According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), septic systems can cost between $1,500 on the cheap side and $8,000 on the high side, but if the land is suitable, a system installation runs $4,000 as a nationwide average.
There are multiple considerations when deciding if your land will support a system and where it should be installed. Typically, an acre of land is required for a new system, and usually there must be enough space in either the front of back yard. Side yards will work on larger pieces of land, but codes requirements about setbacks need to be considered (i.e. the county won’t let you build a drain field too close to the edge of your property).
In most cases, the land must be relatively flat without too much rock, clay, etc, and the drain field can’t be too close water sources. Local government usually requires a perc (percolation) test to be sure the ground will absorb the waste water, and they usually require that plans be submitted to be sure your system will he big enough for the number of bedrooms in the home.
Getting that Cheap Septic System
Of course, the most important factor is finding the right contractor. Since I can’t recommend someone in every area across the country, I’ll try to offer some guidelines:
- If your state requires licensure for installing a system, then you’ll most likely be able to search your state’s website for license records and even complaints. So, figure out your state’s license requirements and search through their website until you find several contractors who have the required licensure.
- The National Onsite Wastewater Recycling Association (NOWRA) is a national association of septic professionals, and they have a website that helps you find a contractor: www.septiclocator.com. I would be impressed if a professional has taken the time and money to be a part of this organization or one of their state affiliates.
- It almost goes without saying…to talk to neighbors and check Angie’s list.
- Get multiple quotes. Don’t be shy about letting the contractor know that you want a quote and that you’ll be comparing at least three quotes. If they think you’re only calling them, then they might not give your their cheapest price.
- Saved the best for last: most county governments require a perc test and permits before installing a septic system, so give your county building permits office a call and ask what department gives permits. Then, call that department and ask who they would recommend to do a reasonably priced, quality installation. Since they approve all installations in the county, they will know who does the most and seems the most professional.
Reducing the Cost
- Cesspools: The most basic form of system, essentially just a pit in the ground. If you live in a very rural area, or an area with very lax codes, then cesspools might be allowed.
- Seepage Beds: Instead of the trenches of a traditional leach field, this system consists or a single trench with multiple distribution pipes.
- Seepage Pit: Similar to a cesspool but in a seepage pit the solid waste goes into a septic tank before entering the seepage pit. This pit is basically a porous tank built of stone and gravel that allows effluent to seep into the surrounding ground. These pits are usually frowned on because they release wastewater closer to the groundwater.
- Above Ground Tanks: There’s no reason a tank has to be below ground, except being an eyesore. There are multiple above ground options.
- Composting Toilets: A composting toilet system has a waterless, or microflush, toilet, a composting tank with access door, an air inlet screen, and an exhaust system; it relies on aerobic bacteria that are 10 to 20 times more efficient than the anaerobic bacteria found inside of septic tanks. While they sound pretty simple, these systems require diligent maintenance.
- Aeration Systems: Typically, aerobic systems are more expensive than cheaper traditional systems due to the electricity, moving parts, and more frequent pumping; however, these systems can significantly reduce or even eliminate the need for a drain field.
- Greywater systems: Blackwater refers to waste directly from the toilet or sink, while greywater is the water component if you can remove solid wastes. If you can find a system that removes solid waste from your blackwater, then there are a host of creative greywater systems out there.