Septic Tanks & The New Regulations

Now I know that reading about Septic Tanks is not exactly exciting and selling the dream of the Lake District however it’s important if you’re buying in a rural area to take this into consideration. The regulations for septic tanks and sewerage systems changed a few years ago, and the original date has actually been gone for changes to be made to your septic tanks. January 1st, 2020 was the original cut off date. Since nothing in 2020 seems to have gone to plan this has now been amended and the regulations updated further this is due to the fact that there are still so many that haven’t had their septic tanks changed. The main aim of the new regulations is to prevent the discharge of waste water into the rivers, streams or watercourses. If the discharge cannot be prevented from entering one of the above then it must come from a Sewerage treatment plant as these are classed as environmentally friendly.

The reason behind the change is in relation to pollution, the old-style septic tanks discharging into watercourses have an old-style filtration system deemed as inadequate enough for today’s standards. The preferred system is now a Sewerage treatment plant and what that does is it adds additional layers of filtration, and a much tougher breakdown process in order to make sure that what is then discharged is a much better quality and ideally leads to a soakaway or field away from our rivers and streams.  If you want the liquid produced by your sewage treatment plant to run off into a stream or river, you need to apply for a ‘consent to discharge’ – which is basically a licence to give you permission and confirms the wastewater is now clean enough not to damage local wildlife.

it’s not uncommon for a septic tank to be shared by several properties or to be located within a farmer’s field away from your property. 

 So if you’re buying a property in the Lake District, it might be that the property has a septic tank. Now, if the owners of that property have had that septic tank replaced they should be able to give you the certificates and they should be able to show the evidence of it’s replacement with invoices. Alternatively, they may have had an inspection and the tank may be deemed as acceptable in which case a copy of the report will suffice. 

If nothing has been done then an agreement can be made and written into your contract with the solicitors before you exchange, you need to agree between the buyer and the seller who will replace that septic tank. Now bear in mind that there’s a lot of people doing this at the moment, and with COVID you could be faced with a long wait if you are wanting the seller to replace the tank, but you do have what’s called a reasonable timeframe in which I believe is deemed as 12 months to sort the issue out yourself, it may be at this stage a quote is obtained to replace the tank, and renegotiation is taken into consideration in order to move the sale forwards. 

The local authorities can at any point check the discharge of a septic tank if they believe that it is discharging into watercourse and causing pollution.

So it’s important if you’re purchasing a property that has a septic tank, you instruct a professional to inspect this for you, most mortgage companies are now requesting these surveys are done before they lend, this has now become a frequent request due to the changes in legislation. The survey will ultimately tell you the condition of a septic tank along with its pipes and if it is operating to the best of its ability, what its current discharge rate is, and whether it’s the correct capacity for the size of the property. We are very lucky in this area to have many great companies providing these services. 

it’s important if a property your purchasing has a septic tank with limited or no history that you take the opportunity to have a septic tank survey carried out

There are 3 main types of systems available: Septic tank, Cesspit or cesspool, and sewage treatment plants. Septic tanks are classed as the “classic system”, many of these do discharge into rivers, streams, or into watercourses, i’ve found that the term “septic tank” is used as a generic term to describe most non-mains waste systems. Septic tanks have various chambers and replay on gravity to separate the solid from the liquid, the liquid then runs through pipes and into soil in order to naturally break down the waste, you can buy chemicals that assist in this process however the use of bleach and other house hold fluids can hinder the breakdown of waste as it can kill the natural bacteria within the tank. Its worth noting that not all septic tanks need replacing, as long as they discharge in the correct manor and are the correct size for the property.

A cesspit is emptied by a contractor by pumping out the waste into a tank and transported away. There is no form of discharge from these tanks, essentially they act as a holding tank. There are many calculations in relation to the size of these tanks and the locations they are situated in relation to their position from your property and your neighbor’s boundary. An 18,000-liter capacity is for the first two people, any additional person is calculated at 6,800 liters. For example, if you had a three-bedroom property the regulations count the number of bedrooms, but then they add another two people. So essentially three bedrooms plus two more people become five. It comes out at 38,400 liters this would be the expected size of a tank for a 3-bed property.  

Here is the maths:

Based on a 3 bed property

18,000 (2 people)

6,800 (3 people)

= 38,400

In regards to Sewage treatment plants, there are several types available these are the preferred option when replacing the old-style systems as they are able to clean up to 95% of the liquid leaving the tank into the soakaway. All sewage treatment plants need to be EN 12566-3 2005 certified. It’s fair to say that this style of system is environmentally friendly compared to the septic tanks they will replace. All tanks need to be emptied and the suggestion would be every year. The idea behind the sewerage treatment plant is the waste runs into chambers and replies upon natural bacteria to grow and assist in the breaking down of the waste, the water runs into a soakaway or drainage field and the sludge sinks to the bottom, the tanks have a rotating disk inside with various moving parts so they will require a power supply and this gives the bacteria a larger area to grow on promoting a further break down of the waste. This system is the only system that is deemed as been acceptable if you must discharge into a watercourse.

In The Lake District, it’s not uncommon for a septic tank to be shared by several properties or to be located within a farmer’s field away from your home.  It can feel like a bit of an alien concept when moving from out of the area not to be connected to main drains however in The Lake District this is very common and with the right checks and guidance, you can gain the confidence with non-mains sewerage systems.  


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