System Site Plans: Site Layout Details and Owner Interview

System Site Plans: Site Layout Details and Owner Interview

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A valuable resource in the onsite system site planning process is conducting an owner interview. Although an interview is not always practical — for example if the facility is a newly constructed residence still owned by a developer — if at all possible, an installer should make the effort to conduct an owner interview in the early planning stages. Site layout is a critical aspect of confirming the site is accessible and that the system is buildable and maintainable as designed. 

Owner interviews

An interview gives the installer a broad view of the owner's intentions, as well as helps the installer become aware of any structures or landscaping that are not in the design plans. This interview also lets the installer discuss with the owner when and how the onsite wastewater treatment system is to be installed and if the system as designed meets the owner’s needs. The installer may also address any items not in the design plan that need to be handled in a special manner.

The installer should identify the proposed and existing improvements on the site and how those affect the access and construction of the system. Some critical items to cover during this interview are:

1. Components that will be installed. This will help the owner understand your bid when you provided it.

2. The homeowner’s plans for future improvements on the site. For example, it would be important to know if a driveway is planned for the section of the lot over the soil treatment area.  

3. Existing component abandonment. Some existing improvements may have to be abandoned or may become damaged during the construction process. Discussing if items will be abandoned in place or taken off site should occur.

4. Construction-related disturbance, damage and aesthetics. The homeowner should be made aware of the limits of disturbance. An area within the limits of disturbance may be reserved for a stockpile of spoils, construction debris and construction materials. These areas are necessary for construction and should be in a location that will not hinder other activities during construction. The owner needs to understand that these areas might not be aesthetically pleasing, but they are temporary, and the area will be left as laid out in the contract.

Typically, the owner’s main concern is the aesthetics of the final product. During the interview, it is important that the installer relates how the proposed system will look at the end of construction. Showing the owner a portfolio with pictures of previous jobs provides a better understanding about how their system may look when finished.

Discussing who will do the final landscaping and establishment of vegetation is a very important topic to agree on. If they plan to hire a landscaping company you will need to coordinate with them to assure they do not negatively impact the septic system.

5. Timing. Discussing when you can reasonably expect to install, repair or replace their system is often a critical issue with property owners. Stressing how the work is weather dependent is a critical part of this conversation.

Site layout

One of the most important things to do when visiting the site is to evaluate the site’s layout. Key items:

  • Setbacks - Check that all setbacks can be met. 
  • Constructability - The site layout must allow for construction. Existing structures or landscape features that need to remain might also hinder accessibility to the construction site and may narrow the equipment choices that may be used for construction.
  • Construction access – The site must be checked for natural features (stream, wetlands or large trees) along road frontage that could impact access. Special permits may be required to access parcels of land that require wetland/stream crossings. 
  • Maintenance access - Ensuring that the system can be serviced and maintained is also an important consideration. Accessibility to the system is critical for that maintenance to occur.

 If it is an existing site, the installer can verify that all features match the plan and note those features that are absent. If the site is under construction, you may find that during job staging the site has changed or other contractors have stockpiled materials or equipment in areas that you had planned to be available.

In addition to collecting valuable information from the homeowner, the interview also opens the lines of communication between the installer and the owner and establishes a level of professionalism. By discussing issues with the homeowner prior to installation, the result will likely be a more satisfied customer. Satisfied customers will preserve a good perception of the industry and will likely result in fewer callbacks for the installer involved with the site. 

About the author
Sara Heger, Ph.D., is a researcher and educator in the Onsite Sewage Treatment Program in the Water Resources Center at the University of Minnesota, where she also earned her degrees in agricultural and biosystems engineering and water resource science. She presents at many local and national training events regarding the design, installation and management of septic systems and related research. Heger is the President of the National Onsite Wastewater Recycling Association and she serves on the NSF International Committee on Wastewater Treatment Systems. Ask Heger questions about septic system design, installation, maintenance and operation by sending an email to

This article is part of a series on site planning:


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