Choosing the best building site

The perfect place on a producers’ property for their next building project may not be the spot they originally had their heart set on. The lay of the land and soil composition play a part in determining the best building site on a piece of property. 

Study the Soil 

Construction experts recommend farmers planning to build on their property get their soil evaluated before the project begins. This step is especially crucial for producers wanting to build a barn or shop with running water and a restroom incorporated into the structure. A restroom requires a septic system with a tank and lateral lines.

What type of septic system producers can incorporate into their building plan, depends on the type of soil on their property. Onsite soil evaluators, also called soil scientists, test the soil to determine what type of system will be needed. 

“It’s like Forrest Gump and a box of chocolates, you don’t know what you are going to get until you open it all up,” Doug Carmichael, with Carmichael Engineering in Springfield, Mo., said. “In the area where you think you want your lateral field, sometimes you get surprised.”

An onsite soil evaluator is needed to conduct a soil morphology description which involves an in-depth evaluation of the soil including its’ clay content, rock content and other characteristics. 

 With this information in-hand, producers can then determine what type of septic system fits their operation. Landowners can obtain additional information on their soil through soil surveys on file with their local USDA office. 

Types of Systems

The most common system is a gravity flow system. This is the least expensive option and one most people prefer to install. 

In some areas where there is hardpan or where county requirements are more stringent, a low-pressure pipe system is another viable option. The low-pressure pipe system utilizes a septic tank, to a pump tank, then to inch and a half lateral pipes, that are pressurized and produce even distribution over a field. 

A third option involves using drip laterals or drip fields. This is the most expensive option and rarely used for barns, shops, or farm buildings due to the steep price tag. The drip fields are comprised of small diameter pipes, similar to black pipes found in landscaping beds. The drip laterals are made to handle wastewater. The system requires an aeration tank at the cost of $4,000 to $5,000. This system can be used with fill soil and in areas where there is little soil and lots of rock.

Preplan the Project

Engineers recommend evaluating the soil prior to digging or moving dirt around. In most cases, if the soil is cleared to make way for a project, then the natural soil structure has been destroyed and it is no longer suitable for a gravity flow system. “If you have already disturbed the soil, it ruins it for a gravity system, or even adding fill dirt to a site, it can ruin it for a future field,” Carmichael explained. 

Carmichael recommends testing the soil, identifying the location for the septic system, and then starting to move dirt in preparation for construction.

In addition, Carmichael encourages landowners to determine the location for the lateral field before digging a well. There is a 100-foot setback regulation from wells to lateral fields. Advanced planning will ensure a well is not drilled in a spot that ends up being too close to possibly the only good area for a lateral field. 


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