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Question and Answer ArticleSeptic System Alternatives

By Jennifer T. Derrick
Published: March 1, 2008
Q: Please provide any information you have on alternative septic systems. Do most states allow alternative systems? I have lake property that has an old septic on it and when we build a new house it will no longer be suitable. However, the property is on a point with no room for a drainfield, and therefore, I’m looking for options.
– Benita Edds, via e-mail

A: Fortunately, there are many options available for small-sized sites. The primary factor that dictates use of one option over the other is the soil’s ability to absorb water. This is known as the soil percolation rate.
   
Based on your property description, an aerobic treatment unit (ATU) might be a good alternative. Daniel Friedman, who writes for the Home Inspection and Construction website, notes that these units are commonly used on lake lots where there isn’t enough room for a drainfield.
   
Essentially, an ATU is a “mini-wastewater treatment plant for home use,” says Friedman. Bacteria decompose waste much more quickly in an ATU because of extra air that’s pumped into the tank. These systems do a great job of treating wastewater, but only if they’re maintained properly.
   
Including the actual unit expense, an ATU installation will likely cost anywhere from $9,600 to $15,000. Since these systems require electricity, there will also be some minor operation costs. The main operating expense comes from getting the tank pumped out – these units require more emptying than conventional systems.
   
If you find you have some space for a drain field, you could also check into recirculating sand filter (RSF) or peat systems.
   
Of course, you could consider eliminating your need for a large septic system altogether. Alternative toilet systems, from composting to incinerating units, make this possible.
   
Composting toilets use little or no water, run on batteries or electricity, and can be self-contained or connected to a separate composting system. Envirolet offers three stand-alone, waterless models. Also, Biolan offers a non-electric unit.
   
Other toilet options include:

• Incinolet – Rather than decomposing waste, an Incinolet incinerates it with electric heat, reducing the waste to ash.
• BioLet – Relying on a controlled supply of heat, air and natural microorganisms, the BioLet needs no water, no chemicals and promises no odors.
• Sun-Mar – Offers a central composting system that connects to either low-water flush toilets or dry-air flow toilets.
   
As you weigh your options, consider your local and state health regulations. For instance, state law requires that you have your soil tested before installing a septic system. Special permits may be required for alternative systems. Check with your local planning or zoning committee on this.
   
Just as you would for a conventional system, hire a professional to advise you during the set up, installation and maintenance processes.
    
Resources:
•  The septic handbook, available at www.inspect-ny.com/septbook.
•  Envirolet, www.envirolet.com.
•  Incinolet, www.incinolet.com.
•  Biolet, www.biolet.com.
•  Sun-Mar, www.sun-mar.com.


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