The Brown County Board of Health is in the final stages of approving a new septic ordinance, and it could change how people buy and sell houses that are on septic systems.
That includes most houses in Brown County, as only Nashville, Gnaw Bone and Helmsburg currently have sewer service.
The changes would have homebuyers sign an affidavit saying that they or the seller have had the septic system inspected, and that they will limit the number of rooms used as bedrooms to match the capacity of the septic system.
If there are problems with the septic system, the seller or buyer would have to fix them before the sale. The affidavit would state that if a home is occupied and has a failing, failed or undersized septic system, the owner could face legal actions up to condemnation.
The most significant change from the existing ordinance relates to bedrooms.
The size of septic systems the county requires is based on the total number of bedrooms, in order to attempt to account for the number of full-time residents.
The current ordinance attempts to define what is or is not a bedroom, regardless of how the room is actually used.
The new ordinance would leave it up to the homebuyer to decide how many of the rooms in a house are actually bedrooms.
The affidavit would have a blank to fill in the maximum number of rooms the buyer will use as bedrooms. If that number is greater than the capacity of septic system, the buyer or seller would have to upgrade the system in order for the purchase to go through.
A exception could apply to the age of the house.
A septic system installed today must have 500 gallons of capacity for each bedroom in the home, said county environmental health specialist John Kennard. So for homes built, for instance, in the 1970s, the level would be about 330 gallons, which was the standard of the time.
Affidavits would be kept on record at the Brown County Health Department and Brown County Recorder’s Office.
Someone looking to purchase a home could get the affidavit from the last time it was sold, said health board member Linda Bauer. That would allow them to verify that the number of bedrooms a seller claims the home has matches the number it had in the past.
Additional costs would likely be added to the home sale as part of the process.
In order to determine whether a septic is functioning and properly sized, the new ordinance would have the seller and buyer pay for an inspection of the system.
Though some home inspectors already do dye tests — in which colored water is sent into the septic system to find if liquid from the system is reaching groundwater untreated — those tests don’t actually show whether a system is failing, Kennard said.
Also, such a test shows nothing about the system’s capacity, including if it has lost capacity over time, he said.
The new inspection the health department is working on would be based on state standards and would determine whether the septic system can properly treat the waste from the intended number of occupants, Kennard said.
The health department would register inspectors who are able to conduct the tests, and home inspectors could earn the certification, Kennard said. The health department hopes to keep the cost for the inspection under about $400.
At a special meeting of the health board Jan. 3, board members reviewed changes to the ordinance but will not vote to approve those changes until their Monday, Jan. 17 meeting.
Health board President Jim Zimmerly said he would like to follow the health board’s approval with a joint meeting of the board and the Brown County Commissioners. He said that would allow health board members to answer any questions the commissioners have before the ordinance is handed to them for a vote.
Once the health board is finished with the ordinance, it must be read and voted on twice by the commissioners in a public meeting before it would take effect.
The Brown County Board of Health will meet to discuss the draft septic ordinance at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 17 in the second-floor Salmon Room of the County Office Building on Locust Lane.