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 Septic tank/field for cabin
Author: ApparentlyClumsy (Non-US)

Hi All,

I'm getting ready to build a small cabin (for a cottage) to get away from the city once in a while. I'd like to get an artesian well, as well as a septic system for the cabin (it's small - only one closed bedroom + mezzanine).

The structure will be all wood (log home) type construction on a 4.5 ft concrete foundation. I've never had anything to do with a septic tank or field - and I know next to nothing about artesian wells. I feel like I will be at the mercy of the contractors I hire.

Do any of you have a suggestion or two about different resources where I could get a decent primer on how these things work (spetic systems and wells) & whats required for the installation? Also, when dealing with a log home, are there any specific things I ought to know about the plumbing?

I know this is kind of vague - any information (or questions) would help send me into the right directction. Thanks in advance!

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 Re: Septic tank/field for cabin
Author: North Carolina Plumber (NC)

When plumbing a log home, it is much quicker, cheaper, and easier on the plumber if the fixtures back up to an interior wall. That way the vents and water lines can be run inside the walls. That way you don't have to box around a bunch of pipes and run a chase up your logs to conceal a vent pipe.

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 Re: Septic tank/field for cabin
Author: packy (MA)

one thing i know about log homes. the plumbing doesn't run in the exterior walls. either box it into corners or have a central shaft for utilities. there was a special on PBS the other night about a man who, in the 60's, built a log home all by his self in alaska. he even made hinges for the front door out of wood. very interesting. check it out as they repeat thing alot on PBS.

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 Re: Septic tank/field for cabin
Author: Anonymous User

I don't know if it's law where you are but if it isn't it's a good idea to hire a geologist that specializes in designing septic systems. He'll analyze the soil on your property and draw up a system that is appropriate. With plans in hand see the local earthmovers and get a series of competitive bids to build it. It's a good idea to ask around and check out their reputations as some do better work than others.

Drilled wells very quite a bit. The idea is to drill down and find a source that isn't under the influence of surface water.
Very generally speaking inland areas where the geology is older seem to have better aquifers at a shallower depth. A few years back i was talking with a gent that operates a water district inland. Their well depth was 27'. Their recharge area was 25 miles wide & they were pumping 257,000 gallons a day.
Conversely on the coast the geology seems to be younger, the wells deeper, and the recharge areas much smaller. Our production well was 270 feet deep,and unable to sustain more than 5,000 gpd production.

Very long story short :-). There will probably be one or two well drillers in your area. Practical experience should give them a pretty good sense of where they can hit pay dirt.A well which produces 1 gpm of flow is plenty for the average home and you can even get by with 1 qt/min if needs be.

It's nothing to be overly concerned about but ask some of the old timers in your area where the municpal landfills were. Often times they were located directly over the best recharge areas because the land was so scraggly. The lechate from these landfills can find it's way into people's drinking water if it happens to be within a well's sphere of influence. How far away from one of these old nasties is safe depends on alot of variables. Maybe a mile or two?



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 Re: Septic tank/field for cabin
Author: ApparentlyClumsy (Non-US)

Wow - thanks for the suggestions.

Since I haven't yet designed, or built the log cabin, I was hoping to have an idea on how to conceal the piping - all external walls the walls are going to be solid wood 8"x8" logs and 10"x10" beams (for the ceiling trusses) - I was hoping to have the few interior walls solid as well - I may have to build stud walls for the interior walls, and in that case I could conceal pipes in behind wood paneling I suppose... Otherwise a single shaft for the lines, vent etc. might be a good idea. So many possibilities!

As far as the septic system goes, I anticipate hiring an engineer - the municipality regulations require a perc test and so forth. It's just that when I hire someone to do a job, I like to at least have some semblance of a clue as to what they're supposed to do! There are two septic specialists in the area, and I've heard negative & postive comments about both.

I know a few of the neighbours - one right near the lake had to drill almost 250' for his well - we're up higher on a 'mountain', but ironically our well may be much more closer to the surface...

Thanks again for your comments. I'll likely post more specific questions as the plans get drawn up, and the actually construction begins... can't wait!

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 Re: Septic tank/field for cabin
Author: Septic Tank Yank (CO)

ApparentlyClumsy, I think that we would all like to be lucky enough to have an artesian well for our water supply. But true artesian wells are quite rare. The following is what the US Geological Survey has to say about artesian wells.

[ga.water.usgs.gov]

“Maybe you've heard advertisements by water companies wanting to sell you "artesian-well drinking water." Is this water different from other bottled water taken from springs?

The water may not be different, but it comes to the earth's surface a bit differently. Ground water in aquifers between layers of poorly permeable rock, such as clay or shale, may be confined under pressure. If such a confined aquifer is tapped by a well, water will rise above the top of the aquifer and may even flow from the well onto the land surface. Water confined in this way is said to be under artesian pressure, and the aquifer is called an artesian aquifer. The word artesian comes from the town of Artois in France, the old Roman city of Artesium, where the best known flowing artesian wells were drilled in the Middle Ages. The level to which water will rise in tightly cased wells in artesian aquifers is called the potentiometric surface.

Deep wells drilled into rock to intersect the water table and reaching far below it are often called artesian wells in ordinary conversation, but this is not necessarily a correct use of the term. Such deep wells may be just like ordinary, shallower wells; great depth alone does not automatically make them artesian wells. The word artesian, properly used, refers to situations where the water is confined under pressure below layers of relatively impermeable rock. The picture to the right shows an artesian well with the potentiometric surface being just above the land surface, but, as the picture above shows, artesian pressure can be very strong!”

Septic System Design Criteria:

If the septic system engineer proposes a standard septic tank/soil absorption system for your cottage, I think that it would be appropriate for you to make a few recommendations regarding the design of the system. The key to a very long septic system service life is regular maintenance. If the system is designed and installed to encourage easy maintenance then chances are the required maintenance will be performed.

I recommend that 20-inch plastic risers be installed over the inlet manhole, and the outlet manhole of the septic tank. The covers of the risers should be at the final grade elevation to allow easy access to the tank. Let's face it, if you must excavate the soil over the septic tank manhole with a shovel, chances are that this chore will be avoided. I use Tuf-Tite brand risers.

[www.tuf-tite.com]

I also recommend that the outlet tee of the tank be fitted with a septic tank effluent filter. The brand that I use is manufactured by SIM/TECH (the big bottlebrush type), although there are several other high quality filters on the market.

[www.gag-simtech.com]

The filter will reduce the organic matter in the effluent from flowing into the leach field. Clean the filter annually on SEWAGE INDEPENDENCE DAY.


The soil absorption system should consist of 2-half sized leach fields equipped with a 4-inch, NDS brand diversion valve. (Avoid the use of the "Bullrun Valve"- Trust me on this) Cover the valve riser with a 10-inch round irrigation valve box to allow for easy access. The top of the box is set at the final grade elevation. The valve will allow for the alternation of flow to the fields. Use half the field for 1-year while the other half rests. Turn the valve annually on the 4th of July, SEWAGE INDEPENDENCE DAY. Celebrate your independence of the sewer grid, and remember that with this independence comes the responsibility of a sewage treatment system operator. It is OK to celebrate the USA Independence Day holiday even if you are not a citizen of the USA.

I recommend the use of plastic leach field chambers such as the ADS Bio-Diffuser, or Infiltrator brand. Cover each chamber leach field with a 4-foot wide sheet of geotextile fabric (landscaping fabric). The geotextile will prevent the migration of silt into the void under the chambers. The fabric also acts as a wick, wicking by capillary attraction, the effluent up over the chamber units and then into the soil.

Install 4-inch monitoring and ventilation ports to the ground surface on each end of each field. The 4-PVC risers are covered with plastic 6-inch round irrigation valve boxes. The tops of the irrigation valve boxes are set at the final grade elevation. The boxes will allow easy location, easy access, and you can run the lawn mower right over them. Typically the covers of the boxes are green.

The tops of the in-use field monitoring ports are fitted with 4-inch female threaded adapters, and threaded plugs to prevent sewer gas odors from emanating into the yard. The tops of the resting field ventilation ports are fitted with 4-inch female adapters, and plastic drain grates. The drain grates will keep the larger critters out of the leach field.

The ventilation ports will allow atmospheric oxygen to enter the leach field, and this will create an aerobic condition in the resting leach field. The oxygen will oxidize the Ferric sulfide (that black slimy crap), a major component of the clogging mat. Also, the aerobic environment will allow the aerobic microbes, present in the surrounding soil, to migrate to the clogging mat and consume the organic matter constituent of the clogging mat, and consume the dead bodies of all their anaerobic microbial cousins. Exchange the solid threaded plugs with the drain grates when the valve is turned on SEWAGE INDEPENDENCE DAY.


Another chore that should be performed annually is the measurement of the sludge accumulation in the primary chamber of the septic tank. The sludge can be measured with a "SLUDGE JUDGE." Do an Internet search to obtain this neat device. I recommend the implementation of the "1/3 RULE" of sludge removal. When the level of the sludge is 1/3 the total liquid depth of the septic tank, it is time to remove it. Considering the limited use of this cottage it will require many years for the sludge to accumulate to this level. However, the use of the cottage may increase in the future.

The final chore to be performed on SEWAGE INDEPENDENCE DAY is to record all of the maintenance performed on the system in a maintenance log. I prepare a SEWERS CAN BE BEAUTIFUL operation manual for each of the septic systems that I install for my clients. The manual contains a description of the system design, photos of the system components, an as-built plan, a description of the required maintenance procedures, a copy of the permit, and the maintenance log. The manual becomes an excellent sales tool when the time comes to sell the cottage. The manual answers all questions a potential buyer may have regarding the performance of the septic system, and will allay the fears typically encountered when purchasing a home served by a septic system.

If all soil absorption type septic systems were designed and constructed to the above standards, then there would be far fewer failed septic systems. Maintenance is the key to successful septic systems. However, if the required maintenance is difficult, or impossible, then chances are it will not be performed. If you would like photos of my typical standard system, send me your e-mail address. My address is lmajwa@aol.com

John Aldrich (Septic Tank Yank)
Septic System Consultant
Timnath, Colorado



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 Re: Septic tank/field for cabin
Author: ApparentlyClumsy (Non-US)

Thank you John! Very impressive - I can totally see the added-value behind your 'Sewers can be beautiful' manual - it's a great idea, and I'm sure will up the resale value of the property.

I was also unaware of the dual field technique. It makes perfect sense to me the way you've explained it.

I will keep your advice until it's time to plan the septic system - I'm still a few weeks away, as i'm currently still working on the design & building plans for the cottage itself. It'll take a while as I do work full-time, but I think the effort will be worth it. Thanks again for your advice - it's very approciated!!

It's too bad you're so far away in NC, feel like coming to Canada? ;-)

my email is jakobs@canada.com - thanks again.

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 Re: Septic tank/field for cabin
Author: Septic Tank Yank (CO)

ApparentlyClumsy, you are quite welcome. Thanks for the compliment and acknowledgement that you received my response to your inquiry. Actually, I live in Colorado, not North Carolina, but will travel to any location * to provide consulting services. Good luck in designing and completing your cottage.

*Let me qualify that statement, I will not travel to Iraq, Iran, Isreal, Afganistan or any other war zone to provide consulting services. I think that most of Canada is safe enough for this yankee. Oh, and I think that I will stay away from the gulf coast of the US for awhile.



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