What to Know About Buying a Home With a Septic System
Are you researching what you should know when buying a house that has a septic system? If you've lived in the city or suburbia most of your life, it might be surprising to find out that around 1 in 5 homes use a septic system instead of municipal sewage services. When you are looking for a new home, it is understandable if you are concerned about a property that uses a septic tank.
Let's review the pros and cons of a septic tank system and what you need to know before buying a home that uses one.
What is a Septic System?
While the municipal sewers serve most homes in a city or town, a septic tank will only serve an individual home. Typically, these tanks are hidden underground and constructed of concrete. The wastewater from the toilets, sinks, and showers drain into it.
In the septic system, the solids and the liquids will become separated. The solids sink to the bottom of the tank, and the liquids leave through pipes into an underground grid. A distribution box is used in many septic systems to send the liquids out to a leach field.
This pipe grid filters the wastewater into the soil, which becomes a source of nutrients in your yard. The solids that remain in the tank breakdown into a sludge, that will need to be removed every so often.
Most septic system companies recommend that you pump your system every couple of years. If you have a large family, they may recommend having the system pumped a little more frequently.
The Pros and Cons of a Septic System
It would help if you considered a few different things before purchasing a home that uses a septic tank. Let's look at the benefits first.
Septic Systems Are Environmentally Friendly
A system like this returns nutrients to the environment without needing it to be processed at a plant. If there is a leak, it will only affect a small area in the yard. It can also help people act in a more environmentally conscious way because of how the system works.
Save Money With a Septic System
When you are covered by a municipal sewage system, the cost will make up part of your utility bill each month. With a septic tank, you don't have this continued expense, saving you money each month. The cost of having public sewer in some areas of the country can be quite expensive, adding quite a bit to your monthly or yearly expenses.
Low-Maintenance With Septic Systems
If you are careful about what you put down your drains, your tank will last for decades. This means trying to avoid using so much bleach and corrosive cleaning products that could damage your system.
You also want to make sure you separate any grease and do not pour it down the drain. It is also highly recommended not to have a garbage disposal with a septic system as it can take away years of expected life.
Safety is No Concern
If there is a blockage in your system, you will know where are the waste is coming from. Though this is unlikely, it is a risk with any sewage system. When blockages happen in municipal systems, the waste will come from the entire community.
What are the Negatives of a Septic Tank System?
There are some downsides to homes with septic tanks, however. Let’s take a look at the disadvantages.
Maintenance of The System
Your tank system will need to be checked by qualified professionals every so often. They will check for damage to your pipes and tank and pump out all the solid waste. This may be required every 2 to 5 years, with costs ranging from $200 to $500 depending on where you live.
Repairs With a Septic System
When you are connected to the main sewage system, any repairs are the responsibility of someone else. But if you are operating your own septic system, it is your responsibility alone. This means that you have to be aware of the warning signs of potential problems with your drainage system.
Replacing parts or even a septic tank is not super expensive but replacing a leach field certainly will be. The cost of replacement of a septic system leach field can vary quite a bit. If the soils contain more gravel and the water table is not high, you will be looking at a smaller bill. On the other hand, if you have a high water table and the soils are not permeable, you could be looking at a significant bill.
A range for replacing a leach field could be anywhere from $5000 to $50,000. The average replacement cost is around $20,000. When a septic system leach field needs replacement, you will need to hire a land surveyor who will draw a new plan. The engineering drawing for replacement is what's referred to as an "as-built" plan.
Failures in the Drain Field
When the drain field fails, wastewater could pool above it. This can happen if the ground becomes too compacted, perhaps because of vehicles being driven over it. Tree roots can also damage the system, or it can simply become saturated over time.
Home Buying Precautions
If you are looking to purchase a property that is using a septic tank system, you should make sure that it is checked during the home inspection. This will alert you to how well the system is currently working and how far away it is from needing replacement. In some states, the responsibility of checking the system will be put squarely on the seller.
For example, in Massachusetts, sellers are required to have a septic system inspection before closing. They refer to this inspection as a Title V.
An inspection of a septic system will reveal how well it has been maintained, the sludge level, where the drain field is located, and how well it is draining water. These are just a few of the things that will be revealed by an inspection, and it should ensure that you have many years of worry-free use of the system.
Closing Thoughts on Septic Systems
Owning a home with a septic tank system shouldn't greatly concern house buyers. While you have to be more careful about what you put in the tank, a well-maintained system will last for decades. As a homeowner, you just need to make sure you keep on top of maintenance as any other part of your home.
Hopefully, you now have a better understanding of the pros and cons of having a septic system.