When your buyer is interested in a property with a septic system, I am sure you always ask the seller to produce a Title V certificate to protect your buyer. As we know, repair or replacement of a septic system could cost anywhere from $10K to $25K. No buyer wants to unexpectedly incur this cost and they expect you in your infinite wisdom and professionalism, to protect them from it with coordinated inspections and Title V report results from the seller(s).
What if I told you there was another underground system (ironically spawned from septic system technology) that Greenwich Realtors are overlooking with every triggered home inspection? Then what if I told you these systems cost just as much or more to replace or install and serve a critical purpose for the home in most cases?
Now what if I told you that in most every instance, our system inspections are turning up a myriad of alarming critical install flaws and performance issues? At some of the most expensive homes in Greenwich, CT which on the surface appear squared away and buttoned up, we have uncovered major system flaws that have had us digging up the yard and tearing up 200sf+ of bluestone patio with jackhammers!
If you knew there was a high likelihood your buyer was interested in a home with a compromised system, would you take some investigative action? What if I told you the Town of Greenwich is mandating maintenance of these systems replete with proof of inspection every 5 years by a Professional Engineer? Do I have your attention yet?
Okay, enough with the suspense. The purpose of this article is to educate the local real estate professional, inform you of our findings as inspectors and systems installers, explain what your options are and let you know how it all works.
The system I continue to refer to here is a home’s “Stormwater Management System”. The major manufacturer is CULTEC, Inc. who is headquartered in Brookfield, CT. You may often hear a stormwater system referred to as a “CULTEC system”, and contractors and builders use that vernacular.
What Do These CULTEC Systems Do?
There are a number of things these CULTEC stormwater systems do. With a push from the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), it is becoming increasingly important that pollutants are captured by homeowners on their own property to keep them from being carried away to ultimately pollute our water sources and our oceans. These systems are designed by engineers to capture the “first flush” (first 15 minutes of rainfall) which contains the most pollutants from your property. Pollutants can be oil products, fertilizers, animal feces, bacteria, soap chemicals, etc. Three specific pollutants are the focus of the federal government’s Clean Water Act: bacteria, phosphorus and nitrogen. Capturing these three pollutants “locally” goes a long way in reducing the overall impact to watershed areas. The EPA, and in CT the DEEP, are pushing municipalities to police their own watershed areas and CULTEC systems are a great way to drastically reduce pollution volumes. Stormwater systems perform other critical roles though such as conveying rainwater from your roofs away from your foundation, keeping the house dry. This is done by tying rain gutter systems into the stormwater system. Additionally, stormwater systems can successfully control surface runoff damage and erosion by capturing surface runoff and sending it into the stormwater system as well. This can protect your lawns, landscapes and driveways from being destroyed by surface runoff.
What Do These Systems Consist Of?
Each system is unique based on the design engineer’s approach. A commonly used CULTEC chamber, the 280HD has an installed length of 7ft, a width of 47 inches and a height of 26.5 inches. They are tubular polyethylene open-bottomed shells that can be connected to another, creating rows. The rows are set on a bed of loose stone and then surrounded by more stone. All of this is set into a trench 6ft or more below grade.
We see most new construction in Greenwich is being required to incorporate stormwater systems into the build. The systems are being required by either the Wetlands Department or Engineering, depending on the property. This has been a major trend since about 2013. That said, we see the number of annual permits since 2013 that required stormwater systems trending upward. There were just under 100 permits issued in 2014 with required stormwater systems. Mind you, some permits were issued for very small additions, patios or detached garages and the like. The point is Greenwich is taking this seriously and whenever a construction plan involves impervious new development, Greenwich wants an answer to capture runoff. ‘Impervious’ means a surface unable to let water pass through it. Examples are roofs, driveways, tennis courts and patios. You get the idea.
How Do You Know If A Property Has A Stormwater System?
It’s not directly obvious. One sure way is to check town hall records for as-built plans, declarations and Operation & Maintenance Plans (O&M Plans). These are the records created during the permitting process that speak to the stormwater system. The other way to know if there is a stormwater system onsite is by physical inspection. Tell-tales are ground drains that the gutter system downspouts tie into, observation port(s) that give us a look inside the CULTEC chambers and/or cement catch basins that convey water into multiple pipes. One pipe may tie into an adjacent catch basin as an overflow, one may send water into CULTEC chambers and yet another may be an overflow pipe that sends overflow into the town storm drain. If there is a new construction element on the property since 2013 or the house is a new build, there is a high likelihood there is a CULTEC stormwater system on the lot.
Is Greenwich Enforcing System Maintenance?
Yes, they are! Lets first look at the “Maintenance Declaration” they make the owner sign in order to be awarded the permit. The declaration explicitly spells out each maintenance task the Town of Greenwich expects for said system, like “the drainage system is to be cleaned twice annually, once in the Fall, following the falling of all leaves…” and “the owner shall maintain annual inspection records, which shall include maintenance logs, invoices, and other related stormwater system information” to name just two line items within. This declaration is then signed off on by the owner(s), notarized and then recorded by the town clerk. The declaration references an O&M Plan and all the plans are generally identical. We see two types of O&M plans thus far, but we will not get into differences between the two of them here. They all call for cleaning/servicing twice annually and an inspection by a professional Engineer every 5 years, complete with a formal, stamped inspection report. Additionally, we know the town has begun sending letters to homeowners inquiring about the 5-year O&M Plan results and reminding homeowners to remain compliant.
Our firm has sat in and met with Town of Greenwich DPW Engineer Scott Marucci to discuss this. Mr. Marucci informed us that about 100 letters went out focused on those homes at or beyond their 5-year inspection date. We have also spoke to many of the homeowners who have received the letter.
Is Stormwater System Maintenance Actually Important?
We have found them to be CRITICALLY important, as reflected in our field findings during servicing and engineers’ inspections. The findings were so alarming that Connecticut Gutter, LLC has formally teamed with CULTEC, Inc. to spearhead a higher level of service. Connecticut Gutter, LLC has become the first “CULTEC Certified Maintenance Provider” nationally. As a “CULTEC Certified Installer”, we know the intricacies of designing and installing the systems but with CULTEC’s direct input and partnership on system maintenance, we are implementing best practices and instituting preventative maintenance programs to keep homeowners away from expensive trouble as well as compliant with local land use law.
What Have We Found In The Way of System Issues Or Failure?
Here is just a short list of common problems we find daily, as we service these stormwater systems. Some are due to improper original install and others are due to sheer lack of maintenance:
(1) Pipes penetrated and subsequently clogged by tree roots
(2) Dead-ended pipes going nowhere (we find this on over 50% of homes!)
(3) Silt and debris-filled catch basins (we are averaging removal of over 400lbs of debris in an average 4ft deep catch basin!)
(4) Clogged inlet pipes from debris sent down rain gutters and associated downspouts
(5) Water penetrating foundations from water spillage at inlet pipes situated close to the foundation
(6) Collapsed or badly cracked pipes due to weak/inferior pipes used at install
Who Is Connecticut Gutter, LLC And How Can They Help Greenwich Homeowners?
Connecticut Gutter, LLC is a Greenwich-based specialty contractor focused on providing best-in-class solutions and services as it pertains to rainwater and stormwater collection and conveyance. We are residential and commercial roofers with multiple HAAG Engineering Inspector certifications, which often finds us working as client advocates in property insurance claims. We also install premium rain gutter system solutions with an exclusive in CT with the RainPRO rain gutter series by Englert, Inc. With respect to stormwater systems, Connecticut Gutter, LLC stays at the leading edge of installs, retrofits, inspections and maintenance. Here are a few ways we can immediately go to work for you or your clients with respect to stormwater systems:
(1) Town Hall Document Collection (As-Builts, Declarations, O&M Plan)
(2) System Inspection and Professional Engineer Services
(3) System Maintenance (Water Jetting & Camera Inspection) - *CULTEC Certified Maintenance Provider*
(4) System Installation & Retrofits - *CULTEC Certified Installer*
(5) Rain Gutter System Replacement or Corrections to protect stormwater system
Have There Been Any Legal Broils Locally Regarding Stormwater Systems?
Absolutely! We haven’t seen any regarding a real estate transaction (after all, we know its “buyer beware”) but we see many lawsuits filed by folks who are now suffering from their neighbor’s water runoff. These suits are filed as ‘continuing trespass’, ‘private nuisance’, “violation of General Statutes 13a-138(highways may be drained into private lands)’ and ‘negligence’ suits and are backed by damage to real property. This is usually caused by compromised or failing stormwater systems or inadequately sized systems that cannot handle the volume of water being displaced. Some suits are neighbor versus neighbor and others are homeowner versus Town of Greenwich. This brings us back to why the Town of Greenwich enforces the install and maintenance of such a system in the first place. The Town of Greenwich requires that new construction not adversely affect and/or increase the flow of surface water to adjacent properties. Like any business entity, they clearly need to manage liability and monetary losses. If the town required a stormwater system during the building approvals phase, then had the owner sign off on a declaration stating they’d maintain and inspect the system, a future lawsuit between neighbors may not have much exposure for the Town of Greenwich. Expect the Town of Greenwich to continue to increase its involvement in stormwater system performance and maintenance.
What Should You As A Realtor Take Away From This?
(1) There is an ever-present underground system, as expensive as a septic system, that like any other system, requires upkeep and routine inspections
(2) It’s a MUST to make an inspection of an existing stormwater system part of your standard home inspection contingency when representing a buyer
(3) If your seller has an O&M Plan, maintenance checklist and/or an inspection report from previous stormwater system inspections, it would be wise to get those documents in order
(4) Legal action against failing stormwater systems is a real and present danger. Don’t make yourself a part of it!
Make sure you are educating yourself and your team. Our staff is available to visit your office for an educational segment, upon request.
For futher information, please contact Francis J. Heneghan directly at [email protected]