A Sanitary Education

  Many of us who migrated from the cities to the suburbs and beyond had no knowledge of “sewers”except when we were fishing out rubber balls that disappeared into them.

  When I moved into my first home in the outer suburbs, I do not recall even being aware that my home had a septic system.  The toilets flushed and the drains drained – that was good enough for me.

  When I received a notice five years later to connect to the public sewer system, together with an itemized bill for a tapping fee (?) and other costs, I immediately called the township to complain.  This is when my education began.

  I learned that I had a septic tank (that I should have been cleaning out every few years), and that a public sewer line was being installed in front of my house.  I also learned that I had no choice but to connect my home to the sewer line.  The law says that if a public sewer line is installed within 150 feet of your home, the township can compel you to connect.  In that case, the property owner must pay a connection fee (sometimes called a “tapping fee”), an inspection fee and other charges usually running in the thousands of dollars.  The property owner must also hire his or her own plumber to run a line (a sewer lateral) from the home to the public sewer line in the street and to connect that lateral to the home, all at the owner’s expense.

  Since that time, I have learned a lot more about septic systems, sewers and sewage.  I now know that septic systems can fail, and that replacement can be both difficult and expensive.  In new homes, before beginning construction, the owner must obtain soil tests (called “perc tests”) showing that there is a satisfactory alternate location for a replacement should the original system fail.  In older homes, if a system fails and there is no satisfactory replacement location on the property, the owner may have to look at alternative or experimental systems which, even if they solve the problem, may be significantly more expensive.

  Some homeowners who may initially balk at being required to connect to a public sewer due to costs quickly change their tunes when their septic system fails.

  I also learned that those city sewers into which our balls disappeared were a different kind of “sewer” – known as storm sewers, which capture and dispose of rainwater – a totally different subject.

So with all I learned what did I do?  I bought another home with a septic system.  I liked the view.

– Stu Cohen


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