How’s My Dirt?

Everyone you meet knows something that you don’t.”

-Bill Nye


-When a soil investigation is needed regarding the installation of a septic system, always contact the county health department for a list of their approved scientists. No one wants to pay for a soil test (approx. $400) that they can’t use.

-Even if you are unsure of your exact design plans for your house, look at some house plans online to determine an approximate “footprint” (even a possible detached structure) so you can map it out prior to your soil test. This is especially important if it is a smaller lot/buildable area.

-Attend the appointment with the soil scientist if at all possible. This is a great opportunity to learn about your property (water table, soil types, drainage).

Our story…

      Once under contract, the timeline for all of the contingency periods began. The most important contingency is being able to put in a septic system, which is determined by the results of a soil investigation and the county health department. I contacted the Shelby County Health Department to get a list of their approved soil scientists. I contacted Jeffrey with Soil Strata and set up an appointment. Jeffrey requested that I stake out a general future location of the house and any other desired improvements (detached garage, patio, pool, etc.) prior to the appointment.

      Michelle and I had been looking at a few house plans online and discovered that most had a “footprint” of 65’x80′ or smaller. We headed to the lot equipped with pink flags. We considered things such as distance from the road and orientation so we won’t have direct afternoon/early evening sun on the back patio. We decided on a set-back of 120′ from the road with the front of the house facing the northwest. I also staked out the location of a possible 30’x30′ detached garage. We won’t be building that any time soon, but wanted to keep the area “sacred” for down the road.

      I met Jeffrey at the lot one Sunday afternoon and explained our thoughts for the location of the house, etc. After walking the lot, Jeffrey recommended that we move our proposed house location closer to the road (75′ vs. 120′) to provide a better location for the septic field. After I adjusted the pink flags, he began taking his soil samples. He took one sample from the proposed home site and one at each corner of the proposed septic field (4) that he had previously marked. I quickly became educated about seasonal high water tables, soil horizons, and the soil sampling process. The entire process took 3.5 hours, partially thanks to all of my questions!


      When finished, Jeffrey concluded that the property should be suitable for a septic system (the health department makes the ultimate decision); however, he cautioned against putting in a basement since the seasonal high water table was at a whopping 10 inches (shallow=not good for basement, but great for a well!). Needless to say, I left our meeting with mixed emotions…

      After the appointment, Jeffrey compiled his results and sent a copy to us and a copy to the health department. The health inspector, upon receiving the information, will next visit the property to determine the specific type of septic system required.