Septic System Advances Aid Development

A new kind of “drip emitter” septic system technology could change the real estate market permanently by addressing the problems of substandard soil and making land that was …

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A new kind of “drip emitter” septic system technology could change the real estate market permanently by addressing the problems of substandard soil and making land that was previously undevelopable into subdivision-ready fields.

The technology, developed in the late 1980s, according to Waste Water Systems, Inc., is more expensive than a conventional system, but it may prove invaluable to investors looking to capitalize on undeveloped land in areas with poor drainage.

Septic systems are used to treat wastewater in rural areas that do not have access to sewage pipes provided by municipalities or private corporations. Conventional septic systems, in use since the 1800s, according to UC Davis’ Cooperative Extension, typically drain into a large field. ![filekey=|572| align=|left| caption=|Drip irrigation system watering collard greens. Photo courtesy of Matt Jacoby|]

In areas where the soil does not drain well enough, developers may be barred from building on land that doesn’t pass a state-run “percolation” soil test, according to the Garness Engineering Group.

Drip emitter systems overcome the obstacles of poor drainage by pumping the wastewater through tubing with drip emitters—tiny holes—and forcing it into the substandard soil.

“Conventional systems use passive technology to transpire wastewater [also called effluent] into the absorption area,” Don Wolf of DAD’s Septic in Ellenwood, Ga., a retailer of Perc-Rite systems, said. “Drip emitter systems use active means to do the work. They pump the effluent into the ground in the absorption areas.”

Drip emitter systems range in initial installation price from $10,000 for a simple residential system to $85,000 for the most complex residential system, with an average residential system in the $20,000 range, Wolf said. Conventional septic systems range in price from $1,800 to $13,000 depending on location and the type of system used, according to ECO-NOMIC, which assists customers in designing and building their own septic systems.

In a sense, the drip emitter systems are like underground sprinklers. In fact, the systems were based on an Israeli irrigation system developed over 40 years ago, and used to reclaim desert areas, according to the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Drip emitter irrigation systems have been in use in drought-ridden areas for years because of their superior efficiency to conventional sprinkler irrigation systems.

In 1989, designer Thomas Sinclair figured out how to use this irrigation technology for septic systems in areas with environmental issues, according to the Waste Water Systems website. In doing so, he stumbled onto a successful technology for homeowners and investors alike. Sinclair went on to found Waste Water Systems, Inc., which manufactures Perc-Rite Systems.

Drip emitter septic systems have been used in non-residential settings as well, both in municipal wastewater treatment plants, such as the publicly-owned water treatment facility in Cherokee County, Ga., Wolf said, and commercial businesses, such as Rudy’s Country Store and Bar-B-Q in Austin, Texas, according to the Texas State Onsite Wastewater Association (TSOWA).

In 2001, Rudy’s began experiencing difficulties with its conventional septic system because of the high fat, oil and grease content of the restaurant’s wastewater, and the system was replaced with a Perc-Rite drip emitter system in 2005, according to the TSOWA.

Even though the installers had a number of challenges to overcome, such as not letting the construction of the system interfere with store operations, not allowing the smell of the septic water to interfere with customers’ experiences and not blocking access to parking for the restaurant, they got the system installed and ready to pump out wastewater from Rudy’s for years to come, according to the TSOWA.

![filekey=|571| align=|right| caption=||] These systems have assisted in the development of communities throughout the Southeast, including Georgia, Virginia, Texas, North Carolina and South Carolina, Wolf said. Notably absent are states in the northern U.S.; when drip emitter systems are used, either for irrigation or septic use, they are often placed at a fairly shallow soil depth and may freeze with the winter temperatures of some northern locales. The systems are often modified in these areas, according to the Barnstable County Health Department in Massachusetts.

Another disadvantage to drip emitter systems is potential clogging of the emitters, which is difficult to monitor and correct, since the tubing lies underground. Despite these disadvantages, however, the septic systems have proved their usefulness in limited areas of New England and the Southeast. Investors in rural areas should be aware of these alternative septic systems before passing up a piece of property that doesn’t pass its percolation test.

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