Innovative/Alternative (I/A) systems perform well when they are designed, installed, operated, and maintained in accordance with the technology specifications and MassDEP's technology approval. However, I/A systems require a higher level of maintenance and are more expensive to operate and maintain than a conventional septic system. They can include pumps, aerators, fans and other mechanical parts, which increase the initial cost of the system and add costs for electricity to run the system.

If you own an I/A on-site system, you should know the kind of technology being used and keep good records on the system's location. You also must follow the manufacturer's specifications for operating the system, and be careful in using and discarding chemicals, such as disinfectants or paints, that may harm the system.

If you are thinking of purchasing a previously-owned home that uses an I/A technology, you should get answers to the following questions from an on-site professional:

  • How many of these systems are operating in Massachusetts? What does the performance data show? What is the warranty?
  • What type of MassDEP approval does this system have?
  • What are the sampling and testing requirements? What will the operation and maintenance service contract cover?
  • Is there any information available on equipment or operating problems?

Don't sign a purchase-and-sale agreement until you are fully informed about the type of I/A system in use on the property, as well as the related maintenance contract requirements, annual operating and energy costs, and maintenance history.

Operation & Maintenance (O&M)

Because I/A on-site systems are more complex than conventional septic tank systems, Title 5 has special requirements for their installation and maintenance (310 CMR 15.287):

  • System owners must have in place for the life of the system a maintenance contract with a Certified Wastewater Operator specifically licensed in Massachusetts. The manufacturer or distributor of your I/A system should be able to provide you with names of Certified Operators trained to maintain their systems. You can also contact your local Board of Health or a nearby Wastewater Treatment Plant for names of Certified Operators working in your area.
  • Plans for operation and maintenance, monitoring and testing must be submitted to the local Board of Health (and in some cases to MassDEP) for approval prior to start-up of the system. Inspection and sampling must be performed in accordance with the technology or system approval issued by the local Board of Health or DEP.
  • Certified Operators must use the MassDEP-approved Inspection and O&M Form and technology-specific checklist to record inspection results. System owners are responsible for the form being submitted to their local Board of Health and in some cases to MassDEP.

Testing the Effluent

  • Periodic testing of the system's effluent may also be required, and the system owner is responsible for the results being sent to the local Board of Health and MassDEP. All performance data collected under an approved testing plan must be submitted on the reports; it is a violation of Title 5 to omit or alter any results of testing done under an approved sampling plan.
  • Analysis of the samples must be done by an approved testing laboratory unless otherwise allowed by the Board of Health or MassDEP. Your Certified Operator will have a list of approved testing laboratories, and typically will arrange for testing.
  • Typically, I/A systems must be sampled quarterly for the following:
    • pH;
    • Biochemical Oxygen Demand (BOD);
    • Total Suspended Solids (TSS)

Systems located in nitrogen-sensitive areas may also require testing for Total Nitrogen (TN).

If test results demonstrate adequate performance for a reasonable period of time, MassDEP allows system owners to request a reduction in sampling frequency.

Repairing an I/A System

When an I/A system breaks down or fails, the owner must either repair or replace the failed component or system, just as with a conventional septic system. Options include:

  • Repair or replace the component. In some instances, manufacturer warranties may apply.
  • Replace the unit with another I/A technology.
  • Install a tight tank.
  • Replace with a conventional septic system, if feasible.

Until a system is repaired or replaced, the Board of Health and/or MassDEP can order interim measures to protect public health and the environment.

MassDEP-Approved Inspection and O&M Form for Title 5 I/A Treatment and Disposal Systems:
Title 5 Septic System Forms