Frequently Asked Questions

  1. I have a cesspool. Does it need to be replaced by 2013?

    According to the RIDEM regulations regarding cesspools, only those within certain areas (i.e. within 200’ of a coastal feature, within 200’ of a public well throughout the state, and within 200’ of the shoreline of surface water drinking water reservoirs with an intake to the water supply) must be abandoned by January 1, 2014.

  2. I just installed a water softener with a brine backwash which needs to be discharged. Can I connect this to my septic system?

    No, RIDEM regulations do not prohibit introduction of brine backwash from a water softener device but they do recommend that it be disposed of in a separate dry well, so as not to negatively impact the operation of the septic system.

  3. I am proposing an addition to my house. Do I need to update my septic system?

    The specifics of the proposed addition, position on the property and existing septic system will dictate whether you need to make changes to the septic system or not. If you are adding bedrooms, you will need to determine if the existing septic system is of sufficient size and if it is located so that the addition can be built without impacting the septic system or reducing the minimum required setbacks between the building and the septic system. The type of septic system and its details of approval would need to be determined.

    There are many factors that come into play when planning an addition or substantial improvement such as a patio, extensive landscaping project, etc. It is always best to speak with a design professional who can quickly assess the impacts of the proposed project as they relate to the septic system, wetlands or coastal features, etc. prior to costly building or landscaping designs that may or may not work given the site constraints. A few minutes spent discussing the project with a design professional can quickly and cost effectively determine the design constraints and required permits for the project. In most cases, a design professional will not charge for the initial consultation prior to executing a contract for services. I typically do not charge for this service.

  4. What constitutes a failure of my existing septic system?
    A failure of an existing septic system is defined by RIDEM as:
    1. Failing to accept wastewater into the pipe or building sewer;
    2. Discharge of wastewater to a basement; subsurface drain; stormwater collection; conveyance, or treatment device; or watercourse unless expressly permitted by RIDEM;
    3. Wastewater rising to the surface of the ground over or near any part of the septic system or seeping from the leaching field at any change in grade, bank or road cut;
    4. The top of the inlet or the top of the outlet for a septic tank, distribution box, or pump tank is submerged;
    5. The liquid depth in a cesspool is less than six (6) inches from the inlet pipe invert (bottom of pipe);
    6. Pumping of the cesspool or septic tank is required more than two (2) time per year;
    7. The septic system is shown to have contaminated a drinking water well or watercourse;
    8. If a septic tank, pump tank, distribution box, or cesspool is pumped and groundwater seeps into it;
    9. Any deterioration, damage or malfunction relating to any septic system that would preclude adequate treatment and dispersal of wastewater; or
    10. Excessive solids are evident in the distribution box or distribution lines.
  5. As a homeowner, are there any ways for me to ensure that my septic system will continue to work properly and ensure that it will not fail prematurely?
    Yes, as a homeowner, there are some simple and inexpensive ways to ensure that your septic system will work effectively throughout its lifetime. The following are suggested in a pamphlet available from the URI Onsite Wastewater Training Center.
    1. Don’t flush anything down the toilet other than human wastewater and toilet paper. All other items should be put in a separate receptacle for disposal as solid waste along with other household waste. Items to keep out of the toilet include: cigarette butts, paper towels, tissues, disposable diapers or wipes, and sanitary products. These items do not breakdown in a septic tank, may cause you to pump the tank more often, or can plug up the septic system.
    2. Don’t flush food town the toilet. These should be disposed of with household solid waste or non-meat food waste can be composted by the homeowner.
    3. Don’t use a garbage disposal. Using a garbage disposal does not make food or grease any easier for the septic system to handle and can shorten the life span of the septic system. A larger than normal sized septic tank is required with the use of a garbage disposal.
    4. Don’t rinse toxic materials down your sink or toilet. These can damage your septic system and potentially shorten its life span. Additionally, they can impair the performance of the septic system by disrupting the normal bacteria that breakdown the human waste present in the septic system.
    5. Balance your water use throughout the week. This is one of simplest ways to promote the longevity of your septic system. By spreading out the laundry over several days during the week rather than on one day helps to reduce the peak volumes of wastewater introduced into the septic system. Large volumes of water introduced over a short timeframe tend to cause solids in the septic tank to rise and move into the leaching field. Over time this can create a clog in the leaching field and reduce the longevity of the leaching field. In general, reducing water usage (i.e. low flow fixtures, fixing leaking plumbing, and turning off water when it is not in use) within the home can promote the longevity of the septic system.
  6. Should I put any sort of additive into my septic system to keep it functioning properly?

    No, in fact RIDEM prohibits the introduction of acid or organic chemical solvents into the septic system. RIDEM does not recognize any additive product as being beneficial to the operation of a septic system. In fact, some additives may adversely impact the performance of your septic system.

  7. I am proposed an addition to my house. Do I need to consider stormwater drainage from the roof of the addition?

    Yes, under the Rhode Island Stormwater Design and Installation Standards dated December 2010, in addition to new residential or commercial construction, any residential addition of 600 s.f. or greater of impervious roof area or driveway/parking area require that stormwater drainage be addressed. These considerations are particularly important if you are located in an area with a high groundwater table, such as is found in coastal areas or in close proximity to a freshwater wetland.

  8. My proposed house construction project will impact more than 1 acre of area. Do I need to address any additional permits?

    Yes, any construction project whether residential or commercial that impacts 1 acre or more of area, requires that a site specific Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan (SWPPP) be developed to address the erosion and sediment control measures and pollution prevention techniques to be employed on the site during active construction. Depending on the specific site, this SWPPP may need to be approved by RIDEM. At a minimum, the SWPPP needs to be developed and used on site during construction.

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