Managing Wastewater in Your MHC
Water and sewage can be the two biggest expenses of running a mobile home park. Many of the parks you will be looking into will be hooked to the city water and sewer lines. In that case, you don’t have to worry a lot about the sewer in terms of the maintenance cost, unless there is a problem in the lines.
When it comes to sewer lines, your best option by far is PVC lines. If the park has them, you are much less likely to see many complicated sewer and plumbing issues. If you are not running on city sewer (and in case you are on them), you might encounter some other sewer line materials as well.
Clay tiles are relatively fine; they were the material of choice in the 60s and 70s for sewage lines. With them, the most common problems you might see are root intrusion, a plant's root running in through the cracks in the tiles. This can create a real mess if the root grows and prevents sewage from passing on. If you have a treatment plant, this lack of sewer intake might have adverse effects on the plant.
Iron pipes prevents root intrusion, but it's prone to get rusted and failing in places. Too much damage in iron sewage pipes can be costly to replace, but if you have to, make sure you go with high-grade PVC.
When you have to work on sewer and water, make sure you hire a certified plumber. Ideally, someone who works with or has worked with your park's plumbing in the past. In many old parks, a small plumbing mistake can turn a sewage leak into a very smelly disaster.
Different Wastewater Systems
The most common wastewater system you will encounter will be the city sewers. One issue that is sometimes seen in communities that are built on lower ground is the need for lift stations.
You see, wastewater and sewage are not “pumped” like the line water, and it needs gravity to move towards its destination. It mostly isn’t an issue when the sewage is moving from mobile homes to the mainline, because most mobile homes are a bit elevated to begin with. However, if your main sewage line is below that of the city, you might have to pump it up. This is where a lift station comes in. The most common lift station type for parks to pump the sewage uphill is just a couple of motors and a collection area (tank).
The most common problems with lift stations are motors going out because of the stuff people flush down in the toilets (most common of which is underwear.) If both motors go out, the sewage will be coming in, but not going out. So it's going to come out of the lift station, and it would be a huge mess to clean up.
The same thing can happen if the electricity goes out. If you have that kind of situation, a smart thing to do is to keep a generator and replacement motor handy. Another way you can minimize the risk is by closing off the main water (after informing your residents). If the lift station is built smartly, it can have a funnel outlet that you can connect to a tank or a temporary hole in the ground to contain the mess.
If the park doesn’t have a connection to the city sewer and water, you will usually encounter two options: wastewater treatment plant or septic. Some very old parks might still have a cesspool system, but it's a sanitary disaster. We would highly recommend staying away from it.
Septic is cheaper to maintain and replace if there is a problem. If your park doesn't have one, buying a wastewater treatment plant can be costly. The prices start from $250,000, and it’s always a good idea to have a large enough plant that operates at half or about 60% of its capacity when your park is full. This will ensure long life and fewer issues.
However, a lot of parks have been working successfully with well-maintained plants, and many park owners have found it a less costly solution than city sewer.
It’s always a good idea to have a certified plumber on the payroll. If it's out of your budget then try getting your routine maintenance worker trained in your community's plumbing. It would help if you also keep in touch with a good service that you can call to handle any sewerage emergencies. Most wastewater management issues can be resolved at reasonable prices and time if you or your management act quickly. Don't wait till the problem becomes a full-blown disaster.
Let me know about your prefered tactics for MHC wastewater management in the comments below.
-Virgil Nethercott, CCIM
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