What is a “Perc” test? - Compass Land and Real Estate

What is a “Perc” test?

A perc test, short for "percolation test," is a soil and site evaluation conducted to determine the rate at which water can be absorbed by the soil in a specific location. This test is essential for assessing the feasibility of installing a septic system or an onsite wastewater treatment system for a property. The percolation rate of the soil affects how well the septic system can treat and disperse wastewater into the ground.

Here's a general overview of the process to get a perc test and its purpose:

  1. Contact Local Authorities: The first step is to contact your local health department or relevant regulatory agency. They will provide you with information on the specific requirements and regulations for perc tests in your area.

  2. Hire a Soil Tester: You will need to hire a qualified professional, typically a soil engineer or a licensed perc tester, to conduct the perc test. The tester will visit the site and perform the necessary evaluations.

  3. Site Evaluation: The soil tester will assess the soil type and conditions at the proposed location for the septic system. They may dig test pits or boreholes to examine the soil's characteristics at different depths.

  4. Perc Test Procedure: The actual perc test involves digging a test hole and filling it with water. The water level is monitored over time to measure the rate of water absorption by the soil. The test is typically conducted by pouring a specific amount of water into the hole and observing how quickly the water level drops. The rate of water absorption is expressed in minutes per inch or minutes per centimeter.

  5. Interpreting Results: Based on the perc test results, the soil tester will determine if the soil is suitable for a septic system. If the percolation rate is too slow, it indicates that the soil may not be able to handle the wastewater appropriately, and alternative solutions may be required.

  6. Septic System Design: If the site passes the perc test, the soil tester will use the results to design an appropriate septic system that matches the property's wastewater output and the soil's percolation capacity.

Once a property passes a perc test, the buyer will be able to take those results and file for a septic permit with the county in which the land resides. Then, let the construction planning begin!

The main purpose of a perc test is to ensure that the soil at a given location can effectively treat and disperse the wastewater from a septic system without causing environmental or public health hazards. Properly functioning septic systems are crucial for treating wastewater before it returns to the groundwater table, so perc tests play a vital role in preventing contamination and ensuring safe disposal of wastewater on-site. It's also important, when you're buying land that requires a well to be installed. You wouldn't want to provide any drinking water from a well that has absorbed contaminants from the surrounding soil.

The choice of obtaining a percolation test is ultimately up the the buyer, during the due diligence period, before closing on a piece of property. If land is being purchased with plans to build a home or rental property that will require a septic, our advice is to make this step a priority. Being able to handle any produced sewage or provide clean water, is going to be a make or break for proper usage. It will also determine what size home will be able to be constructed, so it's an important step.

If a buyer isn't planning to build, a soil test may still be a good idea. You may not have to follow through with approval from the county for any permits, but when buying a piece of vacant or raw land, it often doesn't come with a full history. There may be contaminants from prior use or even just the environment that could be dangerous. It is not uncommon to find contaminants, such as chemicals from pesticides (like arsenic), radon, asbestos, lead, etc. If there is any flowing water on the property, the likelihood of contaminants may increase, as it allows particles from other places to pass through the property and possibly infiltrate the soils on the prospective purchase.

When you purchase land through a development company, you should look for the term "guaranteed buildable". That means that the soils on a particular parcel have been tested to ensure that when you're ready to build, the soils will pass a percolation test. When touring any property for sale, you will often notice colored flags, or holes in the soil where the tests have been completed. At Compass Land and Real Estate, we have our own team of soil scientists that eliminate the risk of purchasing a piece of land you can't build on. For more information on this process, or to learn how our soil tests are performed, feel free to reach out to one of our land consultants. Do your due diligence and Perc Away!