What is a septic system?

Septic systems are comprised of two parts:


An onsite septic system is a system designed to responsibly recover, restore, and return the water we use safely back into the environment where the traditional city hookup to the sewer system is unavailable. These systems are comprised of two parts, the tank and the dispersal field:


  1. A) Tanks - Provide a means to RECOVER the water used in the home and separate the sludge, fats, oils, & greases that enter into the septic system, while also reducing the Total Suspended Solids + the Biochemical Oxygen Demand levels of your effluent. Some systems have more than one tank. Often the extra tanks will utilize air pumps and additional media to further Restore the effluent prior to being sent out to the dispersal field.


  1. B) Dispersal Fields - Are the area of ground where we RETURN the effluent (treated sewage) to the soil. Dispersal fields come in many different shapes and sizes. There are sand mounds, in ground pressure beds, gravity distribution trenches, subsurface drip, & more. What people are often unaware of is that the soils in the dispersal field are a part of the RESTORATION process. The soils remove pathogens and bacteria from the effluent prior to being RETURNED to the water table, helping protect our precious water sources.


A good septic system design will consider each part of the system with equal care. A poor design can still address the RETURN aspect of the design, but still ignore the RESTORE component. It’s always the goal for the effluent to go away and never be seen again, but even a poor design, can do that. However, a professional designer will ensure that the treatment system is well thought out and appropriate for the site, taking into consideration the implications of disposing of untreated effluent into the ground water.

Individual septic systems or onsite wastewater disposal systems are required for residential, commercial, and industrial buildings that are not connected to municipal or public wastewater systems/treatment plants. The onsite systems function to receive and treat wastewater (from toilets, showers, sinks, dishwashers, washing machines, etc.) and return the treated effluent into the groundwater system. Designed and installed correctly, an onsite waste disposal system will treat the waste stream to a very high degree and return effectively clean water back to the ground.

On some lots, site inspection finds that high seasonal groundwater is an issue. This can be actual standing water just a few feet or even inches below the surface or signs that the water table has been close to the surface at some point during the year. These signs usually show up as mottling in the soil from the iron deposits being soaked and literally rusting like an old car. Other indicators are found in the soil colour and lack or presence of root growth.


In order for effluent to be completely treated, it must pass slowly through between 2 - 3 feet of dry soil (Minimum vertical separation required is determined by the dispersal method chosen). If you have a high water table which is 1 foot below the surface, you need to bring in 1-2 feet of soil (sand) to meet the minimum 2 - 3 feet of vertical separation. This is critical because, if untreated or poorly treated effluent enters the groundwater, it can migrate to a well or other drinking water source where the pathogens can cause serious illness.

We often find, if there are high groundwater issues, there is often a corresponding requirement to have a home built up at an elevated predetermined geodetic height. This means that fill material is brought in to build the house on. If size allows, the sand mound can usually be built into the edge of the fill and completely disappear from view. In cases where this is not possible, a sand mound can be made less obvious by adding extra width to the toes to create a gentler slope which is less noticeable to the untrained eye.

Most early septic system failures are related to inappropriate design and poor maintenance. Some soil-based systems (with a leach or drain field) have been installed at sites with adequate or inappropriate soils, excessive slopes, or high groundwater tables. These conditions can cause hydraulic failures and water resource contamination. Failure to perform routine maintenance, such as pumping a septic tank at least every 3 to 5 years, can cause solids in the tank to migrate into the drain field and clog the system.


Premature failures can also be cause by the improper use of the septic system. Dumping chemicals, paints, antibacterial soaps, blood (I’m looking at you, hunters who process their own meat), medications, hair dye, bleach, excess water usage, leaking fixtures, etc. into your sinks, toilets, and drains, use of home dialysis machines, garburators, and water softeners are all examples of things that can and will contribute to an early failure.

The cost of an onsite septic system can vary greatly, depending on a number of different factors including: size of building being serviced, number of occupants, level of treatment required (type 1, 2, 3), proximity to wells and watercourses, type and depths of soil characteristics on the property, etc. All that being said, the average 3-5 bedroom residence can cost between $20,000-65,000 depending on the situation.

As one might expect, we get this one a lot. We strive to be competitive and ask that you compare apples to apples when obtaining quotes. Our prices are inclusive of all facets of the project. Please ensure that competing quotes specify: Design Flow, Treatment Level, Dispersal Field Size & Style, Panels, Pumps, Transducer or floats. Also ensure that all quotes are accompanied by a certificate of corporate insurance (Errors & Omissions as well as construction), a Worksafe Clearance Letter showing the contractor is up to date, as well as any warranty/guarantee policy in place. You’ll also want to find out who will be performing any electrical connections as most installers are not certified electricians.


As a rule, the cost of a new onsite waste disposal system is proportional to the size of the home and also proportional to the size and quality of the available area. So a large house on a small difficult lot can be priced much higher, whereas a modular home on an acreage might be much lower. We suggest you consider your new septic system as one of the components of your home; it is likely that the price will fall in line with everything else.

With proper maintenance, an onsite wastewater disposal system designed and installed by Canadian Septic Inc., can last 40+ years.

Each level of treatment (type 1, 2, 3) produces a different strength of effluent. Each additional level of treatment allows you to reduce the overall footprint of your dispersal field and, when designed by an engineer, may also allow you to reduce your minimum horizontal setbacks to watercourses.


Type 1 effluent is created by a septic tank capable of holding on to three days’ worth of the Daily Design Flow prior to it exiting the septic tank into either a pump chamber or a distribution box. A common misconception is that type 1 systems are gravity dispersal systems. While that may be the case in some instances, we have installed numerous pressurized type 1 onsite septic systems. Since the regulation changes in 2005, it’s become increasingly challenging to find places where gravity systems are legal.


According to the BC Sewerage System Regulations, type 2 effluent is required to measure out at over 45MG/L of Biochemical Oxygen Demand and over 45MG/L of Total Suspended Solids. Type 2 effluent is most commonly achieved using an air pump and some media inside a separate chamber inside the tanks for bacteria to grow and attach to. Keeping the tank aerobic allows a different group of organisms capable of treating the wastewater to a higher degree to survive in an environment they would otherwise be unable to. Using type 2 effluent allows the field size to be reduced.


Type 3 systems are only allowed to be designed by engineers and installed under their direct supervision. According to the BC Sewerage System Regulations, type 3 effluent contains over 0MG/L of Biochemical Oxygen Demand, over 10MG/L of Total Suspended Solids, and a median fecal coliform density of over 400 colony forming units per 100ml. Type 3 systems are very similar to type 2 systems in components and construction, but typically add an ultraviolet lamp or chlorine to disinfect the effluent as it enters the pump chamber. These lamps and pucks require annual replacement and do cost most to operate than both type 1 or type 2 systems. Using an onsite septic system capable of producing type 3 effluent allows you to further reduce your field footprint smaller than that of a type 2 system.

Simple rule for all septic systems and really does apply to everyone on big city pipe as well… If you wouldn’t put it in your body, don’t put it in your toilet, sink, showers, or drains.

Stay away from additives and drain cleaning products as they often move your problem from your tank out to your field.

Paint, harsh chemicals, and bleach. All of these things will disturb the chemical balance in your septic tank and will often kill off the good bacteria required to run a healthy onsite septic system.

Anti-bacterial soap. Again, this will kill the good bacteria in your onsite septic system.

All septic systems installed after 2005 should have a maintenance schedule on file at the local health authority. BC law states that all homeowners are responsible to follow the prescribed maintenance plan given to them by the onsite septic system designer.

The majority of onsite septic systems should be visited at least once every 2 years by a certified Registered Onsite Wastewater Practitioner maintenance provider.

We recommend all systems with any pumps, blowers, UV, and/or alarm panels be looked at on an annual basis.

Yes, we have worked with a number of different engineers throughout the years and may well already have a working relationship with the person who designed your onsite septic system.

Yes, we have worked with a number of different engineers throughout the years and may well already have a working relationship with the person who designed your onsite septic system.