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I need a perc test! — 64 Comments

    • I am not sure what you are asking, but if your property is not served by a public/private sewer system, then yes, you will need a septic system. You may or may not need a perc test, this will be determined by the local Environmental Health Department. Their decision will be based on soil conditions and proposed building size.

      Before you decide where you want the house, you need to talk with Environmental Health. I would hate to hear that your builder put the foundation in the only place a drainfield could go and thereby making the lot unbuildable.

    • Unfortunately, I no longer do perc tests. I recommend you contact a local soil scientist and speak with him or her to determine if you need to have a perc test done and what they charge. It is something that can vary widely so you may want to call around.

    • Perc tests are essentially forever. I do believe there may be an “expiration” date, but if so, it is a LONG time. Now, that implies that there have not been any alterations to the land since the map and perc test were done. Any topographic or planimetric changes, whether by God or man affect the results and therefore may require a new test. This is likely at the discretion of your local environmental health department.

    • It may be possible, but it will depend on if there is any un-mapped, usable land in your lot. If they mapped all of the land capable of sustaining a septic system, then I am afraid that the only way you can get it approved for more bedrooms is to gain more land, either fee-simple or via easement, or to have an engineer design you a system to accommodate your desire for a larger home.

    • I could, but it wouldn’t do any good unless you just happen to be in the counties I work in. Your best bet is to contact your local environmental health department and find out who works in the area.

  1. i have a little over 5 acres of land and want to split it with my brother he wants it to have a big garden does it have to perk to divide my land

    • In Tennessee, if you go below 5 acres for every parcel you are dealing with, it constitutes a subdivision. You must provide adequate sanitary sewer disposal for all parcels. It doesn’t matter that he doesn’t intend on building on it, someone may want to eventually and you would have created an unbuildable lot – and a potential lawsuit for doing just that.

      • I have a customer that lives on a 3.5 acre lot and has a home currently on the property. They want to sell to a developer, but would this be feasable with no more land than 3.5 acres that already has a house on it.

        • There are too many factors to be able to accurately answer that question. Depending on the zoning and the availability of public water and sewer, one might be able to put as many as 12 houses on that land or maybe only the one. Again, too many variables to know.

  2. Hello, I inherited land with not house in Tehachapi California . I live abroad and cannot sell the land because it won’t pass the Perc test.
    How can I find a local person to prepare the land for perc testing for a reasonable fee?
    I have no way to travel to the States to do this. Can just anyone turn the land and prepare it for Perc or does it have to be a contractor or engineer which are very costly?
    Thank you in advance for helping me solve this great problem.

    • If I am understanding you, you have a tract of land that has failed perc testing? If that is the case, and you have exhausted all potential septic sites, then there is nothing a “normal” person can do. As far as I know, you cannot alter the land to make it more suitable for subsurface disposal and if you did, it would have to sit, untouched, for a very long time (7-20 years).

      The only solution I can tell you is to contact a local civil engineer and see if they have some options for alternative onsite sewer disposal systems. There are several options I have seen used here in Tennessee: artificial wetlands, low pressure pipes, enhanced filtration, etc. They are costly and they would need to be specifically designed for the site and the house that would be built. Perhaps a letter of “intent” and a quote might be enough for your Realtor to sell the land, at a reduced rate to other lands in the same area (that support conventional septic systems).

  3. Hi, Timothy,
    I’m buying a farm in Maury county, Tennessee and asked the seller to perform a perc test.
    The results are 75min per inch. What’s the next step if I want a perc permit? All I have is a sketch from the soil consultant.
    Thanks

  4. Hi, I have a piece of land in Rutherford County, a Readyville address, that has a site marked at 75 MPI on an expired septic permit dated 2005 (says it was good for 3 years). On the attached map, there is only one site on the property. Someone told me that you have to have a secondary backup site now to build a home. I’m wondering what the actual rule is on that. Thanks!

    • If the permit is expired, you will need to get a new one. This doesn’t mean new testing, only paying the appropriate fees and what not. Of course, this assumes there has been no change to the property.
      As for redundancy, yes. Typically, you are required to have enough land for both a primary system AND a secondary system in the event that the primary fails. You don’t have to build it, but the land must be there for it.
      A 2005 permit should have included any need for this redundancy. There are instances where this isn’t required, but they are few and far between.

  5. I own 87 acres in Maury County that has a 2-bed cabin (living in it) while we locate a site for a bigger home. A high-intensity soils test was done in 2008, and seller stipulated that site was permitted for two 5 bed homes. Something doesn’t match up. I have tried calling the soils scientist but no response. The document is a hand-drawn page with notes am [?] is “legal”. The one house site on it says 60mpi We are so confused as to where to go next and what has to be started over. Going to try to find the county environmental department, no listing on county website! We have a survey with full GPS coordinates and just recently had important corners flagged. Help!

    • If I am to understand you, you have a high-intensity soil map (hand drawn) from some soil scientist. He/she mapped out a site to support 2 5-bedroom structures (according to the seller).
      Your next step is to reach out the environmental health department that can be found at the Health Department (http://www.maurycounty-tn.gov/index.aspx?page=69).
      They should be able to make sense out of the soil map and guide you in your endeavor.

  6. We live in Rutherford County. We currently have a 3 Bedroom home, but would like to add 2 more bedrooms. We had someone come out and find another perk site for 2 more beds, but it is on the side of the house that we now want to put the addition. Part of the addition would be directly over a portion of the perk site. My husband keeps telling me that we can’t build on top of the perk site, but this does not make sense to me. Can you please tell me if this is true, and if so, what options do we have if we want to build in that spot? We live on 12 acres.

    • I hate to go against nature, but your husband is correct. You cannot build on top of a septic system. They work by both allowing the water to absorb into the ground and to wick through the ground cover on the surface. Even if the water all went down, building on top of a drain field would compress the ground too much to allow it to function properly. If it didn’t, the resulting soft ground would not be suitable for construction.

      I am going to go out on a limb here and assume that the person who decided where to map had no idea that was where you wanted to expand. I would assume they mapped the area that would cost you the least to expand your septic system into. If you are dead set on building your addition in that place, you will need to have someone come back out and identify a different area. It will likely cost for another trip. Someone should have made sure where the house addition was going before the map was made. Not sure who dropped the ball on that – I am NOT going to point fingers.

  7. We actually were originally going to build on the other side of the house, but changed plans after he came and found the perk site, so it’s not really his fault. Thank you so much for the info. It really helps!

  8. I bought a house in Wilson County on 12 acres. We wanted to build a new home on the lower section of our property and sale our current house. I found the soil map and was curious if TrC2 soil could possibly perc for a 3 BR house or would it be a waste of time and money, requiring multiple test sites?

  9. I bought 3.7 acres in Houston County, TN and there are multiple perc sites that were done. Do you know where I can find the information regarding the results of these percs?

    • If they were filed, they would be with the County Environmental Health Department. If they weren’t filed, they will either be with the person that ordered them or with the soil scientist/surveyor/engineer/architect that performed them. If it is the latter, I have no idea how to sort that out, sorry.

  10. So I have an interesting situation. We bought our home in Davidson county and discovered during the septic inspection that the original perc test was done in 1991 and restricted the home to a two bedroom max. Yet, a three bedroom home was built. And eventually, the basement was finished out with another bedroom and bathroom added. Fast forward to today and we are updating our septic tanks and wondering if we should get a perc test done and find out if the land with our leech field has changed over the years. Could a new perc test support the additional bedrooms after so many years have passed? I’m not sure what the original owners were thinking.

    • Honestly, this is definitely a question for your local health department. If your system isn’t failing, they shouln’d be too up in arms about it. You may need to have your land remapped by a soil scientist to find a suitable area to expand the field lines. The Environmental Health Department for your county is about your only option (short of a civil engineer and lots of money).

  11. It is my understanding that if a soils scientist has said that on 4 acres of land he was able to locate only one two bedroom site that another area would also be needed to act as an alternative or secondary area before a person could build a home on that property.

    • Yes, that is basically true. However, it isn’t necessarily that only a 1-bedroom can go on that 4 acres, just that the area that was mapped would only support that. There are lots of reasons that the entire lot may not have been perced. You would need to clarify with that soil scientist (or check the soil map). Worse case scenario, you can contract with a civil engineer and see if an alternate system would be feasible (both physically and economically).

    • As I recall, a perc test is “permanent,” at least in Tennessee. Here, a perc test represents a 50′ square (2500 ft²) (see here). This means, in theory, that the area represented by a failed perc test is no longer usable for subsurface disposal. I would like to think that if an effective persuasive argument was provided, that a new perc test might be allowed.

  12. My situation is that my wife has taken care of her grandparents for the last 10 yrs and we all moved to TN. Her grandparents bought a home on 11 acres in Wilson county Lebanon TN and planned on us getting half the land and putting a home there so my wife can continue to take care of them. The problem is that we had a perc test done and the gentleman said that it cannot perc for it is suppose to be 2ft soil and only has 1 ft of soil. My question is is there any other way or anything else that can be done to get a house out there? Thank you.

    • If your soil scientist has stated that there is not adequate soil on 11 acres for 2 houses, then your next recourse would be to contact a civil engineer and discuss alternate sewage disposal options. There are several options, like recirculating sand filtration systems, constructed wetlands, and others. All of them will need to be designed by a licensed engineer and approved by the Department of Environmental Health.

  13. I live in Wilson county,is there a limit to how far away I can build my house from the perc site of my property if I still plan to put my septic system on the perc location?

    • I don’t know that I have ever had this issue. As far as I know, you can pump your effluent as far as you want. We have worked with on-site sewer systems that were essentially communal drain fields. They collected the effluent from all of a subdivision and use a central drain field. The issue you may run into is pipe and pump sizing. Too small or large of pipe or an undersized/oversized pump can cause other issues. For this, you may want to talk to an engineer or an expert at a plumbing supply store. Most manufacturers can size your pump and pipe for you, given the correct information (rise/fall, run, usage, etc).

    • To my best recollection, a perc test is “permanent.” Essentially, if the land has not been modified since the test, then the passing results stand. The same goes for failing. Submitting a failing perc test to the health department makes a 50-foot square, centered on the hole, non-usable for sub-surface disposal. You cannot retest a failing hole. However, you can move over a few feet, dig a new hole, and test that hole. Also, if you are in a dry season, you are more likely to get desired results versus a wet, saturated season.

      To answer your question, if you have not submitted the holes to the Environmental Health Department, try all you want. If you have, you basically have to abandon that square and try another area.

  14. My house was built in 2004, it used to be farm land, I’m having issues with my septic tank, the next door neighbors land is slopped towards my property and the water run off is flooding my yard. the soil is red clay and i do not believe it is perking properly. I purchased the property 2 years ago and have had this issue since, but it was not disclosed that there was septic issues in the sale, is there any way that the builders could have slipped by or not done the correct perk test for the type of soil I have? If so what type of actions can I take to resolve this issue seeing as it is preexisting from the builder/previous owner.

    • “is there any way that the builders could have slipped by or not done the correct perk test for the type of soil I have?” Absolutely they could have slipped by. Was that the case? Who knows or would ever know. However, the builder cannot do the perc test. It has to be done by a soil scientist or surveyor. They may not have installed the system properly, but they are usually inspected by the health department. It is possible that they didn’t install enough line for your size house (it happened on mine). It is also likely that runoff from the neighbor is infiltrating your drain field and saturating it.

      Talk to the local environmental health department and find out what they recommend. One thing you can do is install something (an interceptor ditch or berm) to prevent the runoff from getting to the drain field. This may alleviate the problem. In the end, it will come to the health department to make a determination.

      As for lack of disclosure, that is a legal issue and you would need to speak to an attorney on that matter.

  15. I have a neighbor who is apparently dumping sewage out [the] side of their property. Is this legal? What can I do about it? DeKalb County

    • My first call would be to the neighbor. A peaceful resolution is typically better than reporting and subsequently firing the first salvo in what may turn into an all-out “war” with your neighbor. After that, the next stop would likely be the Dekalb County Department of Environmental Health. If you don’t get any satisfaction from that agency, you can escalate to the Tennessee Department of Environmental Health. All of these are dealing with subsurface disposal (theoretically).

  16. My boyfriend and I are wanting to build a 1000 sq/ft shop/apartment (1bd/1ba) adjacent to his grandad’s home. The house was originally built in the 50’s when no codes or standards were quite in place. This will be a temporary housing so we are curious about the procedure to go about.

    We have a few questions and haven’t quite found someone that could answer them.

    1. Will the whole property, including his grandad’s house, have to be reperced for us to build?

    2. If we called it a non-dwelling residence, would a perc site be needed?

    3. What is the likelihood of being able to tie into the existing septic tank of his grandads house as it was never perced?

    4. Is a perc needed BEFORE a pax is comstructed? Before? During? After?

    5. Aside from the calling the slim scientist, is there anything else that needs to be done on our end prior to this?

    • 1. Will the whole property, including his grandad’s house, have to be reperced for us to build?
      If there is no permit on file, it is likely that you will have to have the existing system inspected. Then, you will either need to expand (assuming it isn’t large enough) said system to cover the additional usage or construct a new system. You will need to have soil mapped areas for these options.

      2. If we called it a non-dwelling residence, would a perc site be needed?
      If you want to build with a permit, you will have to show the bathroom. If that exists and ties into the existing system, it doesn’t matter what you call it, it will need to be evaluated.

      3. What is the likelihood of being able to tie into the existing septic tank of his grandads house as it was never perced?
      I dont’ know, this will depend on what was installed and if the health department is capable of ascertaining the elements of the existing system.

      4. Is a perc needed BEFORE a pax is comstructed? Before? During? After?
      I am not sure what you mean by “pax” but a perc test is only needed if the soil type requires it. If it does, you need to do the perc before you build. What would happen if you built the garage/shop/apartment and then couldn’t install a bathroom/kitchen because you haven’t the soil to dispose of the wastewater?

      5. Aside from the calling the slim scientist, is there anything else that needs to be done on our end prior to this?
      Your next step is to contact the Dept. of Environmental Health for your area. They should be able to pull the records and see what is needed. I would also suggest contacting your building codes department to ensure this is even legal in your area. Some zones will not allow an additional dwelling on the property.

  17. I have 16 acres of land in Cumberland Country and a soil test failed. Who should I call to do a perculation test. I have contacted many surveyors who say they do not do this. I don’t know where to turn next. Would it make any sense to have another soil test done on another area of the property. I need help. Thank you

    • I would suggest you contact the soil scientist that did the original map. (S)he should be familiar with it and would know where to get the needed usable land for a system. One cannot randomly perc test land and claim it is usable.

  18. We have been in the process of getting our home approved for an alternative perc site through the Williamson County Sewer department (a Williamson County regulation). However this has been going on for 3+ years. We have been working with the county and following their procedures. After 3 failed perc test our latest recommendation from the county was to contact an engineer, surveyor and soil scientist to prepare alternative system option to present to the Board of Health.’ Our sewer lines were cracked through the process by either the surveyor or the soil scientist. After another costly repair we finally turned in everything to the county and waited 2 weeks before following up with them to find out where we stood in order to meet with the Board of Health. The representative at the Williamson County Sewer Department who I’ve been working with for the past 3 years and getting this process to this point stated “I simply don’t know” “I don’t know what your next processes'” Seriously???? Who do I contact on a state level to report the extreme prejudices faced by Williamson County residents when it comes to getting perc test processed and approved and the multiple delays that occur. Unfortunately it is known that Williamson County is very difficult to work with, is extremely slow in their processes of approval, and is very biased with who they are willing to serve and make a priority. However as a government agency I feel that they are employed by the taxpayers and should be more efficient in their job and not be so biased in their approval process and procedures. I feel like they need to be reported to the states governing agency in order to not abuse their practices and position. The sadest part about this is that our home is perk for 4 bedroom and that’s exactly what we are going to have in this home. But the law states that if you are adding on ( we are wanting to add on living room space) we are required to have a backup system. We living on 11.5 acres….. House was built in 1980s, the field lines are in the neighbor’s yard and were never surveyed properly when the property was divided and sold. The land that are field line sit on was sold illegally. I’m getting so frustrated with a “good old boy”system.

    • You claim “3 failed perc test[s].” This would mean that there are 3 holes in the ground that encompass a 50×50 square each that cannot be used for a drain field. Given your acreage, I would assume there would be more land out there somewhere you could use. However, you cannot use land that has been disturbed or is much over a 30% slope. Also, you have to stay away from drains, gullies, and other ditches.

      If your soil scientist (the only person in the state) has mapped the entire 11.5 acres and was not able to find suitable land for the 100% reserve area that is not required, then your next option is to contact a civil engineer. This is to determine if you can use an alternate system. These are designed by the engineer and are signed off by them. They are then outside of the County Environmental Health Department’s purview. However, you still have to get them on board with the whole thing. (It is messy) The issue with alternative systems is that they are not cheap. Not the design nor the installation.

      As for reporting the Williamson County Department of Environmental Health (I assume that is who you are speaking of), the only recourses I know of is to get in touch with the Tennessee Department of Environmental Conservation (TDEC) and talk with them or you can contact the County Mayor or the Attorney General for the State of Tennessee.

      I am not sure how a surveyor would have “cracked” your existing lines, but I guess it could happen.

      As to the last segment when you said, ” House was built in 1980s, the field lines are in the neighbor’s yard and were never surveyed properly when the property was divided and sold. The land that [our] field line[s] sit on was sold illegally.” It is possible to sell land with encroachments on it. It is not illegal to do so. It is not the responsibility of the encumbered landowner to secure an easement for the enjoyment of another. That is on the person who is encroaching. The builder/homeowner should have secured an easement for the drain field. If they did not, then the lines are encroaching illegally and the landowner could (in theory) cut them off from your home. It is their land.

      However, if your drain field is on someone else, it sounds like your property may not be very suitable for a septic system to begin with. Contact your soil scientist and have them explain to you why they cannot find suitable land for the reserve area. It shouldn’t matter if it is in the back of your property as long as it is feasible to install and service (with a pump if need be).

  19. My husband and I have almost 3 acres, we had the lands soil tested and they said we can only put a two bedroom home there but we.could tell the guy to write it is a 2 bedroom one bath on paper work when we get it and it’s bigger. Is this possible if not what is the next step to trying to get it approved for a bigger home.

    • If I am understanding, you had the property mapped and the health department said it only approved for a 2-bedroom residence. Then, you are saying that you could get the permit for said 2-bedroom and build bigger? You could, but then you could also not get a certificate of occupancy once you have finished building.
      If you want a bigger house, you need to talk to the soil scientist and see if there is any other land available that wasn’t mapped. The other option is to talk with a civil engineer to see if there is the potential for an alternative system, like a sand filter or constructed wetlands or an LPP system or whatever.

      • The guy that did the perc test said he checked all overthe property and one spot passed but only for a 2 bedroom one bath. Bit he told us to not to worry about size of home we put out there. So when we put a a trailer out there will it say on paper only 2 bedroom or will it say passed or failed and we put a bigger trailer if we want to. We just don’t want to buy a 4 bedroom 2 bath and when they bring it out to set up something goes wrong for some reason they are not Able to by the words on the test.

  20. Hello, i’m looking for answers for an alternative system in Rutherford co.. 5 acres. only 10 inches of soil in a very small 12×5 area on the property. any recommendations?

    • You would need to contact a civil engineer. If one doesn’t know of any alternative systems, try another. There are several out there, but you will have to have one that is specific to your needs and conditions and I am not an engineer, sorry.

  21. Aside from a conventional septic system with a leachfield is there another option that would be up to code? I am looking to build a second home on my 45 acres and I am told that at one time the neighbors had to run their septic line all the way onto my property in a lagoon type situation. Not sure if I understood that correctly. It is not far from where I want to build the new house. It is no longer in use but I wonder if I could hook into that and use it for my second home? How would I find out more about this spot, it must’ve been approved as being up to code as some time since they were able to build their house. Would their be a record of it somewhere? And did I just misunderstand, is it just simply a leachfield with a fence around it?

    • First, a lagoon is a pond that holds your effluent (runoff from the septic tank). In theory, it would allow slow absorption into the ground but moreover, it would allow evaporation of the effluent.
      I have not heard of a lagoon being employed in recent history. Actually, I have not seen a lagoon since I worked in rural Missouri in the late 90s.
      I doubt you would be able to use one now unless it was preexisting attached to a preexisting house. You cannot typically connect to an existing system without a full inspection of it to ensure that it meets current codes.
      Now, as for building and using a lagoon, it may not have ever been approved. Depending on how they went about building, they may not have had a building permit, or, in some areas, got a permit but didn’t ever have inspections (no inspectors). Or, they got the permit, didn’t install correctly, and never got a final approval from the Health Department.

      Nepotism is also a thing, so there’s always that potential situation.

  22. What training and qualifications are required to provide perk test services for others?
    I have a nephew that is very interested and there seems to be a real need in our area.

    • In order to perform a perc test, one must be a surveyor, engineer, soil scientist, or architect. (I don’t get the last one, but it is that).
      I had a friend that had worked with a soil scientist performing perc tests. The soil scientist then signed the reports, much like a surveyor having a field crew.
      If your nephew is interested in becoming a soil scientist, you can look at Tenn. Code Ann. § 62-18-208 for the licensing requirements.

  23. HI, I have a soil test from 2002 with a rating of 75 mpi (wdd) based on a field line installed 24-28 inches in depth and a drain down drain installed around field lines.

    What does that mean?

    I am selling the land, should it pass a perc test?

    • Hi Julie,
      If you have a soil map with this information, you may also require a perc test, but I am guessing you don’t. This map is stating that you have the ability to install a system but it will need to go to the county health department for consideration to establish how large a home is needed.
      As for passing a perc test, that has too many factors to determine. I will say that it is usually easier to pass a perc in dry weather when the soils are not saturated.
      Take your map to the county department of environmental health and talk to them. Find out how large a system you can expect (they likely won’t tell you specifically without filing for a permit).

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