Cottage Q&A: Holding tanks, yes or no?

Two plastic holding tanks in a sand pit By Hamik/Shutterstock

I’m thinking of installing a holding tank at the cottage. Are there any restrictions on doing this?—Paul Belay, via email

Most definitely. You might not even be able to get the go-ahead to put one in, depending on your jurisdiction. In B.C., for example, “health officials are relatively restrictive about this,” says John Rowse, the executive director of the BC Onsite Sewage Association. “Holding tanks are usually considered the least desirable option. You need to have a really good reason for installing one.”

Ditto for Ontario, where holding tanks—they’re typically made of plastic or concrete and hold waste until it’s removed by a sewage hauler and taken elsewhere—are only allowed in certain circumstances, for example, if a regular septic system won’t fit or as an interim measure until municipal sewers are available. “They’re something of a last resort,” explains Bill Goodale, a septic system inspector with Ontario’s Township of Tiny. “You can’t just choose to have a holding tank.”

Even if you could, there is at least one big reason not to. They’re expensive: they need to be pumped out continually and “that price tag adds up very quickly,” says Rowse. Example: for a family of four using the cottage all summer, each weekly pump-out could cost around $300, he says. “That’s a big chunk of change.” And kind of a crappy way to spend your money.

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