The septic hits the fan

Oh boy, the excitement and speediness of the week prior came to a screeching halt when our project manager called notifying me that the septic contractor had not realized the depth of our basement. He would have to recalculate the cost of our septic system and get back to us. But he estimated the cost of this “mistake” (basement being OVERDUG) would be $12,000!!

I felt immediately sick to my stomach. The next three nights were completely sleepless. Over those days (and nights) I read more and learned more about septic tanks then anyone ever should. As the septic contractor told me, the maximum depth of a septic tank is 9′ (meaning 9′ of soil coverage). Our basement was 11′ and then with the clear out drain from the house this would put it at 12′. Three feet deeper then the maximum depth. This meant that he would have to get a “deep burial tank” specially fabricated to twice the thickness of the standard fiberglass walls. It would have to be structurally reinforced to withstand the pressure and he really couldn’t guarantee that we wouldn’t have problems with it.

All of this just sounded terrible to me.

But beyond this I was pissed off that this was NOW being discussed. Why did we not know this before? Why did no one discuss the depth of the basement of a potential issue? Unfortunately (for us) it was a total breakdown of communication. We had in fact had a meeting, reviewing a previous drawing of the house with the septic contractor. The depth of the basement was in there. But there was no discussion of maximum depths of septic tanks and no mention that the depth of our basement was an issue at all.

Nonetheless, we had to figure this out. I got on the phone with the owner of EcoSmart (and it’s parent company, Integrated Designs), Murray, and explained the issue to him. He is a stickler for lean construction including target cost design, planning and communication (in fact, he gives lectures around the country on avoiding these types of problems), and he was shocked by the issue, but assured me he would help to figure this out. There has to be a solution, he told me.

So over the May long weekend, myself, Murray, Taylor (the builder), and the house designer, spent hours trying to figure out alternates to this septic problem. Possibilities ranged from reasonable to crazy:

– Fill in the hole with three feet of dirt and move the foundation over – redoing all of the piles and structural slab (No, this would be more costly then the deep burial tank).

– Replace toilets with composting toilets (No, this did not solve the problem of the basement clear out drain for laundry, showers, sinks in basement)

– Build the structural slab up by 36″ (Possible, but costly and would need to take back to the Structural engineer to have this approved and redesigned)

– Use an effluent pump (Literally pushes shit up hill. Unfortunately this is against building code)

– Move the tank

The latter option was discussed immediately with the septic contractor, but he adamantly refused that this would be possible as the drain still had to pass under the 11′ basement. However, we had had a topographical study down several months ago which detailed the build site area and natural slopes of the land (which were impossible to see because of the mountain of dirt piled all around the house). However with the topographical study we could see that in fact there was at least two possibilities of alternate positions. The best option being to the east of the house.


As you can see in the picture above, a little old outhouse (about 70′ from the house) sits 10’6″ lower, which is nearly the same depth of the basement. We were going to grade and excavate from the east side of the basement anyways for the basement windows, so if we graded out a bit more then certainly we could make up the 36″ and then some.

However we needed the septic contractor to agree to this and then would need approval from the health region inspector.

So on holiday Monday morning, we met at 7:30am at our site with the septic contractor, house builder, building company owner, and Darcie and I. After about two hours of walking the site, talking, debating, and going over the drawings, the septic contractor finally agreed that we could probably make it work.


“However,” he said, “We are going to have to do something about this dirt. This is just too much to work with. We’ll have to move it a couple times to get in here.”

“Oh God, how much is that going to cost?” Is all I could think…

5 thoughts on “The septic hits the fan

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s