May 23, 2008
REGULATIONS FOR ADDING AN ACCESSORY STRUCTURE TO A PROPERTY
By: Gerald Barrett, Legislative Fellow
You asked (1) why the Public Health Code requires homeowners to perform soil tests when adding an accessory structure to their property, and (2) why local health departments charge a fee for reviewing soil test data with regard to the construction of such structures.
Department of Public Health (DPH) regulations require that, if soil information is not readily available, soil tests must be performed before the construction of any accessory structures (e.g., decks) on a property. According to DPH, the reason for the soil tests is to ensure that that if the structure is constructed, a code-complying area or potential repair area is preserved on the land for subsurface sewage disposal. Because of cost concerns, DPH has advised local health departments that, in some cases, they may accept limited soil testing on lots where accessory structures are proposed. Apparently, not all local health departments are allowing the use of limited soil testing because of (1) soil variation and (2) “wide disparities in soil testing documentation on file with local health departments.”
Local health departments set their own fees for reviewing soil tests and determining compliance. For example, Durham charges $125 and Windsor charges $50 to process the soil tests.
DPH regulations outline the standards that apply when an individual is building an accessory structure, such as a garage, open deck, tool storage shed, gazebo, or barn (Conn. Agencies Reg., § 19-13-B100a). Local health directors must determine that there is enough code complying space on the property to install a subsurface sewage disposal system if an accessory structure is built on the property. The property owner or owner's authorized agent must submit, to the health directors, design plans or a sketch to show the code-complying area that will accommodate a sewage disposal system.
The health directors base their determination on an analysis of the soil data and design plans. The regulations require that, in the absence of existing soil data, the homeowner must perform the soil test. If the applicant submits soil test data, design plans, or a sketch and is unable to show a code-complying area, the accessory structure must be permitted, provided it does not reduce the potential repair area.
According to DPH, some local health departments and property owners have expressed concerns about the added expense of soil testing. As a result, it advised health departments that they could accept limited soil testing if the limited testing yielded information sufficient to record pertinent soil data and a code complying or potential repair area. According to DPH, not all local departments are accepting limited testing because of soil variation and wide disparities in testing documentation (see DPH circular letter DEH #99-19 and a Dec. 28, 2000 letter from DPH explaining the regulation in detail).