Choosing Your Installer

Installing A New Sewage Treatment System

6 Ways To Avoid The Cowboys

fosse-installerDo you need to install a new microstation or replace your non conforming fosse but you’re worried about about how to go about it?

Are you putting off doing necessary works because the idea of finding an installer sends shivers of fear down your spine?

Are you concerned about employing someone because of all the stories you’ve heard – stories about having illegal systems installed, tales of defects caused by bad workmanship, accounts of dishonest craftsmen, court cases and incompetences?

Then this guide is aimed at you and provides tips on how to avoid cowboy installations.

Tip 1 – Do Your Home Work

You shouldn’t think about purchasing any system without being completely sure that the system meets your needs and is suitable for your property. There are different types of system available each type having it’s own pros and cons so you really do need to do your homework.
Search the internet, phone up suppliers and talk to installers to be sure you understand fully all the options available to you and how these options meet your requirements. What you need to know is

  • what type of system you need – bades on property size, usage and land restrictions
  • in that type of system how does one system differ from the others
  • the ongoing maintenance requirements of each system and
  • how long the system warranties last

Your local SPANC (service public assainissement non collectif) office are there to provide you with any information you need and they should be able to give you independent advice.

Tip 2 – Find A Reputable Supplier

Most manufacturers do not deal directly with the public but sell their products through a network of suppliers. In theory, these suppliers should have been thoroughly trained by the manufacturers regarding their products and as such should be able to answer any questions you have. Do not hesitate to question these suppliers and obtain details regarding

  • how long have they been in business
  • what training have they been given
  • how do their products work
  • how much do they cost

Other factors you may wish to ask about are the visual impact of the installation, the level of disruption due to the installation and the noise levels generated by the systems. Most importantly make sure that the systems your supplied are approved for use in France, something you can do simply by asking for the system agreement numbers. Finally, ask your supplier to provide you with all available product information for the suggested systems as this will help when comparing the systems available to you.
fosseMost suppliers will ask for the money for the system up front so do some financial checks as well including

  • verifying the business address given actually exists
  • ensuring you have a land line telephone number
  • checking the SIRET number

A good supplier should advise you to obtain all the required planning permission before offering to sell you a system. Beware of any company that does not give this advice as they obviously don’t have your best interests at heart.

Finally, don’t always go for the cheapest supplier. As with many things in life you get what you pay for and any system that seems like a real bargain probably isn’t. A reputable supplier will only sell you a system that is authorised for installation in France, that is unused and undamaged and which is right for you. Any system price that is significantly lower than the others may be an indication that this is not the case.

Tip 3 – Find A Reputable Installer

Buying a system is one thing, getting it installed is quite another. So how can you ensure that the installer you choose will be up to the job.

Firstly check the legality of the installer, have they got a SIRET number that covers doing they work you are employing them to do and how long have they held that SIRET for.

Ask for details of previous installations. Most installers will have photos of previous installation works and ask for (and follow up on) references from previous clients.

Don’t just go with the first installer you find. Try and get quotes from at least three potential installers and question them about the installation process, how long the installation is likely to take, the equipment they’ll be using and how they intend to reinstate the site at the end of the works. A good installer will be happy to answer any questions as you have and it should be easy to tell which ones know what they’re talking about and which ones don’t.


Tip 4 – Check The Quote

Any reputable installer should be able to issue you with a detailed quote which should state on it *1

  • the date of the quote.
  • the name, address and contact details of the installer
  • the name of the customer and the address at which the works are to take place
  • details of the works involved and the materials required giving the price and quantity
  • any additional transport or delivery costs
  • total sum exclusive of tax, any taxes and the rate of tax where applicable
  • the length of validity of offer

You should also expect your installer to inform you of possible start and finish dates and of any circumstances where the details given in the quote might be expected to change. Again, be aware of any quote that is considerably cheaper than the rest as this can be an indication that the installation may include poor quality fittings or workmanship, that the installer is not working legally or that items of materials or elements of the labour have been excluded.

Tip 5 – Obtain The Correct Permission

spancIt is vital to obtain the correct permission for the installation of a new sewage treatment system preferably before purchasing the system but definitely before its installation.

Too many stories are heard of people purchasing unauthorised systems or of installing systems that are unsuitable for the property and is is not unheard of for SPANC to insist these installation are removed.
To obtain the permission a “demande d’installation d’une dispositif d’assainissement non collectif” needs to be completed. The form can be obtained from your Mairie or from your local SPANC agent. The form details the property and its owner, the type of land the property is sited on and the proposal for the installation of the new system. This form needs to be returned to SPANC accompanied by

  • a cadastral plan for the land parcel involved
  • a “plan de masse” showing where the sewage treatment system will sit in relation to the property and in relation to surrounding land and properties
  • a “schéma de projet” showing in detail the position of the installation and the flow of the used and treated water throughout the system. It also need to show system ventilation, point of water discharge and placement of inspection chambers.
  • the agreement document for the proposed system

If SPANC are happy they will issue the authorisation allowing you to continue with the works.
Not all communes however work the same. Some communes will also demand that a land survey is undertaken and other communes will insist on a site visit before granting planning permission. You will also need to obtain permission from your Mairie if you are using and communal land or drain.

Tip 6 – Check Your System And The Installation

Having chosen your system and your supplier, having interviewed and chosen your installer and having obtained the necessary permission you may think that your job is done. Unfortunately not. SPANC are making it very clear that it is the owners responsibility to ensure that the system they install is legal and appropriate for the property and the the installation is completed to a standard that ensures the correct and efficient functioning of the system. So how do you that?
First you need to check the system. Does it look new and undamaged? Does the paperwork look authentic? Has the system got the CE certificate attached stating the type of system and does this tie up with what you ordered? If you are concerned about any of these things call your local SPANC agent before proceeding further.

Next you need to take an interest in the installation itself. All systems sold should come with a full installation manual detailing the installation process and you should acquaint yourself with the process and check that all the steps are followed. Look for any obvious signs of poor workmanship such as the system not being laid level, badly fitted pipes, not all water outlets being connected to the system, rocks anywhere around the system. Don’t be afraid to ask the installer questions about what’s going on, a good installer wants you to be confident in the work they’re doing so this is never a problem.

Also, remember that in order to get a certificate of conformity, SPANC will want to see the system fitted and working before the final backfill and making good of the site. Make sure that your installer books this site visit and is there when the SPANC agent arrives so they can answer any questions.

Finally, you want to see the system functioning fully before the installer leaves. Get them to explain to you how the system is working, how you should look after your system and what the maintenance agreement is.

It is never a good idea to pay for labour costs up front. Make sure the works are done in accordance with the quote and to your satisfaction before handing over final payment.


Follow these tips and you should be able to spot the cowboys and find the good guys out there. Take responsibility for every step of the process making sure you gather as much information as possible, asking questions if you’re unsure of something, and make sure that you are happy with what is being done at each stage of the process.

*1 – this is not intended as a comprehensive list of what needs to be included on a quote. Rather it represents the minimum information one can expect on a quote from a reputable installer.