If you have a septic system, or plan to buy a property that has one, read this. Many of you know, a significant number of properties here have septic systems or "onsite sewage disposal" systems. Approximately 15,000 properties in our county have septic systems for sewage disposal. I'm talking about the older tried and true tank and leach field systems that have been in place for decades. Most of them work just fine but there are some changes afoot that might create issues so I wanted to briefly touch on those here. I attended a meeting today at which the guest speaker was Larry Fay from Santa Barbara County Environmental Health Services. He was here to talk about how Accessory Dwelling Units play into septic system requirements and how changes in requirements can affect all home owners that have these systems, plan to build, put in a pool or are in Special Problems areas. I won't bore you with all the details and encourage you to talk directly to the department if you have questions. These are just my notes taken as the speaker was talking rather quickly. Talk to the actual department to get your own intel. It is important to understand that your situation may be different, subject to other variables and variances. With this sort of thing, there are lots of in's and outs!
In a nutshell, here are some highlights from my notes:
- An ADU, for the purposes of sewage evaluation, is treated like a second unit (guest house for instance) because they have their own facilities like kitchen, bathroom etc. that create more sewage. If within the walls of the original structure, a one bedroom ADU is considered to create 125 gallons per day of sewage/water going through the system and a 2 bedroom is considered to be 175 gallons per day for a 2 bedroom. A detached or new construction ADU is considered to use 375 gallons per day. The system already on site must be large enough to handle this additional flow or the system must be enlarged or improved.
- If you are adding an ADU, the existing sewage system will be evaluated for its integrity. If the system is not large enough (tank and leach lines) to accommodate the increased living space and waste water, then you will have to increase the size of the system and/or provide supplemental onsite disposal. If the existing system fails, then you could have to replace the entire thing. It is possible to tie in the new ADU to the old system, assuming its size and integrity is approved.
- What does "supplemental" mean? That means the new high tech systems (see below).
- In Special Problems Areas (Los Olivos, Ballard, Janin Acres, Los Alamos for instance), it changes things up a bit unless you are on 2.5 acres or more. For instance, as I have mentioned here before, failed systems or ADU requests in Special Problem Areas come with requirements to upgrade to the new "supplemental" systems i.e. the new high tech filtration systems like Advantex or Delta. There are others but the system has to be approved by the county after a vetting process that includes service after sale and repairs etc. I will say here they take up a lot of room in your yard and are very expensive.
- In total consideration, the tank and the leach field need to pass inspection when being serviced or considered. It isn't just the tank that matters but more importantly, the leach fields. For those of you who don't know how a septic system works and haven't heard my on site spiel about that, here is a good concise article written by the EPA.
- Adding a pool could also trigger the above if moving the septic system is part of the plan.
- The new supplemental systems take up a lot of space. It is a little known fact that in planning a septic system and its related fields etc., the homeowner will likely not be able to use space dedicated to easements or set backs. This needs to be kept in mind when looking at the total square footage of a lot compared to what will actually be usable for a septic system.
- We learned that if a homeowner were to run into a scenario where the requirements didn't fit the property or space, that the county will be "pragmatic" in its review of the project and will also factor in the availability of a connection to sewer in the future. For instance, Los Olivos has its new Community Services District. The question to ask or consider in LO for instance is whether installing the new supplemental systems is wise given the planning of public sewer sometime in the future (the date of which at this time is unknown).
- It's important to note that onsite sewage disposal is not a problem particular to the valley. These new septic changes are mandated by the state of California due to ground water contamination in some instances. Septic tanks are everywhere in our great state (we are actually small potatoes from a number of tanks standpoint) so buying or living somewhere else will not make that problem go away. Each county is dealing with the state mandates in a variety of ways but its safe to say that tighter restrictions on septic tanks is not going away any time soon and the end result will be safer ground water for everyone. So while we may complain about all this, who doesn't want safer drinking water? I've sold so many properties that have septic tanks, I can' even remember the number. They are common here so its always good to know what is going on in the county and state that should be considered when thinking about adding square footage, accessory dwelling units and pools etc. as it pertains to onsite sewage disposal systems. Those already on sewer can ignore all of the above!
Beyond all that, just one thing today ...
1247 Pistache Avenue, Solvang (4/4 on .24 of an acre) Was 925K with a new price of 905K.
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Sharon Currie | Realtor DRE#01357602
Berkshire Hathaway Home Services BRE#01317331
Physical: 2933 San Marcos Ave #102, Los Olivos
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