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What is a septic system, and why do I need one?

Basically, a soil-based septic system safely treats wastewater (black water and grey water) and returns it to the ground. 

A septic system is made up of several components.  The septic tank is one of those components.  For details on each system, please see our page on septic MOUNDS, DRAINFIELDS, AT-GRADE,  HOLDING TANKS, and OPEN DISCHARGEAfter being installed and inspected, the operation and regular maintenance of the system are the homeowner's responsibility.

Many homeowners do not realize that their properly designed and installed septic system rivals the treatment quality of municipal or city treatment plants.  The wastewater of an onsite soil-based system is returned to the environment with most or all contaminants and pathogens removed. 

What are Alberta's regulations?


Certified Installers must be knowledgeable of the 2021 Standard of Practice to appropriately apply the requirements set out in that standard when undertaking the design and installation of onsite sewage systems.

The 2021 Standard of Practice was adopted by Alberta Regulation and came into force November 1, 2022. The 2021 Standard of Practice reflects substantial changes from the 2015 Private Sewage Systems Standard of Practice.

The onsite wastewater industry in Alberta is regulated by Alberta Municipal Affairs through the Safety Codes Council, Safety Services division. Professionals working in the onsite industry must follow the Alberta Private Sewage Regulation and the Alberta Standard of Practice mandated by these government bodies.

The following links provide further information on private sewage systems in Alberta: AOWMA, Municipal Affairs,  Safety Codes

I need a new or upgraded system.  What's involved?

1.  Filling out a Homeowner Declaration Form will provide much of the information needed to get started.

2.  We will submit a locate request with Alberta One - Call so existing lines can be located and marked.

3.  We will do a site evaluation and soil analysis, if needed.  A minimum of two test pits will be dug, the soil identified, and laboratory analysis performed.

4.  A system will be designed based on the unique features and needs of your home and site.  A permit is necessary for new or altered systems and will be obtained.

5.  The system can then be installed according to the design.

6.  The system will be inspected by an independent Safety Codes Officer during installation.

7.  The homeowner will be provided with the permit, inspection report, a Homeowner's Manual, and all the information needed to get to know and maintain the system.

Sounds expensive.

“The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten." - Benjamin Franklin

"Good quality is cheap; it's poor quality that is expensive" - Joe L. Griffith

“Contractors who prosper will not be those who merely work cheap but those who build systems that function dependably, protect the quality of life, and enhance the homeowner’s property. The industry will be driven by value and performance — not price,” - Ted Rulseh, first editor of Onsite Installer magazine


There are many factors involved.  You may be able to have an existing system upgraded, or you may need a new system or have new construction. 

Baseline is a small, family-run business.  We can provide a comprehensive quote based on your needs.  We are personally involved in every step of the process:  We will be there for consultation, site evaluation, soil analysis, design, installation, and follow-up, and will do your system maintenance if requested.


Because of rapid and recent industry changes, including education, our province has an abundance of certified private sewage designers and installers.  Many designers, while knowledgeable about the regulations and calculations involved in a design, have never been involved in installing a system.  Necessary alterations may need to be made in the field that were not incorporated into the initial design.  While this is allowable according to the Standard of Practice, we feel that it is preferable to have the design take into consideration as many site-specific factors as possible.  Conversely, installers that do not get involved in the design process may not fully realize the importance of certain design components, possibly resulting in inferior or inadequate installation.

Baseline can provide:  

  • Complete private sewage design and installation

  • Installation of an existing approved design 

  • A customized design for you or your certified installer 

My grandpa said they used to just bury an old car.  If that was good enough for him, it's good enough for me.

That was before they knew much about the system failures, groundwater contamination, proper system sizing, and the crucial role of soil in wastewater treatment.  Many of those older systems have failed or led to serious health and environmental issues.  Based on extensive research, the procedures and the regulations have changed and improved in many parts of the world. Current systems treat the wastewater efficiently and properly, which is better in the end for the property, the homeowner, and the environment.

Is system failure really a big deal? Out of sight, out of mind!

A failing or failed system will lower your property value and may even make selling your home a problem.  A properly functioning system can add significant value to your home and property.


Signs of system failure include: slow draining or backed up toilets and drains, an odor of sewage, soggy areas on or near the drainfield, or even contaminated groundwater or well water.  

Repairing or replacing a failed system can be expensive and time consuming, and can greatly affect the site.

Improperly treated wastewater contains disease-carrying organisms and poses significant health risks to your family and your neighbors.

Wastewater can pollute water wells, streams, rivers, ponds, lakes, and groundwater.  Plant and animal habitat, beaches, residences and businesses can be affected.

Okay.  How do I make sure my system doesn't fail?

Hire Baseline Ltd. as your designer and installer for a worry-free, economical and compliant system!

Fortunately, most properly designed and installed systems are very low maintenance.  Follow the Homeowner's Manual. Clean the inline filter every year.   Have  the septic tank pumped out an average of every 3 years, depending on occupancy and usage.

Some other basic tips for system maintenance:

  • Keep the grass over a field or mound mowed, but do not drive over the field or mound with anything heavier than a ride-on lawn mower.

  • Do not use harsh chemicals or septic "boosters".  The natural bacteria that occurs in a septic tank provides balanced and sufficient initial biological treatment.  Bleach can be used for household cleaning, but very sparingly.

  • Conserve water.  Excessive water use may cause oversaturation.  Use low flow fixtures.  Repair leaky faucets and toilets.  Educate family members.

  • Do not flush anything but human waste and toilet paper.   Do not flush medications, disposable diapers, feminine products, "flushable" wipes, condoms, paper towels, cat litter, or cigarettes.  Some of these items can fill or clog the tank or piping.   

  • Do not pour grease or fats into drains.  The fat will solidify and accumulate.  Do not dispose of paint, varnish, pesticides, herbicides, or other harsh chemicals into the system.

  • Garburators or garbage disposals can add excessive water, solids, and nutrients into the system. They should always be accounted for in the initial design, and used sparingly, if at all.

  • Consult a certified installer if the occupancy or usage of the residence is going to significantly change; for example, people moving in, or a significant change in water usage.

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