What is a Conventional Septic System?

A Conventional Septic System consists of a septic tank, distribution box, and a leach field (some may refer to this as a “drain field”) which consists of rows of perforated pipes (usually 7 to 9) that are buried anywhere from 18-36 inches below grade, depending on local regulatory agency requirements. Conventional drain fields are usually installed when soil conditions are optimal (well draining soils that perc).

What if my Soil doesn’t perc for a Conventional Septic System?  

If a conventional septic system will not work due to various soil conditions or a high water table, an alternative system may be the answer.

What is an Alternative Onsite Sewage System (AOSS)?

An AOSS may be the answer when your site does not permit the installation of a conventional septic tank and drain field system.  While the official name is an Alternative Onsite Sewage System (AOSS), most people refer to it as an alternative septic system; for ease of use and explanation, we will refer to it as the latter.   Alternative septic systems are anything that are not "conventional" systems.   There are numerous types of alternative septic systems (some common types include: Multi-flow, Advantex, Puraflo, and Bio-Microbics, to name just a few) however all are designed to be used for difficult sites where soil and / or difficult terrain conditions  (limited soil percolation rate, rocky site, high ground water level, steeply sloped, limited site space, etc) can be a factor.   

I have an Alternative Septic System – what does this mean for me?

Alternative septic systems are being used more and more due to housing development increasingly being sought in areas with limiting factors that will not permit a conventional septic drain system.  Given this factor, many residents who purchase a home, whether an existing structure or building a new one, may do so without knowing that their system has strict maintenance requirements that are governed by the state.  If you should happen to own or purchase a home that currently has an AOSS, you must have a licensed onsite system operator under contract or directly employed (“hire at will”) to maintain the system.

What does the law require?

New rules regarding the required maintenance of AOSS and licensing of Onsite system evaluators, Installers and Operators were placed into effect on July 1, 2009.    The rules governing maintenance have been updated by the
Virginia Department of Health (VDH) (Alternative On Site Sewage System Regulations (AOSS) VDH Code 12 VAC 5-613) and went into effective December 7, 2011.

The Virginia Department of Health in your locality notified owners of alternative septic systems via letter that  annual inspections are now required by State Law, and homeowners had to comply within 30 days of receipt of the letter.  Whether or not you have received a letter, you are expected to already be in compliance.  Unfortunately there is no “grandfathering” in accordance with what was passed under this law.
What must I do as a homeowner?

Alternative septic systems are to be inspected annually and maintained in accordance with manufacturer's recommendations and local and state laws.  Those who fail or refuse to comply with the mandatory rules and regulations face civil penalty regulations and fines, including but not limited to fines by VDH as well as their locality.  Owner responsibilities are defined specifically in
Code Section 12VAC5-613-140, which reads:

It is the owner's responsibility to do the following:

1. Have the AOSS operated and maintained by an operator;

2. Have an operator visit the AOSS at the frequency required by regulations;

3. Have an operator collect any samples required by regulations;

4. Keep a copy of the log provided by the operator on the property where the AOSS is located in electronic or hard copy form, make the log available to the department upon request, and make a reasonable effort to transfer the log to any future owner;

5. Follow the O&M manual and keep a copy of the O&M manual in electronic or hard copy form for the AOSS on the property where the AOSS is located, make the O&M manual available to the department upon request, and make a reasonable effort to transfer the O&M manual to any future owner; and

6. Comply with the onsite sewage system requirements contained in local ordinances adopted pursuant to the
Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act (§10.1-2100 et seq. of the Code of Virginia) and the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Area Designation and Management Regulations (9VAC10-20) when an AOSS is located within a Chesapeake Bay Preservation Area.

Who can perform maintenance on my septic system,  AOSS or Conventional?

Under the guidelines, the only people authorized to perform maintenance on an AOSS are Operators licensed by the Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation (DPOR).  Do not let anyone inspect or repair your system unless they hold a professional license issued by DPOR under any circumstance.  Always ask to see their license(s); someone on the up-and-up will not have any problem providing this to you.

Not All AOSS Operators are Created Equally

You can be an AOSS Operator but not be a licensed wastewater operator.  How is that possible you ask?  To obtain your AOSS license, the minimum requirements / alternatives are listed under
Virginia Code 18VAC160-20-98 Qualifications for Licensure - Onsite Sewage System Operators.   In simple terms, the code states you can obtain your AOSS Operators license if you:

•    “…..have 1 year experience as a sewage handler (i.e., septic hauler);

•    No high school diploma and 24 months of full-time experience working under the direct supervision of an alternative onsite sewage system operator licensee or an interim alternative onsite sewage system operator licensee;

•    A high school diploma or GED and 12 months of full-time experience working under the direct supervision of an alternative onsite sewage system operator licensee or an interim alternative onsite sewage system operator licensee;

•    Possess a valid Class 4 or higher wastewater works operator license, have six months of full-time experience working under the direct supervision of an alternative onsite sewage system operator licensee or an interim alternative onsite sewage system operator licensee…..”

What should a Licensed AOSS Operator provide me?

If you do not know what type of system you have or what the requirements are, the AOSS operator should be able to provide you that information.  A licensed AOSS operator will provide you with a yearly inspection and testing that is required by your particular system.   There are many types of alternative systems and each one is different, however all requirements are the same;  all must provide reports to VDH under the law. The
Code of Virginia (12VAC5-613-150 & 12VAC5-613-180) sets out specific guidelines for site visit and sampling requirements for AOSS with flows up to 40,000 Gallons Per Day (gpd) and minimum frequency of visits.  Typically an average AOSS will have a flow of less than 1,000 gpd.

Under the Code, the minimum site visit and sampling requirements for AOSS with flows less than 1,000 gallons per day (gpd) are:

   1 – One routine inspection every 12 months
   2 – Routine maintenance as prescribed in the system’s O&M manual.
   3 -  Notification to homeowner of any remediation, if necessary, to return AOSS system to normal.

You should also understand whether your agreement includes reporting/record keeping, sampling, and required lab testing.    If you are under a contract agreement, look to see if your contract includes an Emergency call-out option in the event of a failure or unexpected problem / repairs; an Emergency call-out usually does not apply on a “hire at will” basis (non-contract).  In either case, contracted or “hire-at-will”, an Emergency call-out typically is an additional cost and is billed separately
. You should know the rate (usually hourly) for all Emergency call-outs.





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