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  • Writer's pictureLuke Miller

Digging Deeper: The Power of Perc Tests in Virginia Land Buying

One of the most common questions I get on a (almost) daily basis is: "has the land been perked?" followed usually by "do I need a perc on my land in Virginia?" or even, "how much does it cost to perc land in Virginia?"


Fear not! we'll answer that here.

Understanding Percolation Tests in Virginia: A Crucial Step in Land Buying

When you're in the process of buying land in Virginia, especially if you plan to build a home or establish any type of septic system, one term that should be on your radar is "percolation test" or "perc (sometimes 'Perk') test." This seemingly technical examination plays a crucial role in land purchasing, and understanding it is essential. So, let's delve into what a perc test is, why it matters in Virginia, the different soil types, and what buyers need to know about the associated costs.

What is a Percolation Test?

If you're like me and never had to deal with septic systems growing up, this might be new to you. I had to learn this when my family and I moved to Virginia, but I know a lot of locals that really don't understand the process either. A percolation test, often referred to as a perc test, is a soil evaluation that determines the rate at which water drains through the soil on a specific piece of land. This test helps assess the soil's ability to absorb and filter wastewater (from you!), which is vital for the design and installation of septic systems.

Why is it Important in Virginia?

Virginia's diverse landscapes come with a wide range of soil types. The ability of soil to effectively percolate water can vary significantly from one location to another. Sometimes land close by can be uniquely different. Understanding the perc rate is crucial because it directly impacts the feasibility and cost of installing a septic system. In Virginia, where rural and suburban living is common, many properties rely on septic systems for waste disposal. Chances are if you're buying land from me, you'll need a septic system.

Different Soil Types:

Virginia's soils can generally be categorized into the following types:

  1. Sandy Soils: These tend to have high percolation rates, allowing water to drain quickly. They are ideal for gravity fed septic systems, but careful design is needed to prevent water from reaching the groundwater too rapidly.

  2. Loamy Soils: Loam is a balanced mix of sand, silt, and clay. It typically has a moderate percolation rate, making it suitable for most septic systems.

  3. Clay Soils: Clay soils have a low percolation rate and can pose challenges for septic systems. Proper design and, sometimes, soil amendments are necessary to ensure effective wastewater treatment. If the soil is shale, or clay you will likely need an alternative septic system.

What Buyers Need to Know About Costs:

Perc tests are usually conducted by certified professionals and can vary in cost depending on the complexity of the test and the region. Here's what buyers should be aware of:

  1. Test Costs: Perc test costs can range from a few hundred to over a thousand dollars. The complexity of the test, accessibility of the site, and local market rates all influence the price. Typically in Virginia you can get the field work (digging holes and pouring water) done for around $500-$800. The design and engineering is where most of the cost is.

  2. Design and Engineering: If the perc test indicates a suitable perc rate, you'll need to hire an engineer to design the septic system. Costs for design and engineering can vary significantly, but will probably be $2,000-$4,000.

  3. Regulatory Fees: In Virginia, there are additional fees for permits and regulatory approvals related to septic system installation. These vary from county to county so it's best to call the soil engineer.

In summary, understanding percolation tests is essential for land buyers in Virginia, as it directly impacts the feasibility and costs associated with building on or developing the land. If you're worried about buying land without a perc test, the field work can usually be done separate from the design and engineering so the cost can be minimized up front.


It's advisable to work closely with a local soil evaluators to navigate this. I have often called engineers and they were able to tell me what parcels in the vicinity perced at and saved me money in the process. My advice: call locals and tell them where the land is at.

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