Buying Land in PA - Soils/Rock Question

Started by wjabsco, July 19, 2011, 09:08:33 PM

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Greetings all -

My search for land in Pennsylvania (within a 2 hour drive of Philadelphia) has yielded what looks like a great deal on a 9 acre parcel - half flat, half mountainous, almost all wooded. Shale is noted throughout the parcel on personal inspection, and especially at the grade. The USDA web soil survey indicates channery and heavy stony silt loam.  Further, the survey indicates "very limited buildability" over the full 9 acres. However, the web soil survey indicates it may not be accurate at that close range.  Indeed there are at least 15 homes in the area marked "very limited buildability."

Does anyone have any experience building where stone is present?   I will be returning to the property to do some personal testing with a pickaxe and shovel in the next week or so.

My intent is to build a small temporary structure, and then set about a smaller set of plans from this site.  I would like the option to have a basement, and must be able to have a well and septic dug.  I would like to perform as much work as possible myself, but will hire out what is required. I own no heavy equipment.

Thanks in advance for any thoughts - I will update with more information!



I live in PA. I lived here most of my life. I bought in New York.  Here is why. Septic.

Unless you have 4 ft of usable soil you will not pass conventional septic.  My understanding from researching it a few years ago, is each county has a septic enforcement officer.  There is only one for most counties and his word is final.  He is usually a former septic contractor and friends with all the septic contractors in the area.  He is not normally friendly to homeowner installs. They are also very unfriendly to composting toilets.  Some say this is to help kick back business to contractors.  I believe it is because most are former septic installers and they would rather go with what they are familiar with.  Even when filling out the "camp" affidavit the only code that is still required to be followed and inspected is septic.  That would be the first person I would call.  Also if you do get a contract of sale, I would put a perc test clause for not only drainage, but a deep hole test and "approval for a conventional (as opposed to alternative) gravity fed septic system."  I just went through this process this month in NY.  The nice thing in NY you can shop around for a septic engineer to approve an alternative system like a composting toilet.  Don't base the fact that there are homes nearby that it is good.  Septic laws have changed drastically over the past few years.  Systems that were approved 10-15 years ago would never pass today.  You will also see mounds know as "turkey mounds" dotted all through the mountainous areas of PA.  That is the "limited buildability" they are referring too.  I recommend having any property tested for septic before you buy.

One nice feature of PA is that you have the option to drill your own well.  Good luck

"sewage enforcement officer"


Did you go north or west from Philadelphia?


Squirl - thanks for the detailed reply! Sounds like the septic guy is my first call.

The properties I am currently looking at are along the northeast extension (I476) in between Allentown and Wilkes Barre.  I grew up in Reading, which would be an hour west, so I'd be comfortable heading that way as well if I could find an affordable parcel.  I'm trying to find a private, wooded lot at 5-15 acres for <$5000/acre.  I've been at the search for about 8 months. I thought it would be easier to find in this big green state.  :-)


Yeah, not easy.  I was looking during the real estate buy up before the bust.  So prices may have come down, but not by much.  The real estate market has been strong in that area for a long time.  You have the push from NYC in the poconos.  You now have the sprawl from Allentown up there too.  I couldn't find anything buildable under $5,000 an acre at the time.  That also pushed me into NY (as low as .5k-2k an acre) .  One of the problems I ran into was most tracks were very large parcels or subdivision lots with lots of covenants or HOAs. Another note of caution, be careful about mineral rights in the area.  Normally shale pits in that area of the state are in coal mining and natural gas drilling areas.  Make sure the property still has the mineral rights with no leases.  Also check to see if the neighbors have any leases.  Duke did a study this year that showed water well contamination within 1500 feet of any natural gas drill.