Anyone who has a home in France and is not connected to mains sewage will be affected by the rules, requirements and legislation affecting the Fosse Septique – the alternative means of treating waste water.
We asked the experts at a supplier of Sewage Treatment Systems the questions that everyone who has, or needs, a fosse septique or way of treating waste water in France needs to know:
Why should I be concerned about my fosse septique or lack of one?
Fosse septics and the treatment of waste water generally is a big issue at the moment due to recent rules and regulations which are forcing many home owners to install, upgrade or change their present sewage treatment systems.
What is the Fosse Septique legislation affecting domestic properties?
There are several pieces of relevant and current legislation that affect domestic properties.
The first came into effect in January 1992 and stipulated that all household waste water must be processed in the correct manner, by means of a “fosse toutes eaux” (a septic tank that accepts all waste waters) and a filtration system. Gone then were the good old days when households could drain dirty water into the surrounding soil or nearby ditch! Responsibility for enforcing this law was given to the local communes, who, in response, created their own professional body to ensure compliance. Yet another government agency (with all its required paperwork) was born and it was called the “Service Public d’Assainissement Non Collectif” or SPANC for short.
The second came into effect in 2011 when it became a legal requirement to include a “fosse conformity certificate” in the legal package required when selling a house. This certificate, usually issued by SPANC, assesses the conformity of the existing sewage treatment system to prevailing laws and, in noting any defects found, makes both the vendor and potential purchaser aware of any remedial actions that are required.
Additionally, European Law then had its say by introducing the European Standard EN 12566-3 2005 for “Small waste water treatment systems for up to 50 PE (people equivalents)” and, subsequently it was ruled that by the end of 2012 all sewage treatment systems that discharge effluent directly into ditches or watercourses would be illegal, unless they conformed to this standard. The French, not to be outdone by Europe, added an additional criteria to this standard.
The outcome of these new legislations was that every individual sewage treatment system would, at one time or another, be inspected by SPANC to assess its’ conformity to the prevailing laws, and that all sewage treatment systems in France must conform to the French standard NF EN 12566-3+A1 (A1 being the French bit!). For those that do not comply a maximum of 12 months is given to rectify any issues or defects.
What is the SPANC France inspection?
When SPANC perform their compliance inspections they will examine various elements of your system including:
Exact location of your current Fosse and Grease Trap
Sludge and scum levels
Condition of the pipe work
Nature of the surrounding soil
Lay of the land
Proximity to any water sources, below or above ground
They will afterwards issue a report outlining any problems, this could take several weeks to come through.
Is my Fosse Septique system likely to fail?
The systems most likely to fail are:
Those that fail to collect all used water as this negates the “Fosse Toutes Eaux” requirement
Systems which cannot be located as they will be deemed as having no system at all (if this is the case speak to neighbours or previous owners as they may be able to help)
Septic tanks without an effective filtration system as they are unlikely to meet the latest European or French standards for purification.Make sure that your system is well maintained, de-sludge it or look at replacing your filter matter as this could be cheaper than replacing the whole system.
However bad your report might be you should remember that SPANC are not there to penalize individuals, they are simply tasked with surveying individual sewage treatment systems to ensure compliance with laws aimed at preventing pollution in the French waterways.
What do I do if my sewage treatment system fails the SPANC inspection?
Firstly do not panic! Not only do you have 12 months to rectify the problems, SPANC can guide you regarding the best course of action, there will usually be several rectifying options available to you and there are even financial schemes available to assist with replacement and upgrading costs. You can even continue with the sale of your house as long as you have your inspection report and the purchaser is well informed regarding any problems. The purchaser is then given 12 months to remedy the situation (this may however be a price negotiation tool that may or may not work to your advantage).
Secondly, make sure you understand why your system failed. Your future course of action depends on this and you do not want to waste time or money on unnecessary works or equipment. Initially, speak to SPANC and most importantly DO NOT purchase any rectifying equipment without ensuring they will be happy with your solution. After all you still need to pass their inspection. We know that some SPANC officials appear unhelpful, however, they do have the information you need so keep on trying.
What are my options if I need to replace my Fosse Septique system?
There are two options, either purchase the conventional “fosse toutes eaux” with its large filter bed or purchase one of the newly approved integrated sewage treatment plants or micro-stations.
The conventional “fosse toutes eaux” with filter bed works by collecting all waste water in the fosse itself where it is separated and the lighter suspended solids are digested by aerobic bacteria and the heavier sludge waste digested by anaerobic bacteria. As this usually only results in a reduction of pollutants, germs and pathogens still remain which could pose a real threat of contamination or disease if released directly into waterways. As such the effluent then needs to pass through a filtration process where the remaining waste and toxic particles are removed before the resulting liquid is either allowed to soak away or be siphoned off . However, there are problems with these systems. A sizeable amount of land is required for the filter bed, land that can then not be built upon. They are prone to producing odours and need to emptied by a licensed waste collector on a regular basis. Additionally the sand in the filter (there are alternatives to using a sand filter) needs to be changed regularly and this could prove expensive. The size of the system also means that installation costs can be high.
However SPANC has recently started to approve micro-stations for use in France. These are single, compact units that collect and treat used water without the need for a large filter bed. These units are made up of numerous chambers, basically a settlement chamber for waste separation and bacterial pre-treatment, an aeration chamber where the remaining liquid effluent undergoes enhanced biologically treatment and a clarification chamber which removes any remaining fine solids before the effluent can be discharged. These systems tend to be cheaper to install, take up less land and usually do not need emptying as regularly as a conventional fosse. They do, however, normally require an electrical input.
What are my options if my fosse septique is passed but the filtration system needs upgrading?
You could look at replacing or installing a new filter bed. However, the land space required and the installation costs involved tend to make this a relatively costly option.
There is, however, an alternative to this solution as SPANC has now approved several compact filters for use in France. These are individual units that connect to your current fosse septic and which undertake both the treatment and filtration process. These “add on” units remove the need for a large filter bed as the resulting effluent is of such a quality that it can be discharged directly into a ditch or soak-away, or indeed used to meet gardening or irrigation needs.
How do I go about replacing or upgrading my Fosse Septique system?
Whatever the outcome of your SPANC report, always speak to SPANC before any remedial action is taken. If you don’t you could waste your time, effort and money purchasing and installing equipment that may not solve the problem to their level of satisfaction.
With some idea of why your system failed and the solution you would prefer you need to find a recognised sewage treatment system installer. Look under “assainissement” in the yellow pages (Pages Jaunes); ask SPANC for recommendations or search the internet for fosse or micro-station suppliers as some of them, like “Fosse France Solutions” (www.fossefrancesolutions.com) will have a list of installers in your area. If possible get the advice off at least three installers and speak to their previous clients.
Together you should then discuss options, research the alternatives on-line and choose your preferred system. Please make sure that your system choice is on the official SPANC listing which your installer should know about. Remember, before purchasing anything, refer your proposal to SPANC to obtain their initial approval.
Obtain a quote or “devis” your from installer. The devis should detail all the works and materials required, there should be a French version and there should be a start date for the works. The devis should also have your installers work reference (a SIRET, SARL number).
SPANC will then want all the required paperwork. In most cases you will need to complete an application form (Demande d’Installation d’un Dispositif d’Assainissement Non Collectif) which can be obtained from your local Mairie. This will require a soil test and land survey to be undertaken and a plan of where your system will go marking any water courses, ditches, trees or obstructions etc. This is not as scary as it sounds. Most of it is logical and your installer should be able to help you. This is then sent to SPANC for their initial approval. As some SPANC officers are either traditionalists, completely unaware of the latest authorised innovations or just plain unhelpful, remember that as long as your preference is on their official list (dispositifs de traitement agréés) it cannot be rejected without a significant reason. Do not take no for an answer!
With an installer and SPANC outline approval, your next step is to purchase your system. Search the internet for the best prices and make sure you or your installer contact them direct. Ask questions about their products, their payment process and delivery service and their warranties. Make sure the supplier has a French land line contact number, and ensure that either you or your supplier gets to speak to a real person who sounds knowledgeable on the subject. Also ensure that you get a quote for the supply of the system and that you know if taxes or delivery charges are included or not. Do everything you can to ensure your supplier is legitimate!
From there it is down to your installer but be aware that SPANC normally need to oversee the installation or upgrade at least one stage before completion.
Finally, you can forget about your fosse, filter bed, “add on” conversion system or even your wonderful up to the minute micro-station. Sit back and relax. And maybe await the next piece of French legislation, and the corresponding paperwork that might affect you!