Septic System: Repairing / Replacing

As a homeowner, you must have your septic system or cesspool inspected before you can add a bedroom, sell your home, or convert it to another use. (Or you may have a system that is obviously failing and need to repair it, even if you are remaining in your house.)

The first thing, of course, is to determine the status of your system. To do this:

  1. Contact an inspector to check your system. A list of qualified inspectors is available at the local Board of Health or from the Mass. Department of Environmental Protection's (DEP) Title 5 hotline at 800-266-1122.
  2. Get bids from a couple of different inspectors. Be sure to get in writing exactly what the inspection includes, especially if the price includes pumping.

If your system does not pass, the law requires you to report the failure only if you are selling the house. If it does pass, you will receive a certificate to that effect.

If you are selling your house and your system has not passed inspection:

  • You can negotiate with the buyer regarding the costs of the replacement.
  • You must have a permit and an engineering design for the system, but it doesn't have to actually be constructed before you pass papers. You can sell the house and at the closing put money in a third-party escrow account. Then the buyer has the work done on his or her own schedule and any money remaining is returned to you. However, be aware that many prospective home buyers and especially some banks will want the existing homeowner to replace a failing septic system before papers are passed.

Steps in Repairing or Replacing a System

  1. Talk to the Board of Health agent:
    • For an overall view of what needs to be done
    • To relate requirements to your particular lot.
  2. Arrange to have the soil tested (commonly called "perc tests"). Complete the Board of Health application and pay Soil Test Fee ($200 for Complete Replacement of System). It's preferable to wait until the ground is thawed in spring, but if you cannot wait, soil testing can be done at any time of the year. Some towns do limit the months you can test, but Southborough does not.
  3. Hire a civil engineer to coordinate the testing and design the system. The engineer will outline the work and the costs in a letter to you. The engineer will hire a backhoe contractor to dig the holes (unless you prefer to hire your own). Backhoe fees are $70/hr and up, tests usually take 2 hours, but more if additional holes are needed. The engineer will observe the tests ($80/hr and up., approximately 2 hrs.).
  4. The engineer and Board of Health agent observe the deep test hole and percolation tests and record all soil information. The deep test is to determine the water table and the soil's texture; the perc test indicates how fast the water seeps through the soil.
  5. Assuming the tests are successful, the engineer will design a new or replacement system. This fee is usually a lump sum-of "not to exceed a certain amount". Any needed changes in plumbing will add to the cost.
  6. Submit the design to Board of Health for approval. Fee: $300 for complete replacement, which also covers cost of inspection while the system is installed.
  7. If a variance is required because of restraints due to the lot size or the quality of tests, your engineer will submit a variance request to Board of Health.
  8. If your lot has or is near a wetlands or a stream, you may need to go to the Conservation Commission. Your engineer will handle this.

Cost estimates: $10,000 to $40,000

The cost of a system depends greatly on the lot, soils, proximity of wetlands (see below), etc.

Without any real constraints: The average is $22,000. Designs that require pumping, impervious barriers, or are innovative system will add to the cost.

Property near Wetlands, Streams, Brooks, and Reservoirs in Southborough

North of Route 9 - Streams and wetlands drain into the Sudbury Reservoir, which is a backup system for the MWRA. Thus requirements for buffer zones and setback distances are more restrictive. Requirements differ for systems for new homes and existing homes.

South of Route 9 - Streams and wetlands drain into the Sudbury River. The MWRA does not plan to use the river for drinking water, especially because the Nyanza Superfund site downstream in Ashland is contaminated. Therefore, the rules regarding wetlands areas are less strict. Again, they vary for systems of new or existing homes.