QUEENSBURY — A year of enforcing the new septic inspection law has shown town employees the loopholes that need to be closed.
Now the Town Board is preparing to tighten the rules for septic tanks and holding tanks, requiring that they be of the right size to handle the effluent from the house.
Last year, the board stressed that it would not force property owners to replace a functioning septic system, even if it would not be approved by today’s standards in terms of location and type.
But now the board wants to add that septic tanks and holding tanks won’t be considered functional if they are too small, even if they do appear to be working correctly.
Queensbury Building and Codes Director Dave Hatin proposed all of the changes, based on his experiences handling last year’s inspections. The board held a public hearing Monday, at which no one spoke, and plans to vote on the changes at its next meeting.
The biggest change is the way in which the town will determine the minimum size of a tank. A tank that is too small will have to be replaced with a larger one.
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To calculate the right size, the town will consider not just bedrooms but all rooms that are used for sleeping — an issue that has cropped up as some lakefront houses are rented out on Airbnb with every room described as a potential bedroom. Having that many guests can quickly overwhelm a septic system.
The town will also take into consideration Jacuzzi tubs and in-sink garbage disposals, which require much larger tanks.
“People who have septic should avoid Jaccuzis and grinders,” Supervisor John Strough said when the changes were discussed Monday.
Holding tanks would also be required to have two alarms — telling owners when the tank is half full and completely full. At that point, the tank must trigger a water shutoff device. All three would be mandatory in any holding tank in the waterfront residential zones.
“So when your holding tanks get full, it shuts off the water to the house so you can’t contribute to the pollution” of the lake, Strough said.
Water flow is restored after the holding tank is pumped out. Unlike septic tanks, which slowly send liquid to a leach field, all liquid stays in a holding tank. Depending on the size of the tank and how often the toilets, showers and sinks are used, homeowners might have to get it pumped out once a month. After a party, some lakeside homeowners said they had to pump the tank immediately.
Owners who propose to skip the inspection because they will demolish the property would also have to remove the septic system within six months. The law required them to give the town a $2,000 check as security that the demolition work would be done; now, that check would not be returned to the owner unless the septic system is also removed.
Under a law that went into effect Jan. 1, 2019, the town must inspect the septic system when a waterfront residential zone property is sold. The inspection is good for three years, which allows sellers to get it done in advance. But it requires digging up the distribution box, which can be costly and is very difficult to do in the winter.