Septic Systems and Title 5

Residential Septic System


Title V Regulations

Town Regulations are at bottomw of page in PDF.

Who regulates septic systems?

Local Boards of Health are the primary regulatory authorities. However, MassDEP is involved in certain approvals, including many innovative/alternative technology approvals, shared systems, large systems and many variance requests. In addition, MassDEP is responsible for overseeing local implementation of Title 5 and provides local governments with training and technical assistance.

Your first contact for questions about septic systems should be your local Board of Health

When did Title 5 go into effect?

The most recent version of Title 5 (310 CMR 15.000) took effect on April 21, 2006.

What is the difference between a cesspool and a septic system?

A cesspool is a pit which acts as both a settling chamber for solids and a leaching system for liquids. The use of cesspools may overload the capacity of the soil to remove bacteria, viruses, and phosphorous, and to nitrify ammonia and organic nitrogen compounds. A conventional septic system has a tank where solids can settle and begin to degrade, a distribution box, and a soil absorption system (SAS) that further treats the effluent by removing some of the bacteria, viruses, phosphorous, and nitrogen.

Does Title 5 require every cesspool to be replaced?

No. Only those cesspools that exhibit signs of hydraulic failure, are located extremely close to private or public water supplies, or otherwise fail to protect or pose a threat to public health, safety or the environment will need to be upgraded (310 CMR 15.303). Also, cesspools must be upgraded prior to an increase in design flow (e.g., the addition of a bedroom to a home or seats to a restaurant).

What is maximum feasible compliance?

The concept of maximum feasible compliance (MFC) is "do the best you can with what you've got." Wherever feasible, a failed system must be upgraded to full compliance with Title 5. If this is not possible, in many instances the local Board of Health is authorized to approve a Local Upgrade Approval that brings the system as close to full compliance as possible in accordance with certain minimum criteria. (310 CMR 15.404-405).

What happens if I cannot meet the minimum requirements of maximum feasible compliance in repairing a failed system?

You generally will have to apply to the local Board of Health for a variance from Title 5 requirements. Title 5 provides a number of options for situations where a variance is required, including use of an innovative/alternative technology or a shared system.

In many cases, MassDEP also must approve a variance once it has been approved by the Board of Health.

What are Nitrogen Sensitive Areas?

Areas that have been determined by MassDEP to be particularly sensitive to pollution from nitrogen in sewage. Interim Wellhead Protection Areas and Zone IIs of public water supplies are specifically identified as nitrogen sensitive areas. Title 5 also allows for the designation of nitrogen sensitive embayment based on appropriate scientific evidence. (310 CMR 15.214).

Title 5 has special requirements for repairing failed systems and for the construction of new systems in Nitrogen Sensitive Areas. Talk with your local Board of Health or your system designer for details.[/url]

What are "tight tanks" and how are they regulated?

Tight tanks are similar to septic tanks, except that they have no outlet and must be pumped out at regular intervals. Title 5 strongly discourages the use of tight tanks, but they are allowed in situations where an existing system has failed and there is no other feasible alternative. Tight tanks are not allowed for new construction or increases in design flow.

How does a conventional septic system work?

Conventional septic systems are the most common type of septic system (the others are innovative/alternative (I/A) systems and cesspools). A conventional system includes a septic tank, distribution box, and soil absorption system (SAS). The septic tank separates the solid and liquid wastes and the SAS provides additional treatment before distributing the wastewater to the ground. Additional details on septic system maintenance are also available

Why are failing septic systems harmful?

Inadequately treated wastewater can transfer diseases such as dysentery, hepatitis, and typhoid fever to animals and humans. Failing systems also leak excessive nutrients and bacteria to rivers, lakes, and the ocean, destroying plant and animal habitat, closing beaches, and hurting the fishing industry.

How do I know if my system is having problems?

Some clues:
Muddy soil or pools of wastewater around your septic tank or soil absorption system.
Sewage smells around your system or inside your house.
Backups when you do laundry, take showers, or flush the toilet.

Do I really save money by maintaining my system?

Yes. Pumping your system costs between $150 and $250, and an inspection could cost $200-$400. Replacing a system could cost up to $40,000.

What are the most important things to do to take care of my system?

Pump your system at least every 3 years (annually if you have a garbage disposal). Conserve water. Don't dump non-biodegradables or trash down your toilet or sink.

What are the regulations governing the disposal of paint and paint wastes into a septic system?

Only sanitary sewage is allowed to be discharged to Title 5 septic systems. Paint and paint wastes should not be put into Title 5 systems because they can adversely affect their operation and may cause groundwater contamination.

Certain paint wastes may be hazardous and require special handling and disposal. Other paint wastes may be disposed of at local refuse disposal facilities.

When a property is sold or transferred the following must be done in order to comply with Title 5 Regulations:

You must have a Title 5 Inspection Performed by a Massachusetts Licensed Title 5 Inspector. (See below)

  • If your system passes inspection no other work is required and you may proceed to sell or transfer the property.
  • If your system fails inspection you are then required to repair, upgrade, or replace the Septic System.

The normal process that follows a failed system is to hire a Massachusetts Licensed Engineer.

  • The Engineer will first schedule a Percolation test date with Board of Health and together with the Health Agent will perform a perc test and soil evaluation.
  • Then will design a suitable Septic System based on the data collected from the perc test.
  • The Engineer will then submit the new septic system design to the Board of Health for plan review.
  • Once the Board of Health Agent reviews and approves the plans then you can proceed to the next step.

The next step is to hire a Town of Swansea approved Septic System Installer. See below

  • The installer that is hired will pull the Septic System Disposal Permit at the Board of Health office.
  • The Installer will dig the initial Excavation (bottom hole) then call the designer and Board of Health Agent for inspection.
  • After bottom hole inspection is approved the installer will build the system according to design and then once completed will call the designer and Agent for a final Inspection.
  • Once everything is completed an as-built is submitted to the BOH by the engineer.
  • The engineer will then sign off.
  • After review of the as-built the Health Agent will sign off.
  • Then once the installer fills a completion form the certificate of compliance is issued. (THE CERTIFICATE OF COMPLIANCE WILL ONLY BE RELEASED TO THE INSTALLER).


Click For State System Inspectors (SI) and Soil Evaluators (SE)