had six bedrooms to allocate and another home may have to be hooked up.

The homeowner argued that he should be allowed to have the fourth bedroom because other residents had requested and received permission in the past. The board eventually granted the fourth bedroom — in part because it had already been built. And then they declared a moratorium on similar requests in the future.

Have you been involved with constructing or maintaining a community shared septic system? If so, were there problems with some homeowners pushing the limits of the system? If two or more neighbors came to you and asked for advice about shared septic systems, what would you tell them? 


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