Why Do You Have An Aerobic Septic System?

Because it makes the designers, installers, builders, and manufacturers of these systems a lot more money, frankly.  Sales people and slick literature will try to convince you it's a better system, but that's not always true.  Like the other choices in your home, to get what you really want, you must invest in educating yourself.

In case you're interested, here's the story of how decades of history in septic systems changed nearly overnight in Texas

Through 1997 in Central Texas, septic tanks followed by subsurface disposal systems were commonly the systems being installed.  The idea of spraying wastewater out of spray heads was all but unheard of in Central Texas - until 1997.  

Then the Texas Legislature made wholesale changes for septic systems in the State of Texas.  They took the septic permitting program away from the Texas Department of Health (TDH) changed the regulations dramatically, and gave the program to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ).  

If you look at the names of the agencies, Health vs Environmental, you might already see how/why things have changed in the septic industry.  You see, the Legislature did not control the Health department's budget, but they do control the budget of the TCEQ.  With control of the purse strings, they decide what they want the septic permitting program to do and what not to do. 

It's not all politics; there were some good reasons for the changes.  In Central Texas, for example, there's often thin soils over rock.  The soil is what cleans up the wastewater, and without soil there's not much treatment before giving that wastewater to Mother Nature to handle.  We weren't headed in a very good direction for the future.  For decades we dug holes, buried tanks, cut trenches in the rock into which we poured wastewater, and we didn't tell people of the need to maintain their systems.  So, changes were needed, granted. 

The good changes were that systems now must consider how to clean the wastewater before releasing it back to a fragile environment that can't handle it, AND the discussion of maintenance of septic systems was created.  All septic systems, regardless the type, require some level of ongoing maintenance.  Some require a little, some require a lot.  It's foolish to think that we can mindlessly pour sewage into a hole in the ground that "magically" makes whatever sewage we flush disappear forever.  So, the new rules' additional attention to treatment and maintaining septic systems were needed.  It could have been executed much better, though.  

Because of the Legislature's changes, in late 1997, aerobic septic systems quickly became the most prevalant systems in Texas. These aerobic treatment units (ATU), commonly fitted with sprinkler heads that spray the wastewater up in the air and on the ground, make up 40 to 50% of all septic systems permitted in Texas.  Before the Legislature's changes, nearly every new system dispersed wastewater underground.  After the changes, most of the new systems sprayed the wastewater above/on the ground (and everything else, btw).   

The new rules are much more favorable to aerobic treatment units, provide many solutions for lots without deep soils, and in some cases facilitate putting big houses on small lots.  This allowed houses on a large inventory of existing lots that were previously considered unacceptable or marginal.  Perhaps this was the motivation behind the new rules?  

It wasn't long before septic installers discovered that an aerobic treatment unit with spray dispersal was a "cookie cutter" system. Aerobic/spray systems were allowed in nearly any kind of soils.  Their material and labor costs for these systems don't vary much from site to site, so they can use one price instead of having to give each lot a price based on the lot's unique conditions.  For the same price of a system, their installation time is much shorter than with any other kind of system.  They can, therefore, make the same (or more) money in much less time.  They use a no-brainer pricing system that turns jobs faster with nearly no estimating overhead.  It's actually much less profitable for a designer or installer to analyze each lot and client to come up with a solition uniquely tailored and priced - as was done previous to the 1997 changes. 

In general, builders are unfamiliar with the differences in septic systems. Frankly, their interests are similar to the installer's interests as discussed above.  With every choice of product in a house, the standard, especially for tract builders, is whatever is cheapest and fastest.  That's the basis for their success.  The popular term for their preferred product selections is called "Builder's grade", and it's the same with septic systems.  

Owners are give a standard septic solution based on a decision process that is based on whatever is cheap and fast. They are not advised of the limitations of the systems, of the costs to operate these systems, and of the problems that can arise from the improper use of these systems.  If the owner is told anything about their system, they are rarely advised of the real costs of repairs and upkeep. 

The septic system costs that most owners are not aware of are: the cost of electricity, frequent and recurrent repairs, cost of mandatory maintenance agreements, costs for non-routine service visits, and the cost of more frequent pumping.  With many of the customers we talk to, they were completely unaware of these costs, or they would have made very different decisions on their septic systems.

If you'd like to get the complete story on your system, call us at (512) 338-1804.



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