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If you live in an urban environment and don't think twice about what happens after you flush the toilet, then this column is not for you. However, if you are considering buying an acreage or recreation property, then you probably should pay attention.
We have talked in the past about the importance of ensuring a water supply suitable for domestic purposes, and the steps you can take to test before purchasing. Unfortunately, a buyer does not have the same luxury with the septic system. It is just too hard to examine, so it is important to interview the outgoing owner / tenant and use some common sense.
The average septic system has two distinct parts; the first being the septic tank, which receives all of the normal household waste from all drains, including kitchen, bathrooms, and laundry fixtures; and the second, the disposal system. Septic tanks are placed below the surface at a depth that allows waste to leave the home under gravity flow. Most have two compartments. The first acts as a settling basin for the solids, and the second allows the effluent to leave the tank relatively free of any solids. This effluent either flows from the tank to a leaching bed or lagoon or is pumped to a surface ejector, into a mound, or bed of rock.
The type of system used is governed by Health regulations in both provinces, and is determined by the size of the acreage, type of soil, and its proximity to bodies of freshwater. In Saskatchewan, current rules require at least ten acres before a homeowner can use a surface ejector; and if you have a cabin at the lake, all sewage must be transported by truck to a wastewater treatment plant or lagoon.
If you are using an open discharge, then it must be located a defined distance from any well. I remember evaluating an older home in the country prior to it being put up for sale, and having the tenants share with me how smelly their water was. I asked them to show me the location of the water and septic systems. It was easy to see why their water was discolored; the sewer was discharging about 30 feet uphill from the well cribbing. I told the owner that I would not list the property until the sewer discharge was placed correctly on the property and the well water tested free of coliform bacteria. She got quite indignant with me; needless to say I didn't get the contract, nor did I want it.
Septic systems do age, and the waste we put into them can cause problems. The modern household uses a lot of soap - in dishwater, for bathing, and doing laundry. Soaps can seal improperly designed leach systems over time. Submersible pumps placed in tanks sit in a highly corrosive environment and will fail sooner or later. Pumps located in basements and crawl spaces eventually lose their seal, and will need replacing. Some types of surface ejectors force all the effluent through a small aperture that allows the fluid to drain back below the frost line when the pump quits; if there is an item in the line, like a small rock or a gum wrapper, it can plug the discharge, put back pressure on the pump, and cause it to burn out.
Of course, all of this means the next time someone flushes the toilet, drains the bath tub, or does a load of laundry, that waste will end up on the floor of your basement. Murphy's Law says it most likely to occur when you have a house full of company or just after you leave for the weekend. It is all part of the joy of living in the country!
Vern McClelland is an associate broker with RE/MAX of Lloydminster. For more helpful hints on buying or selling real estate visit www.vernmcclelland.com or call him at 306.821.0611
Disclaimer: ActiveRain Corp. does not necessarily endorse the real estate agents, loan officers and brokers listed on this site. These real estate profiles, blogs and blog entries are provided here as a courtesy to our visitors to help them make an informed decision when buying or selling a house. ActiveRain Corp. takes no responsibility for the content in these profiles, that are written by the members of this community.