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How Much Does a Perc Test Cost?

Average range: $600 - $800
Low
$150
Average Cost
$725
High
$1,500
(one or two perc test holes more than 2 feet deep, use of larger equipment with engineering consultant)

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How Much Does a Perc Test Cost?

Average range: $600 - $800
Low
$150
Average Cost
$725
High
$1,500
(one or two perc test holes more than 2 feet deep, use of larger equipment with engineering consultant)

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A perc test, sometimes referred to as a “perk test” or percolation test, determines your soil’s water absorption rate—specifically, how much time it takes for the soil to drain. Landowners and homeowners that utilize a septic system should get a perc test before installing or replacing it. The perc test aids in designing the septic system layout and determining where to best place a drain or leach field.

A perc test is sometimes performed on one area with one hole or different areas of your property with multiple holes. The cost largely depends on the condition and size of the land. The average cost to perform a percolation test is $600 - $800, with the average customer paying $725 for a percolation test with one or two holes measuring more than 2 feet deep. Costs can be as low as $150 for a perc test with one or two shallow holes dug by hand or shovel. On the more expensive end, prices can be as high as $1,500 for digging more than two 6-foot deep holes with a backhoe operator, engineer, and septic designer on site.

Average Cost for a Perc Test

Perc Test Prices
National average cost$725
Average range$600 - $800
Minimum cost$150
Maximum cost$1,500


Updated:

Perc Test Cost by Project Range

Low
$150
One or two shallow hand- or shovel-dug holes
Average Cost
$725
One or two perc test holes more than 2 feet deep, use of larger equipment with engineering consultant
High
$1,500
More than two 6-foot deep holes using a backhoe, engineer, and septic designer

What Is a Perc Test?​

A percolation test is a special soil test 1 that evaluates the soil’s ability to accommodate a septic system to dispose of sewage under the ground. A perc test evaluates both the soil and the site to determine whether a septic system can be installed on the property. The percolation rate refers to the soil absorption rate, or how quickly soil absorbs water. This is important because a septic system installed in a location with poor percolation could lead to significant sewer backup, soil degradation, and structural issues for homes and buildings, in addition to health and safety concerns.

Perc tests are a priority for homeowners or homebuyers looking to build or develop a piece of land. If there isn’t already a municipal sewer system in place and the property is in a semi-rural or rural location, then a perc test is a must-do before any major work can begin. A licensed contractor, excavator, or professional inspector conducts a perc test by digging or drilling at least one hole, if not several, into the ground and pouring in water. This allows them to observe the rate at which water absorbs or percolates in the soil. Keep in mind the local health department is typically involved in managing these tests to ensure the health of the community. You will need proof of the perc test results before installing a septic system.


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Average Cost for a Perc Test by Land Size

When performing a percolation test on your soil, more holes equals better accuracy with test results. In most cases, at least two holes are dug with at least 40 feet of space between each one. Sometimes a hole can be small and dug by hand with a shovel. Other times, larger holes need to be dug with heavy equipment like excavators and backhoes. Professionals might charge a higher amount if they need to make more holes or use heavy equipment. Here are the average costs of a perc test based on the depth of the one or two holes dug on your property. The deeper the holes, the larger the equipment, and the more resources needed, such as engineers and septic designers.


Average Cost for a Perc Test by Land Size

Average Cost for a Perc Test by Land Size


Land Size (Acres)Number Of Holes NeededCost of Perc Test
0.25 Acre1$400
0.50 Acre1 - 2$725
0.75 Acre1 - 2$800
1 Acre2$900
2 Acres2$1,200
5 Acres3$1,500


Perc Test Cost by Hole Size

The standard depth for most holes will be between two and three3 feet but can reach up to six feet deep. The width starts at 6 inches but can be as wide as 3 feet. The size of each hole impacts the cost because if the depth or width requires a backhoe, the perc test cost may be increased by $200 or more. Here are some of the most common perc test hole sizes and the cost of the perc test if two holes are dug on the property.


Perc Test Cost by Hole Size

Perc Test Cost by Hole Size


Hole Size (Feet)Cost of Perc Test
6 Inches x 2 Feet$725
1 Foot x 2 Feet$800
2 Feet x 2 Feet$900
2 Feet x 3 Feet$1,100
3 Feet x 3 Feet$1,200
3 Feet x 4 Feet$1,300
3 Feet x 5 Feet$1,400
3 Feet x 6 Feet$1,500


Perc Test Cost

Prices vary by municipality in each state, but the average labor cost for a land perc test is around $100 to $150 per hour. As an alternative, a flat fee of $300 or more may be charged by the technician performing the perc test. Perc tests take one to three hours for undeveloped sites and one to two hours for a site that needs a septic system replacement. For complicated, larger sites, it may take up to six hours.

Sometimes an engineer is needed to determine the height of the water table. The septic designer takes measurements and helps perform the test. When looking at the soil perc test cost, keep in mind that hiring an engineer or septic designer costs between $100 and $150 per hour. Engineers assist with issues like high water tables. Engineers can come up with strategies to de-water the leaching area. They achieve this by planning out placements for gravel-filled trenches and drain pipes. The pipes and trenches move water away from the drain field 2 to make it possible for the property to pass the perc test.

Sometimes a septic system designer can perform a perc test. However, often the professional who performs a perc test is a local government agent to ensure adherence to environmental regulations. The agent can bring in other professionals such as engineers or contractors. Independent contractors can be used in some cases, but the health department may require an official to be present during the perc test to confirm the legitimacy of the results.

Depending on the soil and testing sites, the testing window is usually between one and four hours. This does not include preparations such as digging and pre-soaking. If the soil is difficult to excavate for testing purposes, the cost increases due to more labor hours and the need for heavy-duty equipment. The number of people required to perform the test changes the cost. More people equal a higher labor price. Smaller properties, where fewer holes are dug, require fewer people than larger properties.

Perc Test in Winter

Perc tests are done seasonally—usually in the spring and summer. Performing a perc test in the winter costs more since extra equipment is required. That’s because the contractor, excavator, or inspector must drill through cold, if not frozen, ground. Percolation is also naturally lower in the winter or after heavy rainfall when the soil has already absorbed a lot of water. Prices may be on the higher end between $1000 and $1,500 if multiple deep holes are required, and they need to use an excavator.


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Why to Perc Test a Soil?

A percolation test provides important information regarding soil drainage for any property owner. It is necessary before installing a septic tank or drainage system due to local health department permit requirements. A septic tank, unlike local city or town sewer systems, requires a drain or leach field 2. Good drainage is incredibly important when installing a leach field or drain field and a necessity for the wastewater disposal system. This system removes contaminants that drain out of the septic system. Improper drainage leads to the sewage backing up and contaminating the soil. A perc test determines where the leach field should go based on the drainability of the soil.

Besides septic systems, perc tests are also used for agricultural purposes. Knowing the drain rate of your soil helps determine what type of crops you can grow and where you should grow them. For example, potatoes require drier, more loamy soil than other vegetables and fruits that require moist soil. Therefore, potatoes require higher drainability than some other crops. Fruit trees need soil that drains well since over-saturation removes the oxygen and prevents root growth. However, this type of perc test is not mandated by government agencies.

Which Type of Soil Allows Water to Drain the Quickest?

The soil type factors into your perc test results and where the test should be performed. There are general permeability values for different soils you can expect if you know what kind of soil you have on your property. Most cities and rural towns have different regulations for perc tests, so keep this in mind when planning for your property. In general, these ranges are used to evaluate soil permeability.

If your soil is below 5 Minutes Per Inch (MPI), then your soil has one of the highest permeability rates and may be supplemented through alternative systems such as pressure pre-treatment or adding dense soil near the trenches. Soil between 5 and 60 MPI falls in the ideal permeability range for septic systems, as it permits a conventional leach field and does not require alternative solutions. Soil in the 60 to 110 MPI range is slightly less permeable and may require enhanced treatments such as mound systems or pressurized dosing. Soil that is 120 MPI or higher has extremely low permeability and could be improved with specialized wastewater treatment in some cases.

Clean gravel and sand have the most rapid permeability rates, around 5 cm/hour. A mix of sand, clay, and gravel is still permeable but not quite as much, around one to three cm/hour. Silt, clay, and stratified clay typically have moderate permeability lower than 1 cm/hour but more than impermeable soil, which is less than 0.05 cm/hour.

Percolation Test Report

In most locations, a perc test report is required to plan a new or renovated septic system, which is included in the price of the perc test. Once finalized, the report is provided to the local health department and becomes a public record. A perc test report provides standard data such as testing date, location of the test, technician name, and under what conditions the perc test was performed.

A standard perc test report is two pages. The first page features a graph with times of each reading, water depth, percolation rate, and any comments about the testing process from the examiner. The second page features a scaled drawing of the site plan. Within the report, it will list whether the site passed or failed the perc test. Your engineer may provide site recommendations, but that would appear on a different report, not the perc test results.

A good perc rate for a septic system is between 1 and 30 minutes per inch. Between 30 and 60 minutes per inch might require hydraulic analysis for installing a septic system. Anything under 1 minute per inch or over 60 minutes per inch is not an ideal perc rate.

How Does a Perc Test Work?

To request a perc test, you’ll need to contact local or county health or environmental agencies. The agency will inform you if a government agent must perform the test or if you can hire an independent engineer to undertake the percolation test procedure. Before a perc test is ordered, an engineer will discuss any site preparation that is needed. A survey is typically done to decide where the perc test holes should be placed. If a land survey is needed, the cost is approximately $600 on average.

To begin a perc test, holes are dug into the soil of the proposed leach or drain field 2. After the holes are dug, any loosened soil is scraped away from the sides of each dig site. A professional fills the hole with gravel to a depth of about two inches.

It is then required to pre-soak the soil to mimic septic system saturation conditions. At a minimum, 12 inches of water should sit in the hole for at least four hours during the pre-soak phase. Clay soils need to soak for longer than sandier soils. Sandy soils are porous, which means water flows through them faster. In comparison, clay soils are denser with smaller pores, making water flow through them at a slower rate. A return time is usually scheduled the next day for the technician to complete the perc test.

After pre-soaking, the actual testing procedure commences. To start, the holes are filled with water to cover the gravel with six inches of water. The technician may need to wait until the water is measuring exactly six inches before recording the depth. Measurements are then taken of the water every 15 to 30 minutes to determine how low the water is.

The percolation rate is calculated by the amount of water divided by the amount of time taken for the water to dissipate into the subsoil. For example, if the water level 4 dropped one inch every 30 minutes, the soil would have a percolation rate of two inches per hour.


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Failed Perc Test

Every city and regional area should have specific perc standards that all properties need to meet as part of the perc test. Soil fails a perc pest if it doesn’t drain the water at all or the water doesn’t drain fast enough. It can also fail if water drains too rapidly. Some properties are more likely to fail a perc test, particularly those built on steep slopes 3. A property with a low water table has a higher chance of passing a perc test than those with a high water table. A high water table indicates the presence of water in the soil that doesn’t drain properly. The site may need to go through minor or major modifications to pass another perc test ordered at a later date.


Close up of a professional taking a sample of soil for a perc test


Failed Perc Test Alternatives

If your soil fails a perc test, this doesn’t necessarily mean your soil is unusable or unhealthy. You can explore a few options further regarding the quality of your soil and how much it absorbs water. A second opinion can make a big difference to the eventual installation of a septic drain field on your property.

  • Speak to a local health department representative. Ask for any records of previous perc tests that may have been done on the property. These documents are public records. This helps you determine if the entire property was searched thoroughly for an ideal septic site.
  • Dig holes in another area of your property where there are different soils. Soil with a different composition might provide better drainage. It is possible to get a pass result for the property, even if the perc test failed in a different area.
  • Excavate deeper. Excavate deeper to get below the frost line if the perc test failed during the winter season. If perc testing is not done immediately after excavating, an insulating material like hay should be placed over the hole.
  • Appeal the results. You may be able to appeal the perc test results depending on any special considerations set by your jurisdiction. For example, if a county’s Department of Health rejects the perc test results, appeals can be made to the state Board of Health.
  • Install a treatment system with the septic. With a treatment system between the drain field and septic tank, contaminants are filtered out. A sand filtered septic treatment system costs between $6,500 and $10,000.
  • Install a larger septic tank. Larger tanks and pumping 4 them out periodically to half the tank’s volume can accommodate higher water tables by reducing waste amounts that accumulate in the tank.
  • Alternative septic systems. Alternative septic systems may be required in areas with high water tables. Consider getting a different kind of septic system, such as a mound system or grazing fields.
  • Check when failed perc tests occurred. Sometimes, a failed perc test may have something to do with when it occurred. In many locations, the water table is naturally higher or lower in certain parts of the year, usually with the biggest differences in winter and summer. The season can influence how quickly the soil drains. If your failed perc test result came in one season, it might be better to try again in six months.
  • Consider municipal water. Perc tests are important for rural properties where a septic system needs to be installed. These are areas where municipal water is not currently available, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be in the future. Consider how long you plan to leave your land undeveloped. If you don’t plan on building for several years and there’s a lot of development in the area, a municipal water and sewer system may be installed, and you won’t need to worry about putting in your own.

Septic System Alternatives Cost

There are several alternatives to traditional septic systems to consider if your property has poor percolation and you want to start building on the land. While it’s often worth it to get another percolation test after a failed result just in case an error or environmental influence affected the test. Eventually, it may be best to move toward septic system alternatives.

A mound system requires a man-made mound as the drain field. The mound is created above the natural soil line and is usually made with sand and gravel filler. Mound systems require a designated replacement area in case the system fails. Mound systems are more expensive, with costs starting around $10,000 and going as high as $20,0000 as they require more maintenance to operate.

In addition to mound systems and grazing fields, you may want to try sewer storage units. These storage tanks can be connected to the home’s plumbing and collect the wastewater until it can be picked up and emptied by the local waste management company. These tanks typically cost $300 to $900.

There’s also the option of installing a septic system storage within pole barns or horse stables to keep it away from the main house. If you can’t have an in-ground septic system due to poor soil percolation, you can build a pole barn for between $15,000 and $30,000 or a horse stable for $15,000 to $40,000 on average, depending on the size. Expect to pay about $40 to $45 per sq. ft. for these building projects.

How Long is a Perc Test Good For?

Each health department has its own rules about how long perc tests are valid. Results of a perc test are generally valid from two to five years before renewal is needed. At that time, the health department reviews previous perc test results and decides if additional testing is needed. Renewal helps government agencies confirm that the perc test abides by all the current regulations.


Laboratory assistant taking samples for a perc test


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Additional Considerations and Costs

  • Permits. A permit is not required for a perc test, but a perc test is required to obtain a septic system permit.
  • DIY. There are test kits that you buy at your local hardware store. Different areas for testing (lawn, garden, vegetable garden, etc.) require different kits. DIY is not appropriate for septic planning. A certified technician must perform the perc test or the results will be denied by the health department.
  • Septic planning. The Health Department dictates rules on planning and installing a septic system, so you’ll need to comply with those requirements. For example, some local and state governments don’t allow garbage disposal units to be hooked into septic systems since the system may not have the ability to handle the excess waste.
  • Slope. The soil should always drain water away from the house and not toward it. The gradient of the land also determines where the perc test should be completed.
  • Lab testing. The fastest way to get results is with on-site testing. In some instances, however, a lab can test the soil for content. This type of perc testing is more commonly seen in the agricultural industry rather than for septic planning purposes. Depending on how busy the lab is when they receive your sample, the turnaround for results may range from seven to ten days. Rush service is usually available. The average cost of laboratory soil testing is $1,200.

FAQs

  • What is a perc test when buying land?

A perc test is necessary as it helps determine the soil’s absorption rate. The percolation test factors into the design of a septic system for land or homes that are not connected to their local sewer system.

  • How long is a perc test good for?

Test results are valid for two to five years. After this period, the homeowner must apply for renewal through the local health department. Renewals are typically granted as long as new regulations don’t make the previous perc test results invalid. Otherwise, a new perc test will be ordered to confirm that there’s no risk of current or future soil contamination issues.

  • What is a good perc rate for a septic system?

The preferred perc rate for a septic system is between 1 and 30 minutes per inch. For results between 30 and 60 minutes per inch, a hydraulic analysis may be needed for installing a septic system. Anything under one minute per inch or over 60 minutes per inch is not an ideal perc rate.

  • How much does it cost to get a perc test?

The septic perc test cost ranges from $150 to $1,500 or higher depending on the condition and size of the land lot.

  • What is a failed perc test?

A failed perc test occurs when the soil doesn’t drain, drains too slowly, or drains too quickly. If the site has failed the perc test, re-testing at another area on the property can be ordered, or modifications may be made to improve drainage conditions.

  • How long does it take to do a perc test?

A perc test takes anywhere from 24 to 48 hours to perform from start to finish. The actual testing phase usually lasts no more than four hours. Prepping the soil takes longer than the test itself.

  • How do you get a perc test?

Contact your local regulatory agencies, health department, or building inspectors to request a perc test.

Remodeling Terms Cheat Sheet

Definitions in laymen's terms, cost considerations, pictures and things you need to know.
See full cheat sheet.
glossary term picture Soil Test 1 Soil test: Chemical analysis kit used to assess soil pH, and sometimes soil nutrients, for the purpose of making fertilizer recommendations (type, quantity, and frequency)
2 Leach field: (Also known as Drain field) The part of a septic system that is used to remove pollutants and impurities from the fluid coming out of the septic tank.
3 Steep slopes: Pitch of a roof having a vertical rise of 3 inches or more for every 12 inches of horizontal run
glossary term picture Pump 4 Pumping: A device used to move air, liquid, or gas by mechanical means

Cost to perc test a soil varies greatly by region (and even by zip code). To get free estimates from local contractors, please indicate yours.

Updated:
The information provided by our cost guides comes from a great variety of sources, including specialized publications and websites, cost studies, U.S. associations, reports from the U.S. government, contractors and subcontractors, material suppliers, material price services, and other vendor websites. For more information, read our Methodology and sources.
Professional testing the water absorption rate of a soil sample
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Cost to perc test a soil varies greatly by region (and even by zip code). To get free estimates from local contractors, please indicate yours.

The information provided by our cost guides comes from a great variety of sources, including specialized publications and websites, cost studies, U.S. associations, reports from the U.S. government, contractors and subcontractors, material suppliers, material price services, and other vendor websites. For more information, read our Methodology and sources.