The Owner Builder &
The Septic System

My goal on this page about the Septic System is to give you the general knowledge you need to make good decisions. As with all the other aspect of home building, you need to do your research and find what is best for you.


If you tried to be an expert on all the nuances of every building detail you would probably die before you finished you new home. With that said, I want to cover the humble servant of the rural homeowner, the Septic System.

I want to give you a couple of links to sites that will help you understand the basics. Go have a look and come back, we need to talk!

This first link is the basic information on the septic tank type. A good place to do that is at How Stuff Works - Septic System.

This second link is for those that want an In Depth Explanation about Septic Systems.

Ok, now everybody is up to speed and we can cover some ground. When you are planning your home construction, if you are in a rural area, as I am, you will need a septic system.

The particular system or type of system you choose is not 100% up to you. Let me explain.

More than likely you are going to need permits to build your home. The particular permits you need will be dependent on the city you are in (if you are in one), the county (or parish for Louisiana), and/or the state. Are you confused yet?

Let me walk you through the process in my area. After I bought the land, I needed a building permit from the town to start construction. The town required that I had a county septic permit, prior to issuing the building permit.

The county had specific guidelines on the type of system, and who could install them. The contractor had to be licensed to install the approved unit by the county.

Prior to choosing an installer, I had to have an approved plan from a licensed sanitation engineer for installation. This involved the engineer coming to the site, doing a test called a Pour Test, and then laying out the system. The pour test allows the engineer to see if the soil was porous enough to drain away water from the septic system fast enough. This test was key to the type system I could install. To perform the test the engineer bored a small hole in the ground and poured water into the hole. If the water went down rapidly enough I could have a conventional Septic Tank with a drain field like you saw in the link above. OK, you did not look, here it is again.

How Stuff Works

If the water did not go down fast enough I had to install an Aerobic Septic System. You guessed it! My soil failed the test and I had to install an Aerobic Septic System.

Many factors are key to the test going either way and the type of system and the parameters of the testing are up to the governing body in your area. If you do some research you will find the right department to talk to. Start at the city or town level. No city or towns, go to the county.

Back to the Septic System itself. The key difference other than ($2500 dollars more in cost) between the two systems is the word aerobic.

Aerobic systems inject air to promote live bacteria in the septic system. The live bacteria eat the waste, and out the other end of system comes clean water. This is very simplified, but you get the general picture. Speaking of pictures here is one of my septic system prior to completion.

Septic System

In this picture you see three tanks. The tank nearest to you is the inlet tank where the raw sewage enters. The second tank is the treatment tank where the bacteria break down the sewage and digest it. The air is pumped into the second tank to give the bacteria oxygen (hence the term aerobic) to live and thrive. The third tank is the pump out tank. In the pump out tank there is a chlorinator that kill any bacteria that are present. After chlorination the water in the pumped out of the tank to spray heads on my lawn.

Let me digress for a moment. My county had many resources for me to understand the process of choosing the right system. I studied the information they provided prior to the Engineer doing the test.

The Engineer also drew the system plan, then submitted the plan to the county. This was after I failed the pour test. One very important piece of advice: Ask your engineer (if you have this process in your area) to be sure to run the test twice. Why? Because if you fail the test, you must put in an aerobic system in that is double the cost.

Another consideration in some areas is maintenance. Many areas require a licensed Class C Wastewater Technician to inspect your system on a regular basis. In my area it is 3 times a year.

If you can install a conventional Septic System do. It is far cheaper in the long run, and the short run. Aerobic systems are great, but require maintenance, and inspection on a regular basis in some areas. This all adds up.

Each area will have different requirements and different specifications for your septic system. So do your research and find a qualified licensed contractor for your area.

Another recommendation that I would like to make is concerning tank selection. I read about the different systems that were available in my area. The county had an approved list, and I called the vendor for those systems directly. I found out that most of the installers did not use the tanks that were supplied by the vendor. Why? Because they could get them cheaper locally due to shipping costs.

This opened a new set of questions. What are the best tanks to use? Some of the vendors offered an all in one system in a fiberglass shell. Essentially this is a big tank with two or three compartments in the middle. This I was not wild about.

Have you ever bought the all in one unit that does everything? What happened when one of the components went out? You bet, the whole thing was no good. Call me a cynic, but I wanted separate components.

So that ruled out the single tank system for me. Since I was going to live in my house for many years I wanted durability. This made my decision pretty simple. I went with concrete tanks. They cost a little more but the tree roots won’t break them and they are very strong!

That wraps it up for now, tune into our newsletter. We have great topics, and best of all it is FREE!

For more information on Septic Systems Go to the Septic System Knowledge Center.

For more Information on Building Your Own Home Go to Our Building Knowledge Center.

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