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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

This page answers some of the most often asked planning, building & on-site sanitation questions. We know this information can be confusing, so we are here to help. Remember that each property is different. There is no one answer for all properties. If your specific question isn't answered here, or you need more information, please call us at 503-842-3408.

PLANNING

BUILDING

                                       ON-SITE SANITATION

  1. What is a septic tank and what is the purpose of a septic tank?
  2. How often should I have a licensed septic tank pumper pump the septic tank?
  3. Will septic tank additives prevent my septic system from failing?
  4. How can I find a licensed septic tank pumper?
  5. Will a garbage disposal adversely affect the operation of a septic system?
  6. What is an absorption field and what is the purpose of an absorption field?
  7. What is a sand filter?
  8. How long does a sand filter system last?
  9. Why is a sand filter system so expensive?
  10. Can I build my own sand filter system?
  11. How do I contact a licensed septic system installer?
  12. What is the difference between a standard system and an alternative system?
  13. How does Tillamook County determine what type of septic system must be installed?

How do I find the zoning and minimum lot size for a property?

Tillamook County doesn't currently have zoning maps available online. Please call 503-842-3408 and ask for a planner to obtain this information. Please have the map and taxlot number of the property ready. If you don't have this information it will take longer for us to help you.

Once you know the zone, you can look up the rules for that zone in Article 3 of the Land Use Ordinance.

How do I find the flood zone for a property?

Flood zone maps are available online through FEMA.

For the most accurate information, you will need to hire a private surveyor to complete an Elevation Certificate. We will require Elevation Certificates before construction in certain flood zones.

Can I build a (house, business, etc.) on my property?

Once you find your zone, look at the permitted uses in the relevant section of Article 3 of the Land Use Ordinance.

In most zones, some uses will be permitted outright, and some will be permitted conditionally.

Is my property buildable?

We cannot tell you if a property is buildable or not. Many factors, including parcel size, topography, zoning, access and utilities will affect the type, placement and size of any structures on the property. Tillamook County simply defines a parcel as buildable if one is able to obtain a valid building permit.

What if my property is smaller than the minimum lot size?

The minimum lot size is for the creation of new parcels. If your legally existing parcel is smaller than the minimum lot size, that alone would not impede the construction of a single family dwelling. Other uses may be allowed depending on the zone and use.

Can I divide my property?

If your property is at least twice the size of the minimum lot size for the zone, you may be able to divide your property. Important factors to keep in mind include access, existing development, utilities, on-site sanitation requirements, and required lot dimensions. Properties in some older subdivisions may already be divided into separate smaller lots.

Not every large property can or should be divided. It is possible to divide your property legally and end up with parcels that are not buildable or marketable. Consideration of all applicable aspects can prevent this from happening.

If you are interested in dividing your property, please call 503-842-3408 and ask to speak with a planner.

What are my setbacks?

The setbacks for your property depend on your zone, the type of use, and adjacent streets, uses and zones. Setbacks can be very site-specific, so it is best to call 503-842-3408 and ask to speak with a planner. Please have the map and taxlot number of the property ready.

Setbacks are always measured from the property line. For front yards, this is almost always NOT the edge of the street.

How tall can I build?

The height limit for your property depends on your zone, and how close you are to the ocean or a bay.

In most of the county, residential height limits are 35 feet, with 24 foot height limits on oceanfront or bayfront parcels. In Neahkahnie, height limits are 24 feet with 17 foot height limits within 500 feet of the ocean. Some parts of Pacific City have additional height restrictions. Call to determine the status of your property.

Height in most of the county (except Neskowin) is measured as an average. Take the level of the existing grade at the center of each exterior wall. The average of these grades, compared with the highest point of the roof, will give you the height of the structure. In Neskowin, the roof of a structure may follow the contours of the existing grade.

If you have questions, please call 503-842-3408 and ask for a planner. Please have the map and taxlot number of the property ready. If you don't have this information it will take longer for us to help you.

When am I required to get a permit?

Permits are required for any new construction, as well as alterations and additions to existing building, including structural, plumbing, mechanical, electrical, manufactured housing, boiler, and elevator work.

However, there are some exceptions to the structural requirements. If you aren't sure you need a permit, call the Tillamook County Department of Community Development at (503) 842-3408.

Why do I have to buy a permit to build on my own property?

Oregon law requires you to obtain permits - even if you build on your own property - to ensure that minimum building standards are met for your own safety and for the safety of future property owners and occupants.

Who is responsible for obtaining permits?

The property owner/contractor is responsible for obtaining structural, mechanical, electrical, plumbing, on-site wastewater system and manufactured dwelling setup permits. For electrical work, Oregon law requires that if an electrical contractor performs the work, the contractor is responsible for obtaining the permit. Electrical permits are non-transferrable.

How do I obtain a building permit?

To obtain a building permit you must complete a permit application. Permit applications are available by contacting the Department of Community Development at the Tillamook County Courthouse. Application must include construction plans and a scale plan of your property.

Land use, sanitation and public works approvals are required before a building permit is issued. Contact Tillamook County Department of Community Development about these requirements prior to applying for your permit.

When can I start work?

When an actual building permit is issued to you, work can begin. The permit must be available on the job site and to the inspector. Initiating work prior to permit approval will result in an Enforcement action.

If you've submitted plans and specifications, one set of plans stamped "Approved" will be returned to you. These approved plans, along with the building permit card, must be available on the job site and available to the inspector.

When am I required to obtain local zoning approval?

You're required to obtain local land use/zoning approval for any new structure and for work that improves a structure, increases the area or height of a structure, or changes the use of a structure.

You may be required to obtain local zoning approval for electrical and plumbing work prior to a permit being issued. Contact your local your Tillamook County Department of Community Development.

Where do I get applications?

You can obtain permit applications online by calling, writing or visiting the Tillamook County Department of Community Development in the basement of the County Courthouse at 201 Laurel Avenue, Tillamook, OR 97141 or calling (503) 842-3408.

Can I get a permit application through the mail?

Yes. Contact the Tillamook County Department of Community Development. When seeking a permit application through the mail, be sure to state your name, phone number, mailing address, job location, and type of permit application you need.

You should receive your application form within three to five working days. Permit applications can also be faxed or emailed to you if requested.

How long will it take to get an approved permit?

Your permit will be issued to you when all of the required information listed on the application is received and reviewed.

If your project requires a plan review, the permit will be issued and plans and permit mailed to you after your plans are approved. Time frames can change depending upon the complexity of the project and the level of information submitted with your application.

What happens if I forget to send all necessary documents and fees with the permit application?

We'll contact you by phone or mail to request additional information or fees for processing you application, and this may cause a delay.

How do I determine fees for a permit?

Fee schedules and valuation tables are available to help you determine permit fees. The Building Official will determine the value of work.

When does my permit expire?

Your permit expires if work isn't started and at least one inspection has occurred within 180 days from the date of issue. Once you have begun work, your permit expires if work is suspended or abandoned for 180 days or more. This can only be done once.

If you can't work within a 180-day period and don't wish to abandon the project, you may submit a written request to extend your permit for an additional 180-day period.

On-site system septic permits expire 1 year after issuance date whether or not construction has started.

Why do I need a plumbing permit to replace a water heater?

Oregon law requires plumbing permits for water heaters because of potential safety hazards such as fire, electric shock, or explosion.

When do I have to hire an architect or engineer to design my project and prepare the plans?

An engineer or architect is not required for any occupancy building that has a ground area of 4,000 square feet or less, and is 20 feet high or less; or

any single family dwelling; or
any farm agricultural building, or
any accessory building to a single family dwelling or farm agricultural building.

You must have engineered plans for alterations or repairs to the structural portion of existing buildings with a ground area over 4,000 square feet or over 20 feet in height, or when the occupancy classification requires a fire and life safety review, regardless of the building's size.

Work in Geologic Hazard areas may require a report by an engineer and/or Geologist. The Department of Community Development can help you determine if you property is in a Geological Hazard area.

For other work, the requirement for engineered plans may be waived when the nature of the work is such that code provisions can be determined from drawings.

When are drawings of plans for review and approval required?

You must submit structural plans or drawings for any new building construction, or for addition or alteration to an existing building. You also must submit plans for commercial plumbing projects.

Plans aren't required for nonstructural repairs and work for which a permit isn't required. However, a change in use or occupancy may require plans, even though there are no structural alterations.

Check with the Department of Community Development to determine whether a change in use or occupancy permit is required.

What technical information do I need to submit with my plans?

You may be required to submit some or all of the following:

  • plot map
  • floor plans
  • specification
  • elevations
  • mechanical, plumbing, and electrical drawings
  • on-site system construction plans and specifications
  • foundation plan
  • energy documentation
  • structural calculations
  • required fire protection equipment
  • For information, contact the local building department at Tillamook County Courthouse.

    Can a permit be issued before the plan review is approved?

    No. All plans must be approved prior to issuing permits. However, with special permission from the local building official, a partial permit for footing only, or foundation and footing only, may be issued.

    How can I contact a plans examiner or inspector?

    You may contact a plans examiner or inspector by calling your local building department at 842-3407 or call to request an inspection at 842-1815.

    What's the reason for the 12 percent surcharge on all building permits?

    The State of Oregon collects a 12 percent surcharge on all building permits. This money is used to cover the State's costs of administering building codes programs, inspection costs, and training and other educational programs.

    The Department of Environmental Quality office charges a $60.00 administrative fee for each sanitation permit the County issues.

    What is a septic tank and what is the purpose of a septic tank?

    The septic tank is nothing more than a large settling chamber where semi-solid materials settle to the bottom of the tank (sludge) and buoyant materials such as greases, fats and paper products float on the liquid surface of the tank (scum). The septic tank is constructed out of either concrete, steel, fiberglass or polyvinyl chloride (PVC). All new septic tanks sold in Oregon maintain a minimum liquid capacity of 1,000 gallons. The 1,000 gallon septic tank has sufficient capacity to process effluent flows from a one bedroom to a four bedroom single family residence. Larger capacity septic tanks with liquid capacities exceeding 1,500 gallons are installed where wastewater flows exceed the discharges that would typically be discharged from a four bedroom maximum single family residence. Septic tanks predating an installation date of 1980 may have liquid capacities of 500 gallons, 750 gallons or 1,000 gallons.

    The purpose of a septic tank is really quite simple. As previously stated, the septic tank is a large settling chamber. Primary, typically anaerobic (without oxygen), treatment of the effluent takes place in the septic tank. Plumbing fixtures in the structure served by a septic system discharge liquid and semi-solid wastes to the septic tank. Wastes, both liquid and semi-solid, are detained in the septic tank for approximately two to three days. This time period allows the semi-solid matter to settle to the bottom of the septic tank. Greases, fats, and other buoyant materials such as toilet paper accumulate on the liquid surface of the tank. A turbid, semi-clear zone of liquid referred to as effluent forms between the sludge and scum layers. The effluent is then discharged by gravity flow or by an effluent lift pump to either a pretreatment unit such as a sand filter or directly to the absorption field.

    Septic Tank

    How often should I have a licensed septic tank pumper pump the septic tank?

    The septic tank is designed to detain and store solid and semi-solid matter as well as various buoyant materials. Over time, these materials will accumulate and build up in the septic tank. If the materials are allowed to accumulate for an excessively long period of time, they will eventually reduce the volume of the effluent zone in the septic tank. At this point sludge and scum can be discharged directly to the pretreatment unit or the absorption field. The discharge of these materials directly to a pretreatment unit or to the absorption field is the single leading cause of septic system failures in Tillamook County. Therefore, regular pumping of the septic tank which will remove these materials is required. The septic tank should be pumped at intervals of approximately four (4) years by a licensed septic tank pumper. Regular septic tank pumping is the cheapest form of insurance you can purchase that will guarantee the long term satisfactory operation of your septic system.

    Will septic tank additives prevent my septic system from failing?

    There are many types of septic tank additives on the market. Many claim to provide thorough cleaning of the septic tank which will result in the septic tank not requiring periodic pumping. Other products attest to their ability to enhance digestion of the septic tank contents by introducing bacteria or enzymes to the septic tank effluent. A great many of these products claim to be the only product available which will prevent a complete failure of the septic system from occurring. All these claims are simply unsubstantiated .

    The septic tank is designed to operate satisfactorily with all the discharge components from the plumbing system of a commercial structure or a single family residence. The septic tank is designed to settle and remove materials from the effluent waste stream that could adversely effect a pretreatment unit or an absorption field. The septic tank is not designed to provide a high level of digestion and treatment of the effluent contained in the tank. In fact, the anaerobic environment of a septic tank is not conducive to the complete digestion and treatment of the effluent in the septic tank. The addition of chemical additives, bacterial additives or enzymes will not stimulate the chemical and biological properties inherent in the septic tank to digest and treat the effluent more efficiently. A recent study by the EPA clearly showed that septic tank additives are not effective in producing effluent discharges from septic tanks that were radically different than septic tanks into which no additives were introduced. Simply stated, do not waste your money on septic tank additives. Save the money you may spend on septic tank additives and use it to have the septic tank pumped every four (4) years by a licensed septic tank pumper.

    How can I find a licensed septic tank pumper?

    Septic tank pumpers advertise in the phone directory Yellow Pages under Septic Tanks & Systems - Cleaning. The companies in this section of the Yellow Pages should all be licensed septic tank pumpers. Verification of a current septic tank pumping license can be obtained by calling the Tillamook County Community Development Department, On-Site Sanitation Division, phone number (503) 842-3409. The Tillamook County Community Development Department, On-Site Sanitation Division also maintains a current list of septic tank pumpers operating in Tillamook County. You can obtain this list by either visiting our office in the Tillamook County Courthouse, 201 Laurel Avenue, Tillamook, OR, contact us by phone at (503) 842-3409 or simply click pumper list for the list of septic tank pumpers providing services in Tillamook County.

    Will a garbage disposal adversely affect the operation of a septic system?

    There are no State statutes or administrative rules limiting the use of a garbage disposal when a septic system is used to process sewage wastes. However, it is strongly recommended that you do not use a garbage disposal when you discharge sewage wastes to a septic system. Excessive use of a garbage disposal can cause a septic system to prematurely fail. The septic system failure results from the garbage disposal discharging a finely ground mix of solid matter that will not completely settle in the septic tank. This fine material passes through the septic tank and then either completely clogs the distribution network of a pretreatment unit or clogs the distribution network of an absorption field.

    If you do use a garbage disposal, use this unit sparingly. One suggestion to avoid the use of a garbage disposal would be to use a composting bin. Reuse of the compost wastes benefits not only the plants where the compost is spread but it also benefits the environment by reusing materials that could cause a septic system failure.

    What is an absorption field and what is the purpose of an absorption field?

    The absorption field is also called a drainfield, leachfield or subsurface disposal field. The absorption field consists of a series of trenches containing an approved drainfield media into which effluent is discharged from the septic tank. The approved drainfield media consists of either clean drainrock with the rock ranging in size from 3/4 inches to 2 1/2 inches, gravel-less PVC chambers or Styrofoam bundles. Trenches utilizing drainrock or Styrofoam bundles discharge effluent through a perforated pipe into the drainrock or the Styrofoam bundles and then into the soil. Trenches utilizing gravel-less PVC chambers discharge effluent directly through the chamber to the soil.

    The purpose of the absorption field is to utilize the unsaturated portion of the soil to provide aerobic (with oxygen) treatment of the effluent through the chemical, physical, and biological properties of the soil. Viruses, parasitic worms, pathogenic microbial organisms and various chemicals and chemical compounds are effectively treated and removed by passage of the effluent through the unsaturated soil surrounding the absorption field trenches. Research has shown that the passage of effluent through as little as twelve inches of unsaturated soil removes all of the harmful constituents contained in the effluent. The effluent has been effectively cleansed leaving only water. The soil absorption field provides secondary and final treatment of the effluent discharged directly from a septic tank or tertiary and final treatment of effluent discharged from a pretreatment unit such as a sand filter.

    Absorption Field

    What is a sand filter?

    A sand filter is an alternative type of septic system used to pretreat effluent discharged from a septic tank. The sand filter discharges the pretreated effluent to either an absorption field or directly below the sand filter unit itself. A sand filter that discharges effluent directly below the sand filter unit is called a bottomless sand filter. This type of sand filter is only used where rapidly draining soils such as sands or gravels are present. In either sand filter type, a very high quality (clean) effluent is discharged for final treatment in the soil. The sand filter represents a tertiary treatment system where primary treatment of the effluent occurs in the septic tank, secondary treatment of the effluent occurs in the sand filter, and tertiary treatment of the effluent occurs in the soil. The sand filter is used to insure that surface water and subsurface water resources are not adversely impacted by effluent discharges from a residence or a commercial structure. Parcels with soils that evidence high water tables, parcels that have rapidly draining soils overlying shallow water tables, parcels that are in close proximity to surface water bodies or parcels with limited development area are all potential candidates for the use of a sand filter system<.

    A sand filter, in simple terms, is nothing more than a biological treatment unit that utilizes natural processes to treat and cleanse the effluent. Effluent that passes through a sand filter is broken down and consumed by aerobic bacteria that populate the individual sand grains of the medium sand in the sand filter.  Additionally, the relatively large surface area of the individual sand grains in the medium sand provides an area of high ionic potential and an area which maintains a constant exchange site for gases and oxygen which facilitates the treatment and destruction of the constituent viral, biological and chemical compounds contained in effluent. In other words, a sand filter utilizes beneficial bacteria, oxygen, and chemical reactions to treat and purify the harmful components of the effluent.

    How long does a sand filter system last?

    This question is often asked as people compare a sand filter to an oil filter that a car utilizes to cleanse engine oil. The real truth, however, is that the sand filter is not really a filter but a biological treatment unit. A sand filter can operate for a considerable number of years if regular maintenance of the sand filter occurs. There are sand filters that have been operating in Tillamook County in excess of twenty years with no operational failures. Sand filters do, however, require regular maintenance to remain operational for extended periods of time.  Regular maintenance is the periodic but regular pumping of the dosing septic tank by a licensed septic tank pumper, and a yearly inspection of the effluent pump components to determine if they are operating satisfactorily.  All operational problems associated with a sand filter system must be corrected immediately to maintain the satisfactory operation of the sand filter system.

    Why is a sand filter system so expensive?

    Sand filter systems are expensive. The high price associated with a sand filter system is due to the materials and system components required to construct the system and the amount of time it takes to build the system. A typical standard system takes approximately two (2) to three (3) days to construct while the alternative sand filter system can take seven (7) to fourteen (14) days to construct. The time it takes to construct a sand filter system increases the costs associated with equipment time necessary to build the system and equipment operator expenses.

    Can I build my own sand filter system?

    Oregon Administrative Rules grant the legal parcel owner or a licensed septic system installer the authority to install a standard system or an alternative system such as a sand filter system once a permit has been issued for the construction of the system. It is strongly recommended, however, that you should not try to install a sand filter system yourself unless you have experience installing this type of system sometime in the recent past.

    The requirements for submitting a complete set of sand filter plans are quite extensive. A handout is available from the Tillamook County Community Development Department, On-Site Sanitation Division that details the plan requirements for a sand filter system. After reviewing these plan requirements you will either grasp the complexity of their development or you will be unable to envision how the plans can be developed. If you are able to develop the required plans and specifications thereby allowing you to secure the construction installation permit, the next step is constructing the sand filter system. As previously stated, the sand filter system takes a considerable amount of time to build and requires special skills and abilities as well as specialized construction equipment to properly build the system. Any cost savings you might envision by building the sand filter system yourself, quickly disappear as you struggle to find and rent the right construction equipment, purchase the sand filter system components and then, if required construction inspections establish that the system components were incorrectly installed, correct the noted problems. It has been repeatedly experienced that owner installations of any type of septic system usually result in the system installation taking a considerable time to complete and the cost of installing the system amounting to a great deal more than the owner anticipated. It is, once again, strongly recommended that you seek the services of a licensed septic system installer to install a sand filter system.

    How do I contact a licensed septic system installer?

    Septic system installers advertise in the phone directory Yellow Pages under Septic Tanks & Systems - Contractors, Designers & Dealers. Most of the companies in this section of the Yellow Pages should all be licensed septic system installers. Verification of an installers current septic system installation license can be obtained by calling the Tillamook County Community Development Department, On-Site Sanitation Division, phone number (503) 842-3409. The Tillamook County Community Development Department, On-Site Sanitation Division also maintains a current list of licensed septic system installers operating in Tillamook County. You can obtain this list by visiting our office in the Tillamook County Courthouse, 201 Laurel Avenue, Tillamook, OR, contact us by phone at (503) 842-3409 or simply click installer list for a current list of Tillamook County licensed septic system installers.

    What is the difference between a standard system and an alternative system?

    A standard septic system is a system that has a septic tank that discharges effluent by either gravity flow or by an effluent pump discharging effluent under low pressure to an absorption field where the effluent is distributed to the absorption field trenches by gravity flow. The absorption field trenches contain a twelve (12) inch depth of drain media and the depth of the trenches, based upon soil and site conditions, ranges from a maximum depth of thirty-six (36) inches to a minimum depth of eighteen (18) inches.

    The alternative septic system designation applies to all other septic systems that deviate from a standard septic system configuration. The alternative septic tank can discharge effluent by either gravity flow or by an effluent lift pump. A pretreatment unit, such as a sand filter, can be installed between the septic tank and the absorption field. The absorption trenches, depending on soil and site conditions, can contain drain media that ranges in depth from twelve (12) inches to thirty (30) inches. Gravel-less, shallow installation, low pressure distribution chambers can be installed, in some sand filter system installations, that have no drain media in the trenches and are no deeper than ten (10) inches below the ground surface. The minimum burial depth for an alternative septic system absorption trench, again depending upon soil and site conditions, can be ten (10) inches to the base of the trench and a maximum burial depth of forty-two (42) inches to the base of the absorption trench.

    How does Tillamook County determine what type of septic system must be installed?

    Tillamook County maintains a contract with the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) which enables personnel employed by the Tillamook County Community Development Department, On-Site Sanitation Division to administer and regulate the State mandated requirements for the installation of new and repair septic systems. Part of this administration and regulation is associated with the proper siting and installation of a septic system as it applies to the soil and site conditions within the parcel boundaries and directly surrounding the parcel boundaries of a proposed or existing development site.

    Establishing the proper septic system for installation within the bounds of a parcel requires that test pits must be dug in the area of the proposed absorption field installation site. Oregon does not perform percolation tests for the installation of septic systems as is common in other states. Direct observation of the soil profile and close attention to features in the soil indicating where a water table perches along with a detailed mapping of the parcel are all utilized to establish the type of septic system that must be installed. The review and description of a soil profile is accomplished by personnel from the Tillamook County Community Development Department, On-Site Sanitation Division physically entering the test pits and describing the soils exposed on the side walls of the test pits. The test pits are usually dug by a backhoe and have minimum dimensions of two (2) feet wide by three (3) feet long by five (5) feet deep.

    Monday April 14, 2014 11:53 AM

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