Septic System Scams Impose High Fees for Homeowners

I am about 2/3 of the way through the design of what will be my first major book in 3 years (since Home Work). It’s called Builders of the Pacific Coast — Creative Carpentry, and it’s in an exciting stage for me, putting together photos and interviews generated over the course of a year.

Much as I’m tempted to keep working on it, I’m taking time out to write an article for The Mother Earth News on a rapidly-growing phenomenon in America: engineers and health officials conspiring to force homeowners into high-tech, expensive ($20,000-50,000) septic systems. It’s something I see going on and I feel qualified to comment on it because I’ve written a book on septic systems and in the course of so doing, have interviewed a dozen engineers and studied everything I could find on the subject.

There certainly are septic systems in America that are not working and need repair or replacement. But what’s happening right now is pretty much a wholesale rejection of gravity-fed septic systems. Self-serving engineers have written county or state codes that declare that your septic system is — guess what? — failing. Bureaucrats either believe the engineers and/or want the higher fees from costly systems, and force homeowners into the high costs of a new system. Let’s consider the two groups, engineers and bureaucrats. In Marin County, where I live, the code for “alternative septic systems” was written by the same local engineers who are hired to design systems. Tighter requirements = bigger fees. Duh! Higher costs for the homeowner mean a concurrent hike in permits and health fees. Health departments are often financed by fees taken in, so the higher costs provide health departments with bigger budgets.

A few years ago, my neighbor, with the same soil profile, had to install a $45,000 mound system when his system failed (in an old house, it had worked for 40 years). My system, just down the road, was a typical gravity-fed tank-and-leachfield setup, and has worked flawlessly (with inspections and periodic pumping) for 36 years. It cost less than $3000. This is going on all over the country and when I ran a letter to the editor of The Mother Earth News, asking for similar situations, I got a flood of input from homeowners all over the country.

It’s a hard story to write, maybe partly because people just don’t understand how septic systems work. They’re underground, invisible, and they generally work so well that people are unaware of their continuing functionality. I think I can explain the modus operandi that is now going on. so in the near future I’m going to force myself to sit down and write the sad story of this multi-billion dollar homeowners’ ripoff. Be aware: if you own a home, the septic bandidos are coming, and I hope to help you get prepared. Knowledge is (at least a measure of) power.

About Lloyd Kahn

Lloyd Kahn started building his own home in the early '60s and went on to publish books showing homeowners how they could build their own homes with their own hands. He got his start in publishing by working as the shelter editor of the Whole Earth Catalog with Stewart Brand in the late '60s. He has since authored six highly-graphic books on homemade building, all of which are interrelated. The books, "The Shelter Library Of Building Books," include Shelter, Shelter II (1978), Home Work (2004), Builders of the Pacific Coast (2008), Tiny Homes (2012), and Tiny Homes on the Move (2014). Lloyd operates from Northern California studio built of recycled lumber, set in the midst of a vegetable garden, and hooked into the world via five Mac computers. You can check out videos (one with over 450,000 views) on Lloyd by doing a search on YouTube:

One Response to Septic System Scams Impose High Fees for Homeowners

  1. Hi Lloyd,

    I'm doing research on Spetic systems. I was wondering if you had any idea of how to find a septic contractor that would not wrip me off! Any ideas of what I really should be paying to install a septic mound system that has already been permited?

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