How to find someone
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) maintains a list of licensed professionals. Search the MPCA Database
Local program lists
Most local septic programs (ex. your county or city) maintain a list of local professionals. Find your county website.
The National Onsite Wastewater Recycling Association (NOWRA) created a septic professional locater where all their members get a free listing. Try the locator.
Questions to ask licensed professionals
Septic System Professionals are certified by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) and hold business licenses that require bonding and insurance protection. Most local SSTS programs maintain a list of local professionals currently licensed by the state to conduct this specialized work. You can also find a full list of professionals on the MPCA website database.
Interview your septic system professional and learn about how they do business. Make sure they are licensed, reputable, and reliable by asking for and checking references. The right questions to ask of potential septic system professionals depend on what type of service you are seeking. The following scenarios are the most likely instances in which you will find yourself hiring a septic professional.
Suggested interview questions to troubleshoot, repair, or replace a septic system
- Can you provide a complete failure analysis?
- How many years have you been in the industry?
- Are you a member of MOWA or another professional organization?
- Are you a basic or advanced designer?
- Do you install systems as well?
- Do you maintain systems as well?
- Can you provide me the contact info for your last three designs?
Suggested interview questions for buildings other than single-family dwellings
- Do you have experience dealing with challenging sites?
- What alternatives to conventional systems are you familiar with?
- For what types of "other establishments" have you designed septic systems?
- How much does a design cost and what is included with the design service?
- Do you do design/build?
- Do you support bidding on your designs?
- Will you share a copy of a management plan you have developed?
- Who will take care of getting the septic permit?
- Have you worked in this jurisdiction before?
- What resources do you utilize if a question or problem arises?
- What was the last mistake you made and how did you rectify it?
Suggested interview questions for hiring a professional to maintain your septic system
Through which access do you pump the tank?
A: It is important that your maintainer pump out the contents of your tank through the maintenance hole. If they state that they can remove the contents through the inspection pipe, they are not doing the job correctly. If your maintenance hole is buried, a good maintainer will recommend that you install a riser to create surface access to your tank. Installing a maintenance rise to the surface and help you save money overtime since the maintainer will not need to dig up your maintenance access every time they visit your system.
Do you completely remove the contents of the tank? How?
A: A maintainer needs to either vacuum and back flush the contents of the tank or stir the contents into a slurry in order to remove all of the septage. If they do not mention either of these activities, call another maintainer!
Do you recommend the use of additives?
A: Additives are not necessary for proper tank operation.
Do you certify all of your employees?
A: Only one person in a company needs to be certified in Minnesota. Find a company that values education and maintains certification for all of their employees.
Where do you take the septage after removing it from my tank?
A: Septic tank maintainers know that they can either land apply the septage in certified locations or take it to a wastewater treatment plant that accepts this waste. If they tell you not to worry about where it goes, or that you can save money by allowing them to dump it in a nearby ditch, call another maintainer!
How much does it cost?
A: The cost of proper tank management varies across the state. The cost should not be the primary factor by which you choose a professional. Doing a good job takes time and is worth paying a little more for.
What does a typical system cost?
Septic systems, when properly designed, installed, operated and maintained, provide effective treatment of household sewage at a very reasonable cost. Unfortunately because the septic system is buried "out of sight" in the backyard, it often becomes "out of mind."
Many rural residents have had the idea that "disposing of sewage" should have little or no cost. We know now that the "treatment" of our sewage necessary to protect our family health and the community water supply will have a cost. Persons using municipal treatment systems pay both connection fees and user fees.
Would you buy a car, then never change the oil until the engine starts knocking or seizes up? Of course not. Why would you buy a septic system for $3,000 to $10,000 and then never take care of it?
There are three kinds of costs associated with a septic system: the original installation costs, the maintenance and repair costs, and the replacement costs if things go wrong. Because proper steps taken in the installation and maintenance will prevent many of the replacement costs.
The original design and installation costs of an individual on-site septic system typically range from $3,000 to greater than $10,000, depending on the size of home, the site conditions and local ordinance requirements. The installation costs of multi- household systems in small rural communities, around lakes or in clustered suburban developments will also have a wide range. The variables contributing to the wide range include the number of homes on the system, the distances between homes, the distance to the soil treatment site, availability of land for the site and the type of treatment system necessary as determined by soil conditions. Several documented installations have cost between $3,900 and $16,000 per home. Installation costs are one-time costs that last for 20+ years.
The annual operation, maintenance and repair costs occur over the life of the system. Traditional installations last 15 to 40 or more years. The annual costs of septic systems include the regular cleaning or pumping of the tank on a two or three year interval.
The typical annual costs of an individual drainfield or mound system range from $30 up to $500 with the high end including replacement costs of pumps in mound systems. The annual costs with systems including constructed wetlands or sand and peat filters are often $50 to $1,700, depending on the discharge method and monitoring requirements. Annual costs for multiple-household systems are typically $200 to $1500 per household. The costs of contracted monitoring raise the lower end costs for these systems.
The typical total cost for individual systems over a 20 year period is $6,300 to $13,000 for trenches and mounds, or $13,500 to $32,000 for alternative treatment systems. For multi- household systems, typical trench or mound systems range from $18,500 to $25,000. Alternative treatment systems typically range from $18,000 to $44,500 for 20 years of service.
Are there any funding sources?
Financing of the original design and installation costs can be a major hurdle for some homeowners. The state of Minnesota, through the MPCA, Department of Agriculture and the Department of Trade and Economic Development has created several special loan or grant programs that may be available through local lending institutions, county water plan programs or other agencies. Contact your local planning and zoning, environmental services or Soil and Water Conservation District about these programs.
Preventing costly drainfield repair
A septic system's effectiveness is greatly influenced by how it's used and maintained. Treatment of disease-causing pathogens and nutrients is done in the soil part of the system.
This soil treatment system can be a drainfield, mound, or drip dispersal unit. Overloading it with water and solids can clog the soil. Large amounts of water flowing through your system are damaging; solids might be flushed out before the tank separates them from the water. An example is the washing of many loads of laundry on the same day. Spacing heavy water-using jobs, such as laundry, throughout the day and week helps prevent overloading. Water from roof drains or snow melt flowing onto or collecting in drainfield areas should be avoided.
Lack of proper septic tank cleaning can cause biological overloading. By adding "dirty" water to the soil treatment system, a thickened layer called the biomat becomes thicker than desired. The soil's ability to accept water slows. Effective treatment is decreased.
Driving heavy vehicles on the drainfield or mound system during or after construction can damage it. Soil treatment depends on natural, uncompacted soil to treat wastes. This is especially important in winter, when a vehicle's weight can drive the frost deep into the soil. This prevents effective treatment from occurring. Nothing heavier than a riding lawnmower should be driven over any part of the septic system. In addition, people should stay off the area in wintertime to prevent freezing.
Good vegetative cover, usually grass, is planted over soil treatment systems. Mow it regularly. Mowing is necessary to encourage growth without using fertilizer. The vegetative cover helps remove nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous. Do not plant trees or other plants with deep roots within five feet of the soil treatment system. Be sure to keep gophers and other rodents out of the soil treatment area.
By following these management practices and others found in the Septic System Owner's Guide, Extension Publication PC-06583, you will prevent costly repairs & protect your family's health & environment. For more information, contact your local Extension office.