Northern New England would appear to have plenty of space for new homes. But as in most areas of the country, recent development has made building lots in desirable areas increasingly scarce. Many of the remaining house lots are smaller or have soils that perc slowly, both of which present a problem for traditional pipe-and-stone leach fields. The usual solution is a pressurized septic system instead of a gravity one, but pressure systems are twice as expensive and have other drawbacks, as well. Pressure systems rely on an electric pump to carry the effluent, usually to the top of a sand mound. But even the best pumps have a limited lifespan and inevitably fail at the worst possible time. In addition, most homeowners would rather not look at a 5-foot mound of sand in the backyard. Fortunately, there are technologies that make it possible to install a conventional gravity-supplied septic system on many lots where pipe and stone are unsuitable.

Although I've been installing septic systems in northern Vermont for more than 20 years, I recently installed my first chamber leaching system to replace a failing pipe-and-gravel system. While chambers are quite popular in some states, they haven't been widely accepted in Vermont until recently, when state regulations changed to allow designers...

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