Planning for a Good System

Follow this basic advice to build systems your customers can depend on to protect the environment and give long, trouble-free treatment service.
Planning for a Good System
For proper planning, you must ensure access to all areas necessary for the system installation.

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For the last eight years we have presented workshops on installation practices at the Pumper and Cleaner Expo. Afterward, we always get questions and comments. In the next few articles, we'll highlight some of the materials we cover in these workshops – we hope this will lead to continuing conversations about best installation practices and techniques.

We like to point out that the definition of a "good" system has changed over the years, and some people installers meet during an installation have their own definition. For some people, the only definition that matters is low cost. This is one area right from the start where an installer can do some education, pointing out why – for system operation and long life – each component needs to be installed as proposed. To us, a "good" system is one that is:

Installed to protect public health and the environment

Installed according to the permit and the plan and with the proper materials

Installed so that all components are accessible for maintenance and management in the future

What you must do

Here are some thoughts on installer responsibilities that, if observed, will result in good systems that will last indefinitely.

Envision the project.

Right from the first visit to bid on the job and the design, think about how the installation will be carried out. This is not only important for the actual installation but also for bidding the project properly. Is there easy access to the site? Or are there problems like slope, trees, rocks or other items you need to address before starting work? Also think about where you will stage materials; how you'll protect the primary and alternate soil treatment units before, during and after installation; and how to finish the job.

Follow the plan.

If you are not the designer, you need to follow the design you're given. This means recognizing and identifying where the system is located, the important elevation differences, and how the system will lie on the land.

If possible, walk the area with the designer and owner to discuss any site limitations that might affect the installation. We recommend staking out the site to show the actual locations of the components, along with the significant elevations. You must use the materials called for in the design without substitutions.

Communicate with the designer.

Some installers tell us a complete design is one they can follow without having to go back to the designer for clarification. We always respond: How often does that happen? And the answer is: Seldom. Therefore, you need to have good communication with the designer. Talk to the designer before the installation to resolve any questions about the plan, or any differences in the way you plan to install the system.

Make no changes to the plan without the designer's approval. Get approval for any changes in writing and, if necessary, have the plans redrawn. We recommend taking digital photos throughout the project to document the installation process and practices.

Use proper practices.

You are responsible for applying proper installation principles. For tanks, this means installing the proper size and seeing that it is properly bedded and backfilled. All appropriate attachments, such as effluent screens, need to be installed. Risers, pipe penetrations and seams need to be watertight.

Install the soil treatment unit at the proper depth, using the design media materials. We recommend checking the design calculations for the soil treatment area sizing. If the system uses pressure distribution, it is your responsibility to have the proper pipe, orifice sizes and spaces. If there are questions about any of these, consult the designer before proceeding.

Accessibility is important – include observation ports. As always, follow the Keep It Shallow, Keep It Dry and Keep It Natural principles. Make notes documenting any problems or unexpected conditions you encountered and what you did as a result.

Communicate with the inspector.

During installation, the system will be inspected for compliance. Communication with the inspector is key. Understand at what point the inspector wants to come in and discuss the timing. While you may have timing issues during installation, recognize the inspector may also have scheduling concerns. It is better to talk through them than to run up to the point where you need the inspector and then get frustrated or angry because it's not going as you feel it should.

The desired outcome is that the inspection meets all requirements and the system is in compliance with the permit. If it is not at the time of initial inspection, ask the inspector to go through the entire system and indicate where changes are needed. This can avoid having the inspector back only to find out something else is wrong. It's your job to obtain a valid permit, so it's important to work toward that end efficiently – you'll save time and money.

Tie it in a bow.

Finishing well is important. Provide a to-scale, as-built drawing of the installation to the permitting authority, the owner and the designer, and keep one for your records.

The job isn't finished until the site is cleaned up, the backfill is properly placed, and vegetation is established. One customer-service approach we encourage is to visit the site a month to six weeks after the installation to fix any cosmetic problems that may have occurred from settling or other activities.

This is also a good time to walk the owner through proper care for the system. You can provide good information about the specific system and provide any of several good general homeowners guides that are free or relatively inexpensive. If maintenance is part of your business, this is a good time to sell the owner on the virtues of that service.

Do all this and you will soon build a reputation as a customer-focused contractor who delivers high-quality, long-lasting treatment systems.


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