A Guide to Buying Land in Maryland
There are many, many things that need to be considered when you decide to buy land. This guide is designed to give you some basic information and guidance. We are available to answer any questions that you have and to help you with your search for land. Please feel free to Contact Us with any questions that you have.
First and foremost is whether or not the land is suitable for whatever purpose the buyer has in mind ... building a home is usually the main reason. The ease with which a particular piece of land can be built upon depends on many factors, including the zoning of the land, the status of school seat allocations, the number of other building permits active in the area, and the availability of water and sewer and other infrastructure (electric service, natural gas service, etc.). Obviously, if natural gas isn't available to a property, that can be overcome by either using propane or oil for heating and cooking. There are also other sources of evergy that could be available.
The biggest hurdle is whether or not the land has access to public water and sewer services. If it does, then the process is simplified, but will involve the jurisdiction that supplies the services. If there is no public water and sewer, then you would need to be concerned with installing and maintaining a well for water and a septic system for disposal of waste water. For that to happen, you would need to have a successful perc test done.
The information that we are providing here came from the Charles County Department of Health, Division of Environmental Health Services. Much of it, unless specifically noted, is relatively generic. If you are interested in land in one of the neighboring Counties, we will help you with gathering information from the other jurisdictions to give you a complete picture of what to expect. This information is only a guide. If you want more information on perc tests, you should contact the Department of Health for the County in which you plan to build.
What is a Percolation (Perc) Test and Why is one Performed?
Basically, a perc test is a hole dug or bored into the ground into which water is poured then measured and timed to determine how rapidly it will be absorbed into the soil, much the same way that water percolates through coffee grounds in a coffee maker. The test is performed to determine if a proposed building lot is capable of supporting an on-site sewage disposal (septic) system.
A perc test indicates if the ground will absorb the water required for a septic system ... and how fast the water will be absorbed. The absorption rate is used along with the size of the proposed house to determine the amount of septic drain field that will be required.
What is a Water Table Test?
The water table test is simply a hole dug at the lowest elevation of the proposed septic area for the purpose of determining the depth to free ground water. This ground water level must be established to ensure that there is adequate separation between the septic system and the water table.
How is a Perc Test Done?
Generally, the water table test is performed first, and a hole is dug to the depth of the water table or to the limits of the machinery, whichever comes first. After that, the perc holes are dug at the depth of the most permeable soils that are a minimum of four feet above the water table. For example, if the water table is encountered at 15 feet, the perc tests could be performed at anywhere between 2 feet and 11 feet deep, depending on the location of the "best" percing soils.
What is a Good Perc Location?
When choosing a perc location, you should look for an area that is on higher ground with good natural drainage. Ideally, the area should be close to the proposed house site, but lower in elevation. An area of no less than 100 x 100 feet is required. The area should also be free of steep slopes, creek beds, drainage swales, etc.
In Charles County:
You can obtain additional information from the Environmental Health Office at 301-609-6751. An application can be obtained from the Charles County Health Department, Environmental Health Department, Environmental Health Services. The application should be completed and returned with the applicable fee and a site plan of the property.The site plan should show land boundaries and the approximate location of the proposed house, perc location, driveway, and existing wells or septic systems that are within 100 feet of the property line. The Department will accept hand-drawn site plans for testing five or fewer lots, but plans for subdivisions of six or more lots must be prepared by a Maryland registered engineer or land surveyor.
The Charles County Requirements for a Satisfactory Perc Test
For a perc test to be considered satisfactory in Charles County, the soils must demonstrate the following abilities:
1. Function Hydraulically (i.e., Percolate): According to Maryland Regulations for Charles County, soil that will percolate water at a rate of less than 30 minutes per inch in a one cubic foot hole is uncommon in Charles County because the actual test depth is often over five feet deep, which (per OSHA) prohibits using a shovel to dig the hole. When a round auger test hole is used, it should be not greater than 16 inches. This exposes approximately the same side wall area as a cubic foot hole. If the round test hole is smaller than 16 inches (auger holes are commonly 8 to 10 inches), the following conversion factor will be used on the percolation rate.
2. Provide Adequate Treatment: This refers back to the need for a water table test to insure prevention of contamination of the ground water of the State of Maryland.
3. Soil Consistency: The purpose of performing more than one perc test is to determine that there is soil consistency in a large enough area to support an on-site sewage disposal (septic) system. A minimum of 10,000 square feet may be necessary if soil and land conditions require it.
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