Friday, March 23, 2001
If you expand your house, must you expand your septic?
The Board of Health is faced with a number of "people itching for us to make a decision" said chairman Steve Opolski. These are residents who wish to expand their houses without updating their perfectly working septic systems. Each house presents a different situation and the board has struggled to come up with some universal rules.
At the March 13 meeting, three homeowners requested to expand their deed restrictions, which limit the number of bedrooms due to the capacity of the septic system, in order to expand their homes. Board member Lisa Davis Lewis suggested hearing the three cases first and then making the decisions after considering all the pros and cons of each situation.
Three house expansions
The house at the corner of West Street and Acton Street was built originally in the 1700s and had a new septic system installed in 1993. The system, which predates the latest Title 5 rules governing septic systems, is approved for four bedrooms and a garbage grinder, though owner Heidi Harring stated she did not have one. The current house has seven rooms and three bedrooms occupying about 2,600 square feet. The expansion will add 2,000 square feet and three more bedrooms. The owner proposes eliminating one of the bedrooms (although it will still count as a room), bringing the total number of bedrooms to five and the final room total to 12.
A ten-room house on Cross Street has a four-bedroom septic system which was installed in 1984. Owner Jim Gettys explained that they wish to add about 600 square feet to the 4000-square-foot house, adding a bedroom, expanding the kitchen and bringing the room total to 11. In the past the board of health has approved such an addition with a four-bedroom deed restriction. Board agent Linda Fantasia worried that in spite of the restriction, the next owner could rearrange the rooms to give five bedrooms.
Basil Bourque is the owner of a Hutchins Road house with a five-bedroom septic system which was installed in 1997, although it was grandfathered to 1993 rules. The 4500-square-foot house has 12 rooms, or 13 rooms if one counts an upstairs loft with two walls as a room. By the current Title 5 rules (which state that the bedroom count should be the total rooms divided by two and rounded down) the house should have a six-bedroom system. Bourque wants to finish two rooms in the basement not adding any square feet. In fact the rooms are already framed for expansion.
Title 5 inspections every
Board member Martha Bedrosian suggested that for each expanded deed restriction (without a septic expansion) the board require a Title 5 inspection every three years. This inspection is performed by the pumping contractor at the time the system is pumped. It usually requires digging up the distribution box and inspecting the tank, which gives a measure of the overall health of the system. The board's rules currently state that every time a house changes ownership a Title 5 inspection must be performed. Fantasia pointed out that some towns require periodic Title 5 inspections town wide, so the suggestion is not without precedent. It was also pointed out that the three-year inspection, after the owner has occupied the expanded house and used the system, would add some protection should the house transfer to a new owner with a large family.
Davis Lewis felt that it was important that the rules not be stretched too much and suggested that the board allow no more than a one-bedroom increase in the deed restriction. It was not clear whether or how this would apply to conflicts in number of bedrooms calculated using the old or new rules.
Opolski felt that periodic Title 5 inspections would provide some comfort, but worried about space for additional leaching fields should the current system fail. Rob Frado, consultant for the board of health, pointed out that current Title 5 rules require a soil modeling analysis which might make a repair system more dependent on ground water height. One might have to dig up the current system and replace it with a mounded system, as has been done. Opolski suggested that the board require an engineering study if the reserve area is tight or near wetlands. He said that he would accept an engineering recommendation based on well-founded assumptions without requiring any test holes.
After agreeing to all of the above recommendations, the board granted tentative approval to all three expansions. All applicants will need to undergo Title 5 inspections and some will also need engineering studies.
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