septic/soil test

Discussion in 'Homesteading Questions' started by BlueRidgeBabe, Jun 7, 2004.

  1. BlueRidgeBabe

    BlueRidgeBabe Active Member

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    Just had a soil scientist out to test some land we're under contract to buy. The test revealed a problem with shallow soil all over the property, and he couldn't find a good spot for a septic field. One spot was marginal, and may work for a small 2 or 3 Bdrm home, but that's all, out of 30 acres.

    Now, my question is, should I take advantage of the opportunity to terminate the contract under our due dilligence clause and get our earnest money back? Or should I use this as a bargaining chip to get them to lower the price significantly enough to cover the cost of installing an alternative type of septic system? I am otherwise happy with the place, and it's a great location. Most everyone around here has conventional septic systems, though. The seller's agent said they're gonna have to find some solution (obviously) such as getting a septic easment onto a neighbor's property, or finding a buyer who's willing to put in an alternative system. Should I stick around and try to work this out if they are willing to drop the price 20-30,000? Or what is a reasonable figure?
     
  2. fin29

    fin29 Well-Known Member

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    I would use it as a bargaining chip, but only after I convince the seller to amend the contract to add a contingency for securing financing (if you haven't already done that) and if I could find a reputable alternative septic design engineer. You'll end up shelling out up to $5000 just for the septic design, which is usually deducted from the total price if the engineer works for the septic building company.
    Make 100% sure that your lending institution will accept an alternative septic design for your mortgage. I think that's the most important part.

    These days they can put septic systems in ledge; it's all about how much money you have to spend.
     

  3. gobug

    gobug Well-Known Member Supporter

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    I vote to take the earnest money back and keep looking.

    I think its an important discovery that there is inadequate top soil anywhere on the 30 acres for a septic. Is the septic the only issue influenced by this condition? Would this have any impact on use of the land? Does this mean the property is mostly a sand pile? Does it have a well? Is it in a flood plain? Not knowing other possible consequences would scare me off, or make me dig into a lot of other things.

    It will be a disappointment to the owners/sellers if they were unaware of the complication you discovered. It will take time for them to swallow and adjust, unless they already knew. If they knew, they wont negotiate much. They'll just wait for someone else less careful than you. If they didn't know, they won't know how much to negotiate. Unless they are desparate, they may make only a small adjustment since they have a buyer.

    It sounds like you are ready to pay for a good piece of property. Just because the price is reduced on this property won't make it a good deal.
     
  4. big rockpile

    big rockpile If I need a Shelter

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    Is the soil heavy Clay? I find it odd because we don't have much Topsoil but the Perk Test still is good.

    big rockpile
     
  5. fin29

    fin29 Well-Known Member

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    This is a good point that I hadn't thought about. It's probably safe to assume that you want your 30 acres to produce something if you're posting about it on a homesteading forum. If you don't have any topsoil, it'll be darn hard to grow anything...
     
  6. BlueRidgeBabe

    BlueRidgeBabe Active Member

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    I need to call the soil scientist tonight when he is off work at another county's health dept, and ask him for some clarification...I did ask him if the soil was heavy clay, he said no, but there was clay in it (as there is everywhere around here). He said that soil is classified as A, B and C, which I understood to be topsoil, subsoil and "parent material". He said that this land has a layer of A/B mixed together, then a B/A layer, then rocks. There are erosion gullys under the tall grass on some of the steeper hillsides.

    I asked him if the shallow soil would have any impact on other uses of the land, he didn't seem to think so. It is hilly land, better for grazing, not for tilling. Which is fine for us. I do want to have a garden, of course, but I don't think that will be impossible. I've always heard you can grow veggies anywhere you can grow grass. There is plenty of grass and clover and other foliage growing there. I can always build beds and improve the soil.

    I know this has got to be a major disappointment to the owners/sellers, if, as gobug said, they were truly unaware of this complication. The soil scientists report will now become material fact which must be disclosed to all other potential buyers of this property, I believe. I think we're going to have to give it a few days at least for them to get used to this development, and then see how they respond. We are currently putting together something in writing for them to consider and possibly renegotiate. I'm going to ask for a price reduction, and/or expansion of the deal to include some bottomland they own across the street (currently planted in corn). I don't know that they will come down as much as we want them to, but it doesn't hurt to ask, at this point I'm curious how they will respond and want to find out before I just run away. The property was just listed recently, so they may need to have more time to get realistic.
     
  7. Cabin Fever

    Cabin Fever Life NRA Member since 1976 Supporter

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    I am also a soil scientist. Based on the information that you provided, I am assuming that your soil is unsuitable for a standard trench drainfield system. However, I would think that a standard mound system could be used given your situation. Of course, the cost of installing a mound system is 2 to 3 times more expensive compared to a trench system.
     
  8. While regular septic systems are not outlawed in my state & county, I'm unaware of any non-mound with lift pump system being installed in the last 5 years. Seems they have ramped up the requirements about every 2 years for the past 10 years, to the point that one would worry if a regular septic were installed. Hills should help you, that you can do a mound system but with a lot less lift-type deals.

    While a pain & expense, it should not detract from the rest of the property, & at most I would think a $5000 adjustment is the most you could hope for. You already were going to put in a septic, so you shouldn't get the whole bill footed.

    By the way, I live on some of the best farm land in the country, this septic deal has nothing to do with how 'good' your soil is for growing things.

    Just based on 'around here' deal, can be different where you are.

    --->Paul
     
  9. Ed K

    Ed K Well-Known Member

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    As cabin and unreg. have indicated, an important question is can the place accept a sand mound vs a conventional system? If so the sand mound is likely to cost you $5000 to $10,000 more than the more conventional system. I'd think that's all the deduct you could expect to get from the owner. If the sand mound is acceptable and the owner's not in a hurry he'll probably sell it without deducting much.

    As for the design of a sand mound goes in my state (PA) the regulations are pretty prescriptive meaning the regulations tell you exactly what to do. I'm an engineer but not a soild scientist or a excavator but I was able to "design" a sand mound with the help of the regulations and a "go-by" drawing from a local excavator on a nearby job (the excavator made me assure him that I wouldn't let the local Sewage Enforcement Officer know that he'd given me the info on another job) I submitted it to the sewage enforcement officer and he marked it up a little but approved it.

    I agree with the other replys that the lands ability to pass a perc test may or may not indicate a lack of fertility. I've got a lot of clay below that doesn't perc in the proper range (remember the perc test can fail for too fast or too slow) well but I can grow pretty much anything I want on the place
     
  10. BlueRidgeBabe

    BlueRidgeBabe Active Member

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    My soil scientist never mentioned a mound system. He mentioned a "pre-treatment" system and a "sand-filter" system which would empty into the creek. He said the sand filters are hard to get permits for. And that the pre-treatment system required a lot of ongoing maintenance by a licensed operator = expense.

    Where can I get more info about the mound systems? How much maintenance do they require beyond that of a trench system? And Paul, you lost me a little when you said "Hills should help you, that you can do a mound system but with a lot less lift-type deals." Could you explain that a little more for me? How would that work?
     
  11. barbarake

    barbarake Well-Known Member

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    Personally, I would talk to the 'soil scientist'. (I'm not familiar with the term, is he the same person that issues septic permits for the county?? Actually, that's who I mean to talk to - the county septic person.)

    Odds are, you are not the only person in the county with this same situation. And they have worked out some sort of solution so I'm sure you can also.

    I have a similar situation (I'm in Upstate SC). My septic inspector was very accomodating but (big 'but') - *I* had to make the suggestions (he didn't volunteer anything). Luckily I had done research on it already and had questions/suggestions all ready.

    There are alternatives to the normal trench/gravel system. There's one called EZFlow (??) and another called <something else>. (I'm not recommending either of these since I haven't used them but I've heard good things about them. They both go in trenches as opposed to being built up. I wish I could give you the name of the second system but my notes are at the house.) Could you install a grey-water system and reduce the septic requirements?? Could you possibly add some dirt to an area or something like that?? (edited to add that these are possible questions for the county inspector - I don't mean for you to go ahead and do anything.)

    I'm going with a *wide* trench/gravel system. Each trench is six feet wide but the overall length was reduced dramatically (from something like 380' to 230'). This way I don't have to clear out as many trees.
     
  12. Cabin Fever

    Cabin Fever Life NRA Member since 1976 Supporter

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  13. pumpkinlady

    pumpkinlady Well-Known Member

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    Quote..."Could you install a grey-water system and reduce the septic requirements?? Could you possibly add some dirt to an area or something like that?? "

    I would ask the soil scientist more questions. If you install a grey-water system you might be obligated to to have the storage tank emptied every so often. This is usually regulated and the expense is yours. This will add up quickly over the years.
    Do not; and I stress DO NOT; alter your land by adding dirt or changing the layout of the land. In PA if the Sewage Enforcement Officer sees that the land has been altered the septic application will be denied.
    Did the soil scientist mention anything about a spray system? Or your own little sewage plant?

    Hope you find a solution that will work for you!......Laurie
     
  14. I believe a mound system is just a pile sand on top of the septic tank with the leach field into the pile of sand. You need to pump sewage up to the tank, and then pump it again up to the drainage pipes.

    With enough slope away from your house, you can eliminate one or both of the pumps at least.

    But I'm way off in the greywater here, I don't know much about them other than everybody who buys property in this county has one in 9 months.

    As someone else said, don't pile up dirt ahead of time....

    --->Paul
     
  15. Ed K

    Ed K Well-Known Member

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    BRB,

    A conventional system consists of
    1) A septic tank where the solids collect and some biological treatment occurs
    2) A drain field which are a series of buried perforated pipes where the liquid from the top of the septic tank trickles down through the ground

    For the sand mound you still have the tank but if the ground was not absorbant enough you have to add to the absorbtion capacity of the drain field by piling up sand and putting drain pipes in the top. You need a pump to get the water to the mound

    Operation of the two is not dramatically different.
     
  16. BlueRidgeBabe

    BlueRidgeBabe Active Member

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    I've been continuing to do research and make phone calls, trying to educate myself about our options. From what I've been told, I'm pretty sure we're going to terminate our contract on this land.

    The soil scientist says a mound system would not be suitable or cost-effective on this property, due to the fact there's no level spot to put it. He said you can't put one on the degree of slope we've got.

    He recommended a pre-treatment system, using peat filters, in conjunction with a large-diameter drainage pipe field. Actually, what he really recommended was looking elsewhere for property that doesn't have this problem to deal with.

    After speaking to the health dept for the county, it seems there is no one else using an alternative system in the county!

    Don't know that I want to be the first when it comes to this. :no:

    Unfortunately, that means we're back to square one. But we refuse to be discouraged! We will find a place.
     
  17. ajoys

    ajoys Well-Known Member

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    Just keep looking. I am on my THIRD contract. There where problems with the first two and I had to back out.