Residential Septic System

If you're envisioning a dream home, chances are you're also envisioning your dream lifestyle in it: entertaining your friends, hosting relatives, maybe soaking in your garden tub. It's a safe bet that your septic system never appears in those dreams.

But the fact is, your septic system can make the difference between enjoying your home's amenities and struggling with one of the ugliest problems a homeowner can have. That's why Jeff Snowden of Snowden On-Site, Inc. advises, “Before you build or buy a home, learn about your on-site wastewater treatment options.”

For over 100 years, septic systems, now called on-site sewage facilities systems or OSSF's, have been an accepted method of treating domestic wastewater. In fact, the trend both nationally and here in Austin is that an increasingly higher percentage of homes are now being built utilizing OSSF's instead of city sewer service. As such, it is very important that you get an OSSF that is designed with you, the homeowner, in mind.

Because of the rules of the State of Texas, many homes are now served with “advanced systems”, or aerobic systems. These systems are often required under the new rules, but “advanced” doesn't always make it better. The equipment for these “advanced” systems is more expensive than the older septic systems, so most builders are minimizing the sizes and shopping for “deals” to hold down costs. While that's responsible behavior by the builder, you need to know that a system that is smaller and less expensive may prove to be very restrictive, expensive, and worrisome for you to maintain. A better system may cost more up front, but cost much less to operate, and deliver you, the homeowner, peace of mind from septic worries. Mr. Snowden advises, “You can pay a little more up front, or pay less and then just keep paying forever.”

You already know that unless you tell your builder otherwise, your builder will provide you with builder-grade appliances, carpet and tile. Builder-grade products are acceptable as minimums, but may not satisfy your tastes or even your lifestyle. It's the same with your OSSF. A builder-grade OSSF is the least expensive solution the builder can provide that meets the minimum OSSF standards – not necessarily the best solution for your lifestyle. “We service about 15 different brands, so we see it all” says Snowden. “It's really sad to see a new homeowner's eyes when they realize that they got a builder-grade OSSF that is too small, or too cheap. It's really hard to help them once the house is built.”

Many builder-grade “advanced” OSSF's:
require homeowners to go out into the yard, get down on their hands and knees, open one or more access lids, disassemble, clean, and reassemble a filter to keep the system operational
require homeowners to handle hazardous chemicals to keep the disinfection unit operational.
cannot properly handle large quantities of water like a Jacuzzi tub, multiple loads of laundry, or even multiple people taking showers at the same time.
have to be pumped every year or so to get rid of built up solids at a cost of $200-$300 each trip.
need special treatment before and after you go on vacation for more than a day or so.
only meet the minimum standards, and as such, often require more upkeep and repairs than a more homeowner-friendly OSSF.

What kinds of things do you want in your OSSF? It depends on your answers to the following:
How much do you want to work on your OSSF?
How much you want to modify your lifestyle for the sake of your OSSF?
Are you happy saving money on a builder-grade OSSF but paying back the savings over the next 5-7 years?

The answers may be different for different people, but generally, homeowners don't want to be bothered by their OSSF. That, then, leads us to the following criteria for most homeowners:

1.Your OSSF needs to work without you working on it.
2.If it has filters, the filters should clean themselves.
3.If the system needs to be flushed periodically, it should do so automatically.
4.If it needs disinfection, it needs to work without you having to handle hazardous chemicals to refill it.
5.It should not need pumping more frequently than every 3-5 years (don't always believe what the salesman says).
6.The system should not need special treatment from you before and after you go on vacations.
7.Your system should not sound alarms every time the weather turns stormy outside.

For a builder-grade OSSF, your builder can use almost any designer, any equipment, and any installer. For your homeowner-friendly OSSF, it's a different approach. Your builder first needs your direction to provide a system satisfies and fits your lifestyle. Then your builder needs a team of professionals who specialize in providing homeowner-friendly OSSF's. That team needs to know the limitations of the various solutions, and be willing and able to provide the best solution for your site, your home, and your lifestyle.

“Snowden On-Site, Inc. specializes in serving the homeowner” says Mr. Snowden. “Anyone can sell something cheap, and we can too. We prefer, however, to provide solutions that allow homeowners to enjoy their new home - All of it.”

Before you buy, be aware. Your OSSF could secure your dream, or shatter it. A homeowner-friendly OSSF can be an integral part of the home of your dreams, and allow you to enjoy pleasant dreams in it.

Jeff A. Snowden is President of Snowden On-Site, Inc., specializing in on-site equipment sales and service in the greater Austin area, and serves on the board, and is a member and sponsor of the Texas On-Site Wastewater Association. Mr. Snowden is a Professional Engineer, and offers informational seminars to homeowners, realtors, installers, and builders.

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