Richard writes: My lot will not accommodate a conventional leach field. What alternatives can you suggest and who would you recommend to design alternative septic systems?
Steve Bliss, of BuildingAdvisor.com, responds: What is acceptable in your area after a failed perc test is determined by local building codes and health department regulations, so you should first check with them. A face-to-face meeting is usually the most productive. In my experience, these people are eager to help and like being consulted early in a project. An early meeting can prevent a lot of headaches later on.
That said, there are a wide variety of alternative systems from low-tech “mound system” to more technical systems with synthetic prefilters that treat effluent coming out of the septic tank and other synthetic or natural filtering media to replace traditional gravel or stone trenches.
Nearly all alternative systems rely on an electrical pump that operates on a schedule, with an alarm to alert the owner of a failure. Because alternative systems are generally less resilient than conventional systems, most municipalities want assurances that a system will work properly and be maintained properly before approving it.
Because of the higher level of maintenance required, some areas may only approve these systems for use by multiple homes in larger developments that typically contract with an outside company to manage the system – essentially becoming a mini sewage-treatment plant.
Most septic system designers are familiar with alternative systems such as mounds and should be able to provide information about options and costs in your area.
If you want something truly innovative, you may need to do additional research and may need special permission to install the system. Of course, you want something with a proven track record as the cost of tearing up and repairing or replacing a failed system can easily exceed the cost of the original system.