Building an RV park: Septic system approved! Costs escalate

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By Machelle James
Our phone rang at 5:00 p.m. last Friday. We were in the middle of fixing a propane gas leak on our friend’s travel trailer. As I hurriedly answered the call, I didn’t know who it was. To our surprise, it was our Septic Engineer, Marc, advising us our sewer system is ADEQ (Arizona Department of Environmental Quality) approved.

Our septic system was approved with no changes requested

Marc told us that the confirmation email he received advising that our septic system was approved indicated there were no comments or change requests – it was approved as written. It is very common for ADEQ to come back and request changes, modifications or explanations. That our septic system was approved is a true testimony to Marc for his expertise of being #1 in the septic tank world of going #2! (Please pardon the pun.)

We celebrated with our friends who were visiting us with cold beverages by a warm campfire. AJ and I felt a massive release of stress knowing that we can now move forward with the waste water treatment system. We are now in a rush to see what we can accomplish before the ground freezes. Our Alternative Septic Installer, Dan, is coming over today to give us an update on when we can start digging. Our first snow is coming in 2 days and we hope we haven’t missed our window of opportunity before the ground freezes and the soil is too hard to dig.

Why do they have to test our soil 18 feet deep?

We also had to have a geotechnical company come out and drill 18 feet into the ground. I truly have no idea why this test is needed, so I copied this from designeverest.com’s website to explain it to us all.

What does the Geotech Report entail?

The Geotech Report offers an analysis of the chemical and geotechnical qualities of your soil. The findings of a geotechnical report should include general information on:

Identification of the type of soil
The strength and density of the soil
Any organic material or contamination present
Ground water and soil compaction
Foundation design recommendations
Seismic design factors
Solutions for any foreseeable problems

Most importantly, within this report will be the findings of the type of soil present on site and if it is capable of supporting the proposed structure. Reports will provide a description of the site conditions and geological data, as well as provide appropriate recommendations for site preparation, drainage control, and any conditions that might affect the project. Once all geological elements of the site are identified, then the civil and structural engineer can use the Geotech Report to move forward in designing the appropriate foundation and structure.

Geotechnical company drilling down 18 feet

Now we all know why this report is needed, so we can determine if our soil will collapse under harsh weather conditions by heavy weight usage of RVs and so the fire trucks won’t sink into the ground if they are needed.

We have to have our roadways tested

By the way, we were just informed by the County that we needed to have the roadways tested, as well. It sure would have been helpful to have this knowledge since they were already here last week! Boring those TWO holes cost us $4,500! I cannot even imagine how much it will cost to test a mile of roadway. I am having severe anxiety over the cost of having them drill where our roads will be.

Our saving grace is that the RV Resort up the street has to have it done as well, so we will have it done on the same day to help with transportation costs of this huge piece of machinery. It is still going to cost an arm and a leg and since I don’t have a price yet, it worries me.

Update on our loan and skyrocketing costs

Speaking of our loan, we met with our bankers and they told us we can request a one-time increase in our loan since the numbers usually do increase when the hard estimates come in.  Since COVID hit, the price of lumber has tripled! Our check-in store is now costing us 3 times as much and we are seriously in a panic!

The fires across our country have lumber costs skyrocketing as well as less employees being able to actually work in the sawmills. We knew there would be some cost increases, but this is just ridiculous. We already submitted the store plans to our Building Department for a permit, and to change it this late in the game would push it back several months – and it might not get built in time if we go with a metal building.

Our Civil Engineer told us we would have all our Final Engineering Improvement Plans on Friday. That way we can give them to our General Contractor and they can FINALLY bid out all the projects to submit to the bank. After that, we need to have our Electric Plans engineered by Navopache Electric, and we can start digging in the ground for our water and electric.

What type of fence should we choose?

Concrete fencing

We stumbled upon a fence company in our state that makes unique fence panels that look like actual wood! I fell in love with the product as is not only severely cuts down on the highway noise, it lasts a LIFETIME! It is concrete panels that are reinforced with rebar. The elk and deer can’t knock it down as they jump the fence – hence, saving on fence repairs.

This fencing would be a solid barrier along the highway and along our entrance road (approximately 1900 linear feet). Then for the back of the property, we would still use cedar fencing as a privacy fence for our neighbors. (Approximately 1900 linear feet here too.)

Can you help us decide what fence we should choose?

We have a tough choice to make as we decide which way to go. Do we spend the money upfront if we ask for a loan increase and get the one-and-done product? OR do we stick with the cedar option all around and repair fence panels for a few years? Your feedback on that would be great if you have been in this situation.

The cost difference is $175,000 vs. $100,000. This cost difference may not seem like much to you, but with the added septic costs, the added check-in store costs and the fencing, this will add up to almost $300,000 more. We still don’t have the hard costs for the ground cover and the electrical installation yet. These costs can very well push us to over $1.5 million. This is probably why you don’t see many new campgrounds being built by Mom and Pop business owners like us – the costs change constantly!

Who knows what will happen in the coming weeks. I will be excited to share with you the changes we encounter during this uncertain time.

Thank you for following our updates and our roller coaster of a ride to build our campground. We truly appreciate your support and kind words!

Until next time, See You in the Trees! And please leave a comment!

AJ, Machelle and Jenna

Read previous articles here.

Machelle James and her husband, AJ, are building, from the ground up, a 15-acre RV park in Heber-Overgaard, Arizona, in the beautiful White Mountains 140 miles from Phoenix. Follow them on Facebook @ AJ’s Getaway RV Park or on Instagram at ajsgetawayrvpark.

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Robert
28 days ago

Machelle, take a trip to Show Low and look at the miles of wood fence hung on galvaed posts and frame. You will find it all over but especially in Bison and Torreon. These fences have been up for a lot of years and can withstand the wind and elk.

Machelle James
27 days ago
Reply to  Robert

Hi Robert! This is a great idea as the fences around here are not quality fence material. Thank you for the suggestion and we will take a look when we drive over to Show Low!

Jim G
1 month ago

10% of your project cost for fencing is too much when you have a lot of other high cost items such as permits, engineering, roads, utilities and an office. You should be able to save money in your budget here. It’s a good time to question the reason for installing the fencing? Is it required by the permits? You mentioned road noise, but you will only get a few decibel reduction with a concrete fence even if you build it very high (12’-14’). A 6’-8’ fence will provide no noticeable reduction. Sound reduces logarithmically with distance. So unless you plan to have RVs parked within 50’ of the road, I would go with a 42” high open slat/picket fence. The value of commercial property with the highway frontage you have is the visibility. You could be paying lots of extra money to reduce your visibility, and thus the value of your investment. Reconsider the type of fence on the other property lines. Wire mesh field fence is inexpensive and won’t block views. Will the neighbors share costs?

Jim G
1 month ago
Reply to  Jim G

Draw up some details showing what you want built, and get at least 3 bids from reputable contractors. Make sure they are all giving you a price for the same thing, so you are not back in this boat looking at two very different options with huge price differences. When you sign the contract, make sure it is a fixed price so they don’t come back and tell you your costs are increasing because material costs have gone up. The only price increases should be if you decide to make changes to the contract.

Machelle James
1 month ago
Reply to  Jim G

Hi Jim! So on 2 sides on the property we are required to have a solid fence per county regs. Whether is be Cedar or concrete fencing as you can see in the photo. The savings would be 75k out of our fence budget, which we had 75k budgeted for. We need to fence off 15 acres and we knew it would be pricey. Now with rising wood prices, we are pushed higher all around. We need to ask for a loan increase no matter what due to rising costs and hard pricing. Our bank said this is normal as we get to the nitty gritty of building the Campground.
We don’t know which way we are going as of today, but I will certainly keep you posted!
Thank you for your help and input as we decide what to do!

kevin
1 month ago

Think about Providing basic internet service or a pay as you go system.. I stayed in several campgrounds with pay as you go Internet. Loved it. Bandwidth is not hogged by the WIFI boosters so its usable. I’m told there is a shared cost and shared revenue stream between the IP service and the Campground owner. I’m not sure how many people will pay, but I’m guessing over 50% of the campers.

Machelle James
1 month ago
Reply to  kevin

Hi Kevin! We have a tough choice to make regarding Internet. We either have to pay $750.00 a month for Frontier to come in and install a T1 one with a 3 year contract. OR
We wait for next year when Starlink comes up here and we pay $80.00 a month. In the meantime, our campers would have to use their own data until we can Starlink up and running. It’s a gamble for sure by having our guests not have Internet immediately. We are terribly unhappy with Frontier as they constantly go out and we have NO Internet. Some may pass us by for a few months and others may find they like the solitude. I’ll keep you posted!

J J
1 month ago

What’s your time horizon before you sell? (Always have an exit plan!)

That will help determine which option you should go with.

Concrete at $175,000 now, which likely has to have some type of maintenance requirements such as annual sealing. Be certain you understand those requirements. Also, “lifetime” rarely is. Know who is backing the warranty, what it actually covers, and what it requires to keep the warranty in force. “Lifetime” likely is the warranty duration if that. A good reality check could be to just look at all of those sound barriers along the interstates that deteriorate prematurely. When you pick the color of the concrete, consider fading, streaking, and deterioration of the color and how it may look in five years. Honestly, no one cares beyond the first impression. It is what it is and the color of the fencing will not make any difference to whether people make reservations or come back for subsequent stays.

J J
1 month ago
Reply to  J J

Had to split this inti two comments due to the length.

Or cedar now at $100,000 and have to replace it in ten or fifteen years and will have more frequent maintenance needs? One advantage is that the replacement cost may be spread out over several years by periodic panel replacements. But…that probably will be an operational expense versus a capital expense and that may change the tax calculation.

I know this sounds like I’m favoring cedar but I’m not. There isn’t much that is “set it and forget it” nowadays and I tend to favor low-maintenance even if it raises my initial costs.

If your horizon is ten years then consider pushing the cedar replacement cost off on the next owners and go cheaper now.

Machelle James
1 month ago
Reply to  J J

Hi JJ! So our exit plan is to keep our Campground and have our children run it when they are older. One of our Sons already wants to join in now..but he needs to stay in the Military for at least 10 more years.
We have had great feedback on our FB page from other Campground Owners and more specifically, ones from up the street from us.
Due to the intense winds and animals, it was recommended to do the concrete if we can afford it.
They said the Elk rip down the fences panels and the winds knock them over at least once a month. We want the concrete fencing so we don’t have to worry about fixing fencing often. BUT when we get the hard bids back , we will make a decision!!

Ken C
1 month ago

If a cut in a rail is necessary, immediately place the cut end of the rail in a bucket of Copper Green wood preservative for at least 24 hours to allow the preservative to soak in as far as it will go so as to gain some of the protection the original pressure treating provides. Use the type of nail (usually hot dipped galvanized or stainless steel) the manufacturer of the pressure treated wood requires to prevent chemical reaction and deterioration. By all means use cedar fence boards for the pickets. They weather so much more beautifully than does redwood or other woods.
Regarding a concrete fence the ones in the picture look nice and should hold up a long time. However, a concrete fence is extremely difficult to repair in the event of damage and often the repairs stand out like a sore thumb because they do not match the original, especially if the manufacturer goes out of business. Usually the repair is much more expensive than a wood fence.
Hope this helps in your decision!

Ken C
1 month ago

My recommendation for fence posts is heavy hot dipped galvanized steel pipe with a cap on top buried in high strength concrete two to two and a half feet depending on soil strength no more than eight feet apart. Simpson makes special clamps for attaching wood rails to this type of post.

The next thing where a wood fence goes bad is the rails. Where the problem comes is the size and placement of the rails. Getting this wrong usually results in ugly sagging. most people use two 2×4 rails and often place them with the 4″ side horizontally. My recommendation is to use good quality 2×6 treated wood (necessary to avoid rot) with the 6″ side vertical. Use three rails. This prevents sagging and also prevents the cedar pickets from bowing. Picket bowing often happens using only two rails. Try to design the post layout so that eight feet long rails can be used without cutting.

Machelle James
1 month ago
Reply to  Ken C

Hi Ken! You definitely know your trade! This is super valuable information for us! Your expertise in this area is very much appreciated.
AJ will be following your recommendations should we use wood fencing. Thank you SO much for these tips to keep our fence lasting as long as can be!!

TomS
1 month ago
Reply to  Ken C

Galvanized posts will last the longest, but you need to consider frost heaving, they will slowly come up. Consider a bell shaped hole, larger at the bottom. If you have that much wind and you go for a wooden fence think staggered slats so the wind is less of a problem. One thing about concrete is it will continue to off gas CO2 forever. Whatever your decision I’m sure it will be the right one. Good luck. If you have 10% of Chucks readers visit you should be busy for a long time.

Ken C
1 month ago

Something to think about with either fence is repairs. Repairs to a cedar fence is fairly easy and can be done by any fairly competent carpenter or handyman and is less costly than concrete walls. While concrete wall can last almost indefinitely they do have their own problems.

Where most wood fencing goes bad is using wood posts. Even treated posts tend to rot near the ground level whether buried in soil or in concrete. In my sixty years of building fence, about the only wood posts that seem to last along time are railroad ties that are not cut in any way. Exposing the interior wood of a railroad tie in any way beyond nails or lag bolts subjects them to the same problem of rot and pests as any other wood post. Plus, they are ugly! The only other long lasting wood post that I have seen are cedar posts that have the buried part burned/charred roughly a quarter inch deep as high as a few inches above the ground level. This helps to keep rot and pests from entering the wood

Roger and Joni Weed
1 month ago

I like the light colored rebar cement fencing. We has a very similar product put in at our home on the high plains of Colorado. Winds here are frequently over 60mph gusts…to 100mph in the past. Our fence has been up now for 20 years, still looks fantastic and has had no degrading.

Machelle James
1 month ago

Hi Roger and Joni! OH MY GOODNESS!! You just made my day! It is so good to hear this from someone who actually has this type of fencing! It makes me so relieved to know it holds up to the wind and it has no degrading! I TRULY appreciate you giving us the facts about this type of fencing! This is a great testimony!!

Goldie
1 month ago

I will also vote for the one and done approach. The other way just costs more money overall. But I would also check out composite wood (Trex is one brand). We use it on our docks here and it stands up to everything thrown at it. Might be a cost compromise that would give you a longer life span.

Machelle James
1 month ago
Reply to  Goldie

Hi Goldie! This is a great option that we didn’t even think about! It obviously can hold up to the wind and elements! I will check it out and see if we can compromise of need be. Thank you so much for your input!!

Mike
1 month ago

If there is some way you can swing the one and done, I would go with that. There is always going to be things you have to repair and replace and any time you can find a way to minimize it, you should. That said, I know it’s a budget hit, but maybe there’s some way to do a portion at a time, although that likely would result in overall increased costs.

I really look forward to reading your articles every week. If we ever get out your way, would love to visit.

Machelle James
1 month ago
Reply to  Mike

Hi Mike! Thank you for the feedback! I agree with you and I think AJ is beginning to see the light! Thank you so much for following our Campground journey as we really value our readers!

Thomas D
1 month ago

Cedar doesn’t rot? Since when? Ive replaced my deck twice now. The TREATED lumber that holds the deck up is like new. The deck boards have rotted. Id build with pressure treated wood or composite. My deck is now composite. Cheaper than cedar too.
Best of luck, I can’t imagine how tired you guys are from jumping thru all those hoops. We need less government interference. I often wonder how years ago anything got done. Oh, yeah, minimal government oversight.

Machelle James
1 month ago
Reply to  Thomas D

Hi Thomas! Well that is an option we haven’t considered yet! Composite is very sturdy and I do like the look of it too! Thank you for planting that seed and I’ll do some research on it!

Donald N Wright
1 month ago

AJ, who manufactures the concrete fence?

Machelle James
1 month ago

Hi Donald! The Manufacturer is Freedom Fencing in Queen Creek, AZ.
Website is freedomfencing.com .
Mark, the owner, came up here, walked the property and showed us the products and educated us on how it is made. He is a really good guy and no matter what we choose, we will recommend him and his company!

Rick
1 month ago

Is it possible to have the roads “scanned” instead of drilled using electro scanning or magnetic scanning as has been used on Oak Island? Should be much cheaper and may give them all the info they need. I would stick with cedar fencing all around. Cedar doesn’t rot so your only problems would be damage caused by wildlife or bad camper backers. So the actual repair costs should be fairly minimal and I would buy plenty of extra panels while prices were cheaper and have them on hand for any repairs needed. The reinforced concrete ones sound great but I would think they are more expensive and no matter what they tell you the reinforcing will rust inside over time and cause problems and holes in the fence itself.

Machelle James
1 month ago
Reply to  Rick

Hi Rick! I have not heard of this method from our bank or the County. I’ll need to do some research as I’m all for saving costs! The concrete panels are more expensive, and as long as we seal the panels with a spray sealer, we were told they would replace any panels if rust came through at no extra cost. I hear you about cedar and we need to take all this input into consideration…

Steve
1 month ago
Reply to  Rick

“Scanning” is actually a geophysical, rather than geotechnical, survey method. But scanning is only going to give you specific physical properties of the soil, not chemical properties. In the SW, we have very alkaline soils that can cause rapid deterioration of many types of concrete and metal due to chemical interactions. Therefore, chemical analysis of the surface and subsurface soil is required for determining the need for special types of construction materials that will withstand those interactions.

I was a geological engineer who specialized in those types of soils and worked in every Western state over a 42-year career. Now I am very happily retired and enjoying my new career as an amateur historian, part-time RVer, and avid fisherman!

Machelle James
1 month ago
Reply to  Steve

Hi Steve! Wow you really do know your soil! I am curious why we can’t use our soil from where the check-in area is going for the road soil testing as well. It is the same soil throughout the property. We dug for septic in the front and back of property and it is the same soil… any suggestions ??

Daniel Kalm
1 month ago

I am for the one and done approach as well. Your in a place where you should do very well with bookings. Don’t sweat it. Karen and I would love to come up for a week when you finally open! We’re down in Tucson.

Machelle James
1 month ago
Reply to  Daniel Kalm

Hi Daniel. I agree with you 100%! Based on our location, the daily inquiries on opening, I also believe we will be very successful…however, AJ is very conservative with our projections and wants to make sure we make the income to pay for the loan… it’s a fine line between wants and needs to open. I’ll keep you posted!

Ed K
1 month ago

Keep the initial costs down, you can always up-grade as the business improves and the needs arise. I have been enjoying watching your progress and how you have been overcoming the challanges as they arrive. I probably will never get out to that part of our country so won’t get to see the finished results, but I am wishing you and your family well.

Machelle James
1 month ago
Reply to  Ed K

Hi Ed! Thank you for your suggestion! It is something we need to weigh as other costs come in. I will say how bad the winds are, this worries me on how much time are going to spend doing repair work. Another Campground Manager commented on my FB Page and said they are constantly fixing wind blown panels and people backing into the fence. Serious considerations needed for these situations.

Ed D.
1 month ago

The “one and done” option, is the way to go, in my honest opinion! I am sure you will have plenty of other “projects” to keep you busy during the year! Also, why wouldn’t you want to save that much money? Especially when the price of lumber has tripled! It was good to hear that your Septic system was approved without further changes needed. That has to be a load off of both your minds. Good luck getting the ground dug before it freezes. Hope it works out. Thank you for keeping us posted on your journey. Our prayers are with your entire family and in the end, it will be well worth the efforts! Keep smiling!

Ed D.

Ran
1 month ago
Reply to  Ed D.

I agree. Try to do it up front (now). You will be thankful later down the road! Materials will not get any cheaper, and labor cost either! Maybe you can Barter a little with the Manufacturer? Keep up the great work! We look forward to visiting your Park!

Machelle James
1 month ago
Reply to  Ran

Hi Ran! I agree with you and the cost of materials isn’t going to drop anytime soon. The fencing Owner has been great to work with and I’ll see what we can work out in the Spring. He can’t work in the snow, so we need to wait now…

Machelle James
1 month ago
Reply to  Ed D.

Hi Ed! I do want the concrete option as well, and AJ wants the less expensive option of all cedar. Then as we make an income, upgrade in a few years. I can see both sides, and I hope we make the best decision for us!

Ed D.
1 month ago
Reply to  Machelle James

Whatever you decide, I am sure you will do it right! Thanks for the response.