Installing a new septic system at the cottage

Installing a new septic system at the cottage

We bought “the cabbage” three summers ago.  Like all diligent home purchasers, we had the septic inspected.  But in hindsight, it was actually the sellers who paid for the inspection and the small repair that needed to be done so we never did receive a report on it.  And we accepted that at face value.  So we didn’t realize how small the tank actually was, that it had only one distribution line which was only 25 feet in length.  So shame on us.  Note to other buyers out there – pay for the inspection yourself.

That first summer, we did some renos which included replacing some of the plumbing.  We thought that the clogged pipes and convoluted piping was the reason for the slow flushing of the toilets.

Yuck! Clogged pipe. And this was the least clogged of the bunch.

The following spring, the toilets were still flushing slowly and there was a back up into the shower.  Uh oh.  The snow had been significant that winter, the water table was high and our septic field just wasn’t able to do its job.  In fact, water from the snow melt in the field was actually filling our tank.  We had it pumped numerous times which is quite costly.  We limped through the summer and then in the fall, Steve decided to try and create a “french drain” to divert water from entering the field.  This kind of back fired as the french drain just kept filling up with water from the field.

After many discussions with various septic installers, we came to the realization that our field was done.  The seepage holes in the pipes were clogged with the clay from the field and there was no way of retrofitting the field given the new codes for septic systems.  Back when the system had been installed thirty some years ago, the codes were significantly different and the owner at the time got away with how close the system was to the lake but no more.  So we hired an engineer to design a new system as we wanted to do the right thing for the environment.  He was hopeful that we could get the simpler type 1 system but in the end we had to go with a type II engineered system.  Insert $$$$$ here.

You can just make out the lid of the old tank under the middle window box.  You can tell how poorly the system was working based on how brown the grass is – on a properly working field, it should be nice and green!

It took the engineer the winter to design the system with a couple of site visits.   He had prepared us that the system could cost anywhere from $20,000 to $30,000.  We put the request for proposals out and got two coming in $10,000 over our worst guess.  Now that is a huge amount of money to pay, just to not use an outhouse, wash dishes and shower.  But even if we could live that way, it would affect our resale value down the road so it had to be done.  Then the next challenge was finding an installer who could put it in within our time frame as with our airbnb rentals, the window was tight.  Ed came to our rescue with the timing and so biting the bullet, we gave the go ahead.  He was also the more professional of the two companies we considered.  Why is it that returning phone calls and answering questions is no longer standard business practice?


Watching Ed work was like watching a dancer if a dancer drove heavy equipment.  We were fascinated with how delicately he could dig out my lilacs and position them to a new home.  He sculpted out a new driveway and parking area for us as an added benefit.  A rock wall was created with stone steps down beside the cottage.  And Ed had a great sense of humour as he worked.  The neighbours enjoyed the entertainment too, often peeking out their windows while enjoying their morning cup of coffee.

Digging the hole for the new system
Holding tank waiting to go in – what an appropriate colour!

The best thing about this whole septic fiasco is that all the dandelions are gone.  For now…


Treatment plant being lifted into place – this tank should have been brown

The green treatment plant is worth around $17,000 just one its own.

Holding tank and treatment plant buried. New rock wall and steps with stepping stones leading to mud room door. Notice the electrical box on the left. This plant took a tremendous amount of wiring.
New septic field mound which took over most of our existing parking area so alternate parking had to be created
Driveway was widened and flattened at the road making it easier for our boat trailer to get in and out

This material is called road crush.  Ed will be back, once it’s settled, to cover with a load of gravel to form a more hard packed surface.

New parking space beside cottage which we didn’t have before – bonus!

We added a stone pathway to the deck of the cottage so that no one would have to walk through mud while the grass seed is growing.  The next project is a bunkie where all the wood is currently piled up.

We can now drive down to the cottage. Lower hill is planted with pink potentilla and the upper hill (septic field mound) is planted with creeping thyme

The toilet is now flushing with ease.  The shower is draining and the washer/dryer has been tied into the septic rather than into a grey water pit.  Everyone is happy except our bank account.  Our lovely neighbours are watering our newly sown lawn and plants as we had to clear out to welcome paying guests who will help defray the costs.  We needed to go home for a rest!  Now there’s an oxymoron.

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