Merri Ann Simonson Gives The 411 on Septic Systems

Contributed Photo. Merri Ann Simonson.

By Merri Ann Simonson, Managing Broker, Coldwell Banker San Juan Islands Inc

As real estate agents, we are constantly learning and then sharing our knowledge with our clients. We must even expand our knowledge into some related industries that are not comfortable discussing with a client, such as septic systems and their functions.

The real estate industry is not just cars and contracts; it includes other really interesting stuff as well.

Septic Design and Installation

The process starts off with unimproved land.

A property owner or buyer must find out where on their site they should install the system and what type of system will be required by state regulations. There are various types of system options to select from. The latest technology includes systems that are considered mini sewage processing plants.

Those manufacturers claim that the effluent is nearly potable by the time it is pumped to the drain field. I am not convinced to that level but my opinion is based on the “ick factor,” not science.

The system selection process includes hiring a licensed on-site designer who will complete a site and soil analysis and submit a design to the county for their approval and permit. The permits have a validity period of five years and the cost is around $2,000-$2,500, but add $500 if a backhoe is needed for the holes. A full list of approved designers is available on the San Juan County website at

If the parcel is under a purchase agreement, the design and permit process is typically done by the buyer as part of the feasibility contingency, which is processed prior to closing.

Another aspect of the feasibility study is to confirm that the property is not located in an archeological sensitive area such as Indian Midden or near a cemetery. If the property does contain sensitive materials, you need to know where they are located. To confirm this information, you need to contact San Juan County at 360-370-7585 and fill out their “Critical Area and Archaeological Review” form. They will email you a response in a very timely manner.

Being located in an archeological sensitive area will add thousands to the cost of installing a septic system as reports must be obtained and an archeologist must be present during installation.

All new systems are required to have a reserve drain field area in the event the first drain field fails. This can be difficult on smaller lots that have other restrictions such as being on the shoreline. Further, some lots are unbuildable due to the inability to install a septic system, and they become buffer or recreation lots. Their value is typically 50% of the market.


Posted on March 25, 2021 at 5:00 am by

Categories: Real Estate

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