Questions from the Classroom: Septic Installing in Alberta

Certified installer trainer Chad Widmer answers questions frequently asked by his students

Questions from the Classroom: Septic Installing in Alberta

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As one of a few certified septic system installation trainers in the Canadian province of Alberta, Chad Widmer fields many questions from students.

To get a finger on the pulse of what’s on would-be installers’ minds in Alberta, Onsite Installer asked Widmer — the owner of Soilworx, a septic system design company based in the city of Okotoks — to cite the most common questions posed by students. Here’s what he had to say:

Can (uncertified) homeowners design and install their own septic systems in Alberta?

Widmer: Yes. Current legislation in Alberta still allows homeowners to apply for the private sewage permit for their own home. However, even if they are not a certified installer, they still must complete all of the required steps and documentation that a certified designer/installer would go through during the permitting process.

The documentation is normally 50 to 60 pages long and requires specific soil testing and other requirements, so the task is usually too much for the average homeowner. Also, some individual jurisdictions within Alberta have the power to deny private sewage applications from homeowners.  

Can homeowners discharge effluent directly to their lawns or trees if it has gone through an aerobic treatment plant?  

Widmer: No. In Alberta, you cannot surface discharge effluent from an ATU to a lawn, trees or an open body of water. But there is some fine print that accompanies that; Alberta does allow an open-discharge system, which discharges directly to the ground. But it’s subject to very restrictive setbacks and other qualifications.

Many homeowners — and even some new installers — are under the false understanding that just because effluent goes through a treatment plant, it then can be discharged overland anyway you want.  

How clean is the water after it has gone through an ATU — safe enough for direct contact?

Widmer: While ATUs provide extremely good treatment, certain things are nearly impossible to treat without special, expensive processes. Things like nitrogen and pathogens generally are not brought down to a safe level by simply passing through an ATU, hence the reason for the final step of discharging to a soil-based treatment component. The soils and bugs really do an excellent job of completing the treatment.  

What liability do I have as a certified designer/installer and what type of insurance should I have?

Widmer: This subject has very important and specific legal considerations and consequences, so each professional must consult directly with a licensed broker. However, we can say that the failure of a private sewage system can have devastating consequences. People can get sick. Properties and homes can be damaged. So at a minimum, installers need to carry commercial general liability insurance that covers them for general liabilities, including damages that can be brought on by system failures, incorrect installations and so forth.

If you’re designing systems as well, you should carry errors-and-omissions insurance to cover any damages that could be caused by design mistakes. 

Read more about Widmer and Soilworx in the February issue of Onsite Installer.


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