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Information about Septic System Inspection and Testing as Regulated in Massachusetts. This document provides information about septic inspection and testing as regulated by law in Massachusetts. We include
links to the actual provisions of the law and contact information for state authorities, as well as history and news
release information for this topic.
This information is provided by the author, as a public service; it has not been reviewed nor sanctioned by MA state authorities.
State Regulations in Massachusetts Regulate Septic System Inspection & Testing
New Massachusetts Septic Testing Regulations take effect 1 April, 1995, on
and after which the Mass. Department of Environmental Protection, (DEP) requires
that all residential property sales include septic evaluations performed by a
state certified system inspector. Contact the State DEP for a current list of
inspectors who have been certified.
9/16/96 Updated link to Mass. Info on the Web - see "More Information" below.
5/96 We're told that the state has made an exception for properties scheduled to
be served by community sewer lines within five years.
9/20/95 Massachusetts News Reports today indicate that one out of four septic
systems tested under the new law fail to meet acceptable standards of
performance. Average repair costs range from $5400. to $7500. Source: NPR News.
8/2/95 Massachusetts News Reports today indicate that due to extreme costs to
consumers to comply with the recent Title 5 Rules, the state is making changes
to offer consumers some relief: homeowners whose old non-complying septics are
shown to not be contaminating local groundwater will not be required to replace
the system; some tax relief will be offered to homeowners who are required to
make such replacements. Source: NPR News.
Additional Testing Required
Lenders are expected to require that all septic testing in MA conform to the
new law. The new inspections exceed traditional visual inspections which are
performed in many states. Because additional inspection is required, including
excavation and pumping, septic inspection fees will probably reflect this new
level of effort.
The inspector will have to locate wells and ground water sources on and near
the property. The septic tank and distribution box will be opened and examined.
Wells located within certain distances of the septic will have to be tested for
bacteria and nitrates. Systems located within 50' of a well will fail to meet
the requirements of the new law.
Standard Report Form
A new standard report form has been designed by the state. Contact the DEP or their website to
obtain a current copy or use the links to the DEP forms at the bottom of this web page.
When are Septic System Inspections Required:
These inspections are required to be performed within nine months prior to the
sale of a property; when freezing weather or other conditions restrict
inspection, a six-months grace period may be allowed.
Quoting from the Mass Title5 Law:
When are on-site [septic] system inspections required?
When properties are sold, divided or combined.
When there is a change in use or an expansion of a facility.
When MassDEP or the local Board of Health requires an inspection.
Title 5 requires inspections for large systems, shared systems, and condominiums on a periodic basis.
Systems located in cities and towns with MassDEP-approved inspection programs are required to comply with local inspection requirements.
There are exceptions and nuances to the general requirements listed here. For example, no inspection is required if the owner has signed an enforceable agreement with the Board of Health to upgrade the system, connect to a sanitary sewer, or connect to a shared system within two years.
quoting from a more detailed document:
When is a [septic system] inspection required?
In general, Title 5 requires an inspection at the time of property transfer:
When a property is sold to new owners, or there otherwise is a transfer of title to new owners, with certain exceptions.
"Title 5 does not require a system inspection if the transfer is of residential real property, and is between the following relationships: (1) between current spouses; (2) between parents and their children; (3) between full siblings; and (4) where the grantor transfers the real property to be held in a revocable or irrevocable trust, where at least one of the designated beneficiaries is of the first degree of relationship to the grantor". [REF: MGL Ch21A s. 13]
When properties are divided or combined.
Even if there is not a sale or transfer of title, Title 5 requires an inspection when there is a change in use or an expansion of the facility. For example, conversion of a retail store to a restaurant requires an inspection.
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Note: Below we reproduce some of the Massachusetts Title 5 Septic Inspection, Testing, Documenting documents for easy access. The state's website (see link just above) contains many other pertinent documents such as waste hauler permits, new construction permits, shared septic systems, Mass DEP approval of variance granted by Board of Health, and a board of health certificate of compliance.
Septic Tank/Soil-Absorption Systems: How to Operate & Maintain [ copy on file as /septic/Septic_Operation_USDA.pdf ] - , Equipment Tips, U.S. Department of Agriculture, 8271 1302, 7100 Engineering, 2300 Recreation, September 1982, web search 08/28/2010, original source: http://www.fs.fed.us/t-d/pubs/pdfimage/82711302.pdf.
Pennsylvania State Fact Sheets relating to domestic wastewater treatment systems include
Pennsylvania State Wastewater Treatment Fact Sheet SW-161, Septic System Failure: Diagnosis and Treatment
Pennsylvania State Wastewater Treatment Fact Sheet SW-162, The Soil Media and the Percolation Test
Pennsylvania State Wastewater Treatment Fact Sheet SW-l64, Mound Systems for Wastewater Treatment
Pennsylvania State Wastewater Treatment Fact Sheet SW-165, Septic Tank-Soil Absorption Systems
Document Sources used for this web page include but are not limited to: Agricultural Fact Sheet #SW-161 "Septic Tank Pumping," by Paul D. Robillard and
Kelli S. Martin. Penn State College of Agriculture - Cooperative Extension, edited and annotated by
Dan Friedman (Thanks: to Bob Mackey for proofreading the original source material.)
Books & Articles on Building & Environmental Inspection, Testing, Diagnosis, & Repair
The Home Reference Book - the Encyclopedia of Homes, Carson Dunlop & Associates, Toronto, Ontario, 25th Ed., 2012, is a bound volume of more than 450 illustrated pages that assist home inspectors and home owners in the inspection and detection of problems on buildings. The text is intended as a reference guide to help building owners operate and maintain their home effectively. Field inspection worksheets are included at the back of the volume. Special Offer: For a 10% discount on any number of copies of the Home Reference Book purchased as a single order. Enter INSPECTAHRB in the order payment page "Promo/Redemption" space. InspectAPedia.com editor Daniel Friedman is a contributing author.
Or choose the The Home Reference eBook for PCs, Macs, Kindle, iPad, iPhone, or Android Smart Phones. Special Offer: For a 5% discount on any number of copies of the Home Reference eBook purchased as a single order. Enter INSPECTAEHRB in the order payment page "Promo/Redemption" space.
Advanced Onsite Wastewater Systems Technologies, Anish R. Jantrania, Mark A. Gross. Anish Jantrania, Ph.D., P.E., M.B.A., is a Consulting Engineer, in Mechanicsville VA, 804-550-0389 (2006). Outstanding technical reference especially on alternative septic system design alternatives. Written for designers and engineers, this book is not at all easy going for homeowners but is a text I recommend for professionals--DF.
Builder's Guide to Wells and Septic Systems, Woodson, R. Dodge: $ 24.95; MCGRAW HILL B; TP;
Quoting from Amazon's description: For the homebuilder, one mistake in estimating or installing wells and septic systems can cost thousands of dollars. This comprehensive guide filled with case studies can prevent that. Master plumber R. Dodge Woodson packs this reader-friendly guide with guidance and information, including details on new techniques and materials that can economize and expedite jobs and advice on how to avoid mistakes in both estimating and construction. Chapters cover virtually every aspect of wells and septic systems, including on-site evaluations; site limitations; bidding; soil studies, septic designs, and code-related issues; drilled and dug wells, gravel and pipe, chamber-type, and gravity septic systems; pump stations; common problems with well installation; and remedies for poor septic situations. Woodson also discusses ways to increase profits by avoiding cost overruns.
Country Plumbing: Living with a Septic System, Hartigan, Gerry: $ 9.95; ALAN C HOOD & TP;
Quoting an Amazon reviewer's comment, with which we agree--DF:This book is informative as far as it goes and might be most useful for someone with an older system. But it was written in the early 1980s. A lot has changed since then. In particular, the book doesn't cover any of the newer systems that are used more and more nowadays in some parts of the country -- sand mounds, aeration systems, lagoons, etc.
Design Manuals for Septic Systems
US EPA Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems Manual [online copy, free] Top Reference: US EPA's Design Manual for Onsite Wastewater Treatment and Disposal, 1980, available from the US EPA, the US GPO Superintendent of Documents (Pueblo CO), and from the National Small Flows Clearinghouse. Original source http://www.epa.gov/ORD/NRMRL/Pubs/625R00008/625R00008.htm Onsite wastewater treatment and disposal systems,
Richard J Otis, published by the US EPA. Although it's more than 20 years old, this book remains a useful reference for septic system designers.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Water Program Operations; Office of Research and Development, Municipal Environmental Research Laboratory; (1980)
"International Private Sewage Disposal Code," 1995, BOCA-708-799-2300, ICBO-310-699-0541, SBCCI 205-591-1853, available from those code associations.
"Manual of Policy, Procedures, and Guidelines for Onsite Sewage Systems," Ontario Reg. 374/81, Part VII of the Environmental
Protection Act (Canada), ISBN 0-7743-7303-2, Ministry of the Environment,135 St. Clair Ave. West, Toronto Ontario M4V 1P5 Canada $24. CDN.
Manual of Septic Tank Practice, US Public Health Service's 1959.
Onsite Wastewater Disposal Books
Onsite Wastewater Disposal, R. J. Perkins;
Quoting from Amazon: This practical book, co-published with the National Environmental Health Association,
describes the step-by-step procedures needed to avoid common pitfalls in septic system technology.
Valuable in matching the septic system to the site-specific conditions, this useful book will help you install a reliable system in
both suitable and difficult environments. Septic tank installers, planners, state and local regulators, civil and sanitary engineers,
consulting engineers, architects, homeowners, academics, and land developers will find this publication valuable.
Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems, Bennette D. Burks, Mary Margaret Minnis, Hogarth House 1994 - one of the best septic system books around, suffering a bit from small fonts and a weak index. While it contains some material more technical than needed by homeowners, Burks/Minnis book on onsite wastewater treatment systems a very useful reference for both property owners and septic system designers.
Septic Tank/Soil-Absorption Systems: How to Operate & Maintain [ copy on file as /septic/Septic_Operation_USDA.pdf ] - , Equipment Tips, U.S. Department of Agriculture, 8271 1302, 7100 Engineering, 2300 Recreation, September 1982, web search 08/28/2010, original source: http://www.fs.fed.us/t-d/pubs/pdfimage/82711302.pdf
Septic System Owner's Manual, Lloyd Kahn, Blair Allen, Julie Jones, Shelter Publications, 2000 $14.95 U.S. - easy to understand, well illustrated, one of the best practical references around on septic design basics including some advanced systems; a little short on safety and maintenance. Both new and used (low priced copies are available, and we think the authors are working on an updated edition--DF.
Quoting from one of several Amazon reviews: The basics of septic systems, from underground systems and failures to what the owner can do to promote and maintain a healthy system, is revealed in an excellent guide essential for any who reside on a septic system. Rural residents receive a primer on not only the basics; but how to conduct period inspections and what to do when things go wrong. History also figures into the fine coverage.
Grass is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank, Bombeck, Erma: $ 5.99; FAWCETT; MM;
This septic system classic whose title helps avoid intimidating readers new to septic systems, is available new or used at very low prices.
It's more entertainment than a serious "how to" book on septic systems design, maintenance, or repair. Not recommended -- DF.
US EPA Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems Manual Top Reference: US EPA's Design Manual for Onsite Wastewater Treatment and Disposal, 1980, available from the US EPA, the US GPO Superintendent of Documents (Pueblo CO), and from the National Small Flows Clearinghouse. Original source http://www.epa.gov/ORD/NRMRL/Pubs/625R00008/625R00008.htm
Water Wells and Septic Systems Handbook, R. Dodge Woodson. This book is in the upper price range, but is worth the cost for serious septic installers and designers.
Quoting Amazon: Each year, thousands upon thousands of Americans install water wells and septic systems on their properties. But with a maze of codes governing their use along with a host of design requirements that ensure their functionality where can someone turn for comprehensive, one-stop guidance? Enter the Water Wells and Septic Systems Handbook from McGraw-Hill. Written in language any property owner can understand yet detailed enough for professionals and technical students this easy-to-use volume delivers the latest techniques and code requirements for designing, building, rehabilitating, and maintaining private water wells and septic systems. Bolstered by a wealth of informative charts, tables, and illustrations, this book delivers: * Current construction, maintenance, and repair methods
* New International Private Sewage Disposal Code
* Up-to-date standards from the American Water Works Association
Wells and Septic Systems, Alth, Max and Charlet, Rev. by S. Blackwell Duncan, $ 18.95; Tab Books 1992. We have found this text very useful for conventional well and septic systems design and maintenance --DF.
Quoting an Amazon description:Here's all the information you need to build a well or septic system yourself - and save a lot of time, money, and frustration. S. Blackwell Duncan has thoroughly revised and updated this second edition of Wells and Septic Systems to conform to current codes and requirements. He also has expanded this national bestseller to include new material on well and septic installation, water storage and distribution, water treatment, ecological considerations, and septic systems for problem building sites.