I see it all the time: transfer stations designed by firms who have no idea what a transfer station is or the purpose it serves. Where so many costly mistakes are made during the design process, the owner will spend tens of thousands of dollars on repairs over the life of the facility.


The flaws in the design will more than likely require constant ongoing maintenance as well as potentially make the facility less functional and therefore cost more to operate. This is why it is so important that an experienced firm is engaged in the design of your facility from the get-go. If you don’t, it will cost you in the long run.

This blog post won’t be as long as some, but I will be touching on a few key points that should be watched for. In the end, if you were to hire Cambridge, we can help you avoid these common mistakes because we have experience designing and building hundreds of transfer stations all over the country and have pretty much seen it all!

Pitfalls of Site Design

  1. Inadequate Turn Radius/Radii: Inadequate turn radius/radii on-site that cause vehicles to drive off the pavement daily, causing additional maintenance and money to keep repairing it. A vehicle must be used in the site layout that requires the maximum turning radius to help avoid these issues.
  2. Poorly Designed Site Paving: The engineer must understand the wear and tear vehicles will put on the pavement. They must also understand the sub-grade and design of the site pavement adequate for your facility.
  3. Not Enough Queuing ON SITE: How friendly are neighbors or the local municipality when you have traffic backed up and blocking the road during peak hours? Exactly. You must understand the flow of waste into and out of the facility, so you can plan the proper amount of queuing.
  4. Poorly Planned Site Traffic Quantities (based on types of vehicles): This comes down to understanding your customer mix. Some facilities take residents with personal vehicles, internal vehicles, third parties, and commercial trucks. As the owner, your goal is to get all customers in and out quickly, so you need to understand this mix and plan your scaling and unloading operations to get them in and out quickly, especially your trucks!
  5. Storm Water Management: Every part of the United States is different and properly designing the stormwater to not be a maintenance nightmare is key to keeping your site clean, drained, and the water leaving the site quickly after a rain event.

Pitfalls of Building Design

  1. Improper Sizing of the Tipping Floor: What this comes down to is a process we call “balancing the floor”. What we do is work with the client to analyze the inbound material as well as the outbound material to make sure we have the floor, the number of doors, loading area(s), and equipment all tied together so we can ensure we don’t design a building too big or too small. There are dozens of factors that play into this exercise including timing of material inbound, transfer station hours, landfill hours, outbound material hours, size of equipment completing the loading, hauler(s), loading time, type of trailers, types of customers, days of operation, “clean floor” requirements, peak operation days (after holidays), etc. We gather all this information and work with the owner to help determine the right size of the facility.
  2. Pit Type: While we have a specific type of pit we recommend to our clients, we build all types based on the size of the facility, quantity of material, types of material, equipment to be used, etc. The owner and the designer must work together to determine the best option for the site, given the sizing exercise mentioned above.
  3. “Pockets” for Material to Gather: The facilities Cambridge designs have nowhere for waste to gather, which in turn, means there is nowhere for rats or other vectors to live. This is important for any transfer operator.
  4. Obstructions: Need I say more? Too many facilities I see have obstructions either on the top floor or in the pit. Cambridge’s transfer station design includes an open tipping floor and facility to eliminate any issues with obstructions for the employees working in the facility or delivering the trash to the tipping floor.
  5. Leachate Collection: Drains aren’t installed anywhere that they will get clogged with waste or other debris. Our clients don’t need to unclog trench drains daily, or worse, multiple times each day. No one likes to do this and so they are left to get clogged and don’t function properly.
  6. Tipping Slab: Cambridge ensures our clients don’t need to replace their tipping floor for at least 10 years and many last longer than this timeframe. We have tested dozens of mixed designs and have developed one that will typically get our customers 10-20 years’ worth of life out of it.
  7. Overhead Door Opening Protection: Pipe bollards typically don’t work against loaders, heavy trucks, or many other large pieces of equipment. Because of that, we don’t use them in our designs. We have designed a much more robust solution that will not fail, nor does it break the bank. Our clients don’t have issues with getting their door jambs hit, therefore they have fewer maintenance costs in the long run.

Pitfalls of Environmental Permitting
All I am going to say about this is to NOT overpromise while you are trying to get your permit application approved. We have seen clients give in to all demands during this process and it just costs money, sometimes upfront and sometimes forever. Oftentimes some things can be done as part of the design to meet the regulator’s goals and if we are involved in that phase we can help you by making suggestions. Every permitting process is different, but if you bring us in earlier enough we can often help you get through that process more cost-effectively and efficiently.

In the End
Transfer station design is an art. People see them and think, “It’s just concrete and steel, big deal! Anyone can design and build it.” Simply put, this isn’t true. You need to have an expert involved that can help. Why would you want to learn all the mistakes made by others? We can help you avoid those!

Jeff Eriks – President