The United States Environmental Protection Association says that the average life of a household septic system is 20 years. The septic system at my home in Poland has lasted for 32 years, but the leach field, the area of underground piping that disperses water, needed to be replaced last summer.

Here are seven basic tips for a successful septic system project.

1.Identify the extent of the problem. Check with the people who have regularly pumped out your septic system. They can do a basic review to see if the tank needs to be cleaned out or if the tank or piping needs repair or unclogging.

2.Hire an engineer to create plans for your project. Every system needs to be carefully designed so that it can be approved by the local code enforcement officer as well as meet all state regulations. A call to your town office can get you a list of engineers that the town has worked with on septic design.

3.Get your design plan approved by the town code enforcement officer. This is a must because no project can begin without town office approval.

4.Secure at least three written bids for the project. One contractor offered only a verbal commitment to do the job for $5,000 and said that he’d write up a contract if I wanted him to do the job. He said he could start the work the next day. (Yes, even before the town office approval was final.)

The next contractor did not offer a written bid, verbally estimated that the job would be $5,500, and he cautioned me that if I hired him he could not start the job until three weeks later.

The third contractor, J. M. Morin Earthworks in Poland — the one I hired — emailed me a written bid the next morning. He came highly recommend by the engineer who designed my replacement project. His bid was $2,700.

5.Check references. It is well worth your time to talk with previous customers of the contractors you are considering. It is especially important, as in my case, when one of the bids is about half the amounts the other contractors were quoting. Feel confident that the contractor has the reputation to get the job done.

6.Create a budget for the project. The leach field work was set at $2,700 while the engineering fee for the plans was $350 and the permit fee to the town was $175. I was fortunate that the septic tank did not need to be replaced or that the original leach field did not need to be excavated. According to, prices for septic system replacements can easily range from $5,000 to $20,000 or more.

7.Follow recommendations given by the septic system contractor. With the new system installed, I was cautioned not to do continuous loads of laundry in one day, to conserve water usage as much as possible and to be careful in what chemicals and cleansers I used. Don’t plant trees and shrubs on any part of the septic system and do not drive or park vehicles in that area.

For more information on septic system repair and maintenance, go to the Environmental Protection Agency website at

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