Common Questions:

1. What is a: Sewer, Septic, or Alternative Septic?

  • Sewer is when all the waste water from a residence or commercial business goes to a central waste water treatment plant. Non of the waste water is treated or disposed of onsite. Commonly called "Decentralized Waste Water Treatment".
  • Septic, or "Onsite Waste Water Treatment", is when all the waste water form a residence or commercial business is treated and disposed of onsite. There are no control panels or pumps and the lids are often buried.
  • Alternative Septic, or "Alternative to Septic" (often called an "Aerobic System"), is the same as a Septic System, but is used when you need better treatment than a regular Septic System can provide. Also, this often involves ways of disposing of the water that requires pumps (in fact, any time a regular Septic needs a pump it is automatically put into the Alternative Septic category). There are control panels, aerators/ air blowers, disinfection devices, and often pumps. Lids are usually accessible (or should be) for normal service and repair needs.

2. Why do I have a Septic or Alternative Septic?

  • When city or sub-division sewer is not available.
  • A regular Septic System is installed when there is enough disposal area and the soils perk (water absorption rate) well. There are state and county laws that restrict the usage of regular Septic Systems. When a site/ lot does not meet these restrictions then an Alternative Septic System is installed.
  • An Alternative Septic System is installed when there are limiting factors that cannot be worked around with a regular Septic System like: small lots (or the plan to put as much house as the lot will allow), hillsides, proximity to wells or other water sources, large amounts of rock, clay, or sand, or poor soil perk.

3. What are Septic & Aerobic bacteria (& Fastidious/ An-oxic)?

  • Septic (Anaerobic) Bacteria: are bacteria that do not need oxygen to survive, hence the term Septic System. They grow naturally in our gut and are transported with the waste from the residence/ business to the Septic Tank. They have slow metabolisms and break down the waste water (their food) very slowly.
  • Aerobic Bacteria: are bacteria that need oxygen to survive. These also grow naturally in our gut (but to a lesser degree than septic bacteria). They have high metabolisms and break down the waste water (food) very fast. If given the right environment and time they can eat almost all of the waste water (food) and leave clear, almost odorless, and nearly drinkable water (or at least has the possibility to be re-used).
  • Fastidious & An-oxic Bacteria: are bacteria that thrive in environments that are not fully oxygenated. They are utilized to reduce nitrogen in the water and for removing the polysaccharide layer (black "goo") left behind by septic bacteria in the leach trenches (that will, if left alone, will inevitably clog up the soils).

4. I am looking at buying a lot. How do I know if it needs a Septic or Alternative Septic system?

  • Look for things like steep grade, well setbacks, and other water sources. Then look at soil conditions (a perk test and/or a soils evaluation is needed). Thirdly, what size of lot is it and how much house are you planning on building.
  • More house on a small lot means less area for the tanks and leach lines/disposal area; this can make the difference between needing a regular Septic compared to an Alternative Septic.
  • Once you have most of the answers to these questions then an experienced person can give you a good guesstimate. But, if you need a definite answer, only an engineer with all the information given to them, can tell you if a Septic or Alternative Septic is needed for your lot and house.

5. How much do Septic Systems or Alternative Septic Systems cost to install?

  • Costs for Septic Systems can range from $7,000 to $20,000.
  • Costs for Alternative Septic can range from $15,000 to $75,000 for residential systems and $20,000 to +$300,000 for commercial systems.
  • Sewage Lift Stations can range from $3,000 to +$25,000.

6. What are normal servicing/ maintenance costs?

  • Septic: servicing is usually 1x/yr. with costs around $200.00 per service (not including parts or emergency calls). Pumping fees are from $400 to $1200 usually about every 5 - 7 years.
  • Alternative Septic: servicing is usually 2x/yr. with costs from $200 to +$900 per year (not including parts or emergency calls). Pumping is slightly more but same time frame.
  • Sewage Lift Stations: service needs vary from 1x/yr. to 12x/yr. Prices can be from $200 1x/yr to about $200/month.

7. Can I service my Septic or Alternative Septic myself?

  • Yes, but the owner should be educated and trained on their specific system. We can help provide this and any possible parts needed.
  • We strongly recommend that owners use professionals because they have all the right tools, parts, and already have the training needed. Besides this, professionals are used to the "icky" factor where most owners don't care to get dirty or handle certain items.

8. Is it true that I don't have to do anything except pump out my Septic or Alternative Septic system?

  • All Septic Systems since 2001 are required to have an effluent filter in the outlet tee. This tee needs cleaning 1 to 2 times per year. If your Septic System is older it could benefit from a filter (it helps protect the leach lines).
  • The Disposal Area could have root intrusion or possible clogging from the septic bacteria and may need some attention each year.
  • All Alternative Septic Systems need maintenance each year. These have control panels, aerator/blowers, treatment tanks, pumps, Chlorine Disinfection, Ultraviolet Disinfection, pumps, and often Drip Tubing or Pressure Pipes (or any combination of the above). Servicing is needed 1x/yr. to 4x/yr. depending on the needs and usage.
  • Sewage Lift Stations need periodic checking and cleaning. These usually do not need pumping unless repairs are needed.
  • All this said: service and maintenance is needed for all "onsite waste water systems". Pumping is only part of the servicing needs.

9. Additives like Rid-X, are they needed for my Septic or Alternative Septic System?

  • Septic Systems may benefit a little from these enzyme or bacteria additives but are not needed (and some may be detrimental). If you follow the normal "do's and dont's" of what to put down the drain you will be taking care of your system more than any additive.
  • Alternative Septic Systems are designed to work on their own. Additives may be detrimental to the correct operation.
  • With either type of system, additives do not negate the need for regular pumping or servicing.

10. What types of Alternative Septic Systems are there?

  • All Alternative Septic Systems can be sorted into three broad categories based on how they get oxygen into the water:
    • Aerobic: there is no media in the treatment tank, just added air and mixing to grow the bacteria needed.
    • Submerged Media: the bacteria have more attachment areas to grow by submerging a plastic or foam media in the water, air is passed through the media, in the water, to grow the bacteria.
    • Trickling Filter: water is pumped and sprayed or distributed by other means over the top of a synthetic fiber, Styrofoam, peat moss, or cocoa fiber material to oxygenate the water and grow the bacteria.
  • The rest of an Alternative Septic System is usually engineered and varies greatly from sit to site. Common items include trash tanks (a regular Septic Tank in front of a treatment tank), aerators/blowers, disinfection devices, pumps, various disposal methods, and control panels.

11. Can I install a Septic or Alternative Septic System myself?

  • Most Septic Systems are fairly simple, but here in Arizona a competent excavation and plumbing contractor could install one. In fact, many times you don't even need an engineer to design the system.
  • Most Alternative Septic Systems are not simple. They do require an engineer to design. Many excavation, plumbing, or general contractors have a specialized sub-contractor help with installations. When shopping around for an installer check into their references and past job experience to get an idea if they are what you need.

12. Can I build an addition to my house without changing the Septic or Alternative Septic System?

  • The answer depends on a couple things. Is this addition going to add a new bedroom? Is this addition going to add a fixture (toilet, sink, tub, shower)? If the answer is no to these questions then you most likely do not have to do anything with your system. If you answer yes to either, then a review of your system capacity will be needed. Then if, with your planned additions, the system will be undersized, then a review by an engineer may be needed to either modify or replace your existing Septic or Alternative Septic System.
  • Depending on the county you are in the rules for whats allowed is not the same. Talking to the county water/ waste water division will help guide you in answering your questions.

13. Can I install an Alternative Septic System just to be "cleaner" than a regular Septic System?

  • Maybe. If your site only needs a septic, it usually gets a regular Septic installed. But, if you need an Alternative Septic instead, then you may be able to work with the engineer to put in a system that cleans up the water to a higher degree than is needed, especially if there are concerns with how much land is needed to dispose of the treated water.
  • But, if you want to get an individual permit (that comes with over-site from the state, instead of a general permit), you may be able to put in whatever the engineer comes up with that falls within the restrictions of the law.
  • Depending on the county you are in the rules for whats allowed is not the same. Talking to the county water/ waste water division will help guide you in answering your questions.

14. Can I re-use my cleaned up water (effluent) to water plants?

  • No. Even if you think the water is clean, it isn't. The state of Arizona also has laws against re-use.
  • If you have an older system that uses bubbler heads to dispose of the water above ground does not mean that you should redirect it elsewhere on the property.
  • Soon there may be some changes in Arizona law that will allow new technologies to be used. The cleaned up water (effluent) from these systems have an NSF approval for re-use. This means that you would be able to direct the water to plants (or possibly toilet usage) instead of it going directly into the ground. 

15. What can I plant around my Septic or Alternative Septic System?

  • Although the tanks and risers of tanks should be watertight, roots often can push through to get to the nutrient rich waters. It is a good idea to keep water thirsty plants and trees away from the tanks and disposal area (about 30 ft). Shallow root plants are best and can often hide the lids well. Large Saguaros also are not recommended near the tank as they can get very heavy.

16. What can I do about my unsightly lids and control panel(s)?

  • Paint is the first and easiest to do.
  • Landscaping is the second best way to go (or in combination with paint). Boulders and mounds/swells do well along with grasses and shrubs. Cactus's are fine but can be a pain to perform servicing if they are too close.
  • Burying the lids is never recommended (but possible). There are some who have pavers or grass over their lids. But is is costly and requires appointments to accomplish repairs or servicing. If you feel the need, a thin layer of landscaping material over the lids, can be easily removed for servicing and repairs.

17. What is the difference between Service/Maintenance and an Inspection?

  • Servicing is concerned with things like checking components, cleaning filters, and replacing parts (like air diffusors). Repairs may be part or separate from these services. These are performed on a regular basis.
  • Inspections are for reporting purposes only, like a "Transfer of Ownership Inspection" . They are not designed to service or repair anything. These services are performed as needed.

18. When do I need a "Transfer of Ownership Inspection"?

  • When you sell a house or property with a Septic or Alternative Septic System. These inspections only report what is working, halfway working (functional with concerns), or not working (not functional). These reports also inform the counties/ state of the condition of the system (in case there is no permit on record or other important items of concern).
  • Pumping is usually performed at the time of inspection.
  • No matter what Banks or anyone else tells you, state law requires a "Transfer of Ownership Inspection" when you are selling a home. You do not have to fix it or service it (usually negotiated between the seller and buyer) but there needs to be an inspection; this is not a "as is" item.

19. Can I turn off the power?

  • Maybe. In most cases, if you are gone for more than a month, then it should be fine to turn off the power. If you plan on being gone longer than 3 months we recommend leaving the power on. Motors not running for extended periods of time can experience bearing or seal failures.
  • Expect odors when you turn the power back on for 1 to 2 weeks. Bacteria need time to re-grow and digest food.

20. How long does it take to install a Septic or Alternative Septic System?

  • Sewage Lift Stations take the least amount of time (because of their small size and because they fall under house plumbing code). A few weeks to a month is normal.
  • Septic Systems take a month to a few months. Not only are they much larger in construction but there are permits (and associated reviews/inspections by the county), often engineering, and normal construction scheduling with contractors and sub-contractors.
  • Alternative Septic Systems can take a month to a year to install. The same time setbacks as regular Septics apply but there is usually more time needed for engineering, county review, and installations are usually harder (Alternatives are most often installed in difficult lots).



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