What You Should Know About Your Septic System by Shirley Dolan

Shirley Dolan
Shirley Dolan

The Ontario Building Code, when combined with the Building Code Act and the Ontario Regulation 332/12, is over 750 pages. I image few people have read it in its entirety except our OLA Director of Research, Elizabeth Marshall. Fewer still, I imagine, have waded through the proposed changes to the Code (there are 700 of them). Unfortunately, buried deep in the bowels (pun intended) of the proposed changes is a mandatory requirement to have septic systems on private property cleaned out every five years. Yet, the public has not been invited to comment on the proposed changes.

You can read the proposed changes here http://www.mah.gov.on.ca/AssetFactory.aspx?did=15603.

Essentially, the change will require property owners with septic systems to have their septic tanks pumped every five years whether needed or not. In addition, the homeowner will be required to maintain records of all cleaning of their systems for submission to the chief building official upon request.

These requirements should raise several concerns with homeowners. First and foremost, they infringe on property rights for no good reason. Rural homeowners understand the need for regular maintenance of their septic systems and are in the best position to judge when this might be necessary. When a system needs to be maintained is dependent on the capacity of the tank and the number of people using the system. The need to clean it out might be three years, five years, or even ten or fifteen. Technology in septic systems is advancing. Newer systems are designed to be as efficient and effective as possible and will only improve in future. Putting a five-year limit on septic system maintenance does not consider such advancements and unfairly targets those who invest in new systems.

The requirement to produce documentation on your septic system maintenance to the chief building official is curious and leads to many questions. Your septic system is approved when it is installed, but we know of no authority which would support the notion that a maintenance record should be produced or even maintained for anything other than the homeowner’s purposes. Is this intended to give the perception that a municipality or conservation authority has yet another supposed avenue to enter onto your property?

Phase One of the consultation on the potential changes to Ontario’s Building Code ended on December 20, 2016. http://www.mah.gov.on.ca/Page14996.aspx Those comments are now being reviewed by a committee. The person that I spoke to at the Ministry of Municipal Affairs, Building and Development Branch indicated that the code is meant for industry and that only industry was invited to comment. Hey, what about the people that are most affected – the homeowner?

If you are concerned about these new requirements, you may want to voice those concerns to the Minister responsible for the Building Code:

Hon. Bill Mauro
Ministry of Municipal Affairs
17th Floor – 777 Bay Street
Toronto, ON M5G 2E5

If you are emailing your comments, you may also want to copy the Building and Development Branch at the Ministry at codeinfo@ontario.ca. This Branch is responsible for development of the code.