Pros and Cons of Buying a Home With a Septic System

By
Real Estate Agent with RE/MAX Executive Realty 91362

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.

Posted by

Bill Gassett is a thirty-two year veteran to the real estate industry. He enjoys providing helpful information to buyers, sellers and fellow real estate agents to make sound decisions. His work has been featured on RIS Media, National Association of Realtors, Inman News, Placester, RESAAS, Credit Sesame and others.

Comments (17)

Kris Collis, Associate Broker
Smart Way America Realty - East Stroudsburg, PA
Professional Results you Expect 570-801-5525

Hi Bill, Like your market, we are also in the land of wells and septics.  We come across failed septics, typically from the 70s, and septics without permits or records that were installed before the existence of Sewage Enforcement depts.  During heavy rains, inspectors get a workout, returning to property 3xs when tank is full and seller says rains caused it. Uh-huh.  As inspectors advise, drainfiels are designed to handle rains and snow.  A properly functioning septic does not overflow due to rain.

Dec 07, 2020 03:04 PM
Bill Gassett

True Kris. I have heard many sellers make the statement about being worried about the rain before testing their septic.

Dec 08, 2020 04:49 AM
Anna Banana Kruchten CRS, CRB, Phoenix Broker
HomeSmart Real Estate BR030809000 - Phoenix, AZ
602-380-4886

Hi Bill great post on th pros and cons of septic systems.  Here in the Phoenix metro area we don't have many homes with septic systems - but we do have some and it is important to have this info on hand for home buyers and sellers.

Dec 07, 2020 04:17 PM
Bill Gassett

No doubt you always need to have at least a basic working knowledge of septic systems.

Dec 08, 2020 04:50 AM
Laura Cerrano
Feng Shui Manhattan Long Island - Locust Valley, NY
Certified Feng Shui Expert, Speaker & Researcher

Never a more thorough assesment of the septic issues that may arrise. A great heads up for us all! :) Very good write up!

Dec 07, 2020 05:26 PM
Bill Gassett

Thanks Laura!

Dec 08, 2020 04:50 AM
Laura Cerrano
Feng Shui Manhattan Long Island - Locust Valley, NY
Certified Feng Shui Expert, Speaker & Researcher

Anna Banana Kruchten CRS CRB, Phoenix Broker I never thought I could learn so much about septic stuff so quickly lol! Great stuff!

Dec 07, 2020 06:19 PM
Jeff Dowler, CRS
eXp Realty of California, Inc. - Carlsbad, CA
The Southern California Relocation Dude

Great information for buyers, Bill. Knowing the pros and cons of a septic system vs. community sewer is important. Having a septic inspection and certification is key - I had buyers here who ended up with a new septic system and leach field because the system did not pass inspection as requested in the offer.

Having sewer lines inspected can be important too, especially in an older home and when there are trees. The main line from the house to the public sewer, here, is the owner's issue. A main sewer line clogged with tree roots or one with cracks can be a nightmare...and expensive. Sewer line scoping is pretty reasonable.

Jeff

Dec 07, 2020 08:15 PM
Bill Gassett

Totally agree Jeff! A buyer should never overlook a septic system and it's importance. It is such a big expense to deal with.

Dec 08, 2020 04:51 AM
Brenda J. Andrew
ULTIMA REAL ESTATE - Corpus Christi, TX
Professional Realtor in Corpus Christi, TX

This is great information Bill.  We were recently considering purchasing a home with a septic system.  i did not feel as though I knew enough about it in order to feel comfortable purchasing.  It was a for sale by owner in a town close to my parents.  I appreciate you sharing your knowledge here - it was very helpful!  Have a great day!

Dec 08, 2020 03:27 AM
Bill Gassett

Thanks for the compliments Brenda!

Dec 08, 2020 04:51 AM
Brenda Mayette
Miranda Real Estate Group, Inc. - Glenville, NY
Getting results w/ knowledge & know-how!

Septic systems are very common in our area and, as you have nicely showed us, they don't have to be something to be "afraid of" as a homeowner.  They do always give us an opportunity for a more interesting inspection phase too....! 

Dec 08, 2020 04:22 AM
Bill Gassett

It is always one of those things where you keep your fingers crossed. You never know what will happen when it comes time for the septic inspection.

Dec 08, 2020 04:52 AM
Kat Palmiotti
406-270-3667, kat@thehousekat.com, Broker, eXp Realty - Kalispell, MT
Helping your Montana dreams take root

Septic systems were common in my last hometown, and are very common here as well. As long as they are maintained, they could last a long time!

Dec 08, 2020 04:52 AM
Sharon Miller
RE/MAX Platinum - Crane Hill, AL

Bill,

Excellent post! Very informative for those considering a purchase with a septic system.

Dec 08, 2020 07:07 AM
Bill Gassett

Thanks for the comps Sharon. There is a lot to know when it comes to septic systems.

Dec 10, 2020 04:04 AM
Greg Brown, Sales Rep Toronto, Durham region
Sutton Group Heritage Reallty Inc., Brokerage - Whitby, ON
www.GregBrown.Realtor

Our rural areas are mostly Septic Tanks... Our biggest issue is our waterfront properties with septics, if the septic needs to be replaced and they are currently between the house and the waterfront, it may need to be relocated 80-100 feet from the shore line road allowance. This can make it difficult when the shore line road allownace is 66 feets from the shore. If the lot is too small, then a septic bed cannot be installed and only a holding tank can be installed, which could make it pricy to pump out. Great information in your post.

Dec 08, 2020 08:07 AM
Bill Gassett

Greg - we have a few areas around lakes where there used to be a lot of cesspools! Talk about headaches with some of these properties trying to get a septic system installed.

Dec 10, 2020 04:03 AM
Mike Young
203kOnLine.com, covering the USA - Las Vegas, NV
FHA 203k Consultant 916-758-1809

FHA buyers much include an operational certification and if it fails the work can be added to a 203k. I just had one that was a FNMA project where they added a new septic tank adjacent to the house... Not a great idea. FHA requires it be at least ten feet from the house and this one was only about 3 feet away from the structure.

Dec 08, 2020 11:11 AM
Dorie Dillard Austin TX
Coldwell Banker Realty ~ 512.750.6899 - Austin, TX
NW Austin ~ Canyon Creek and Spicewood/Balcones

Good afternoon Bill Gassett ,

What an excellent post on the pros and cons of septic systems. In the market area I live in I rarely deal with septic systems but I have sold and listed homes with them and there is a lot to consider and understand but it's nothing to be scared of.

Dec 08, 2020 02:16 PM
Bill Gassett

Dorie - selling a home that has sewer is always comforting. You don't have to be on the edge of your seat wondering if the septic inspection will pass or not.

Dec 10, 2020 04:02 AM
Eileen Burns
Trans State Commercial RE Ft. Lauderdale/Miami/Palm Beach - Fort Lauderdale, FL
FL Probate Agent, Hotel & Land Specialist

As always Bill Gassett helpful contributions to the community at large.  Northern Florida has rural areas that attracted a friend of mine to consider purchasing.  A 5 acre blue berry parcel  along the river with a double wide elevated from the ground.  We came to find out the owner built his own system for the drain field and burying the tanks.  The inspector could not complete his assessment and the deal died. 

Early in my career I sold a single family home in west Hollywood, FL.  The week after closing the septic system exploaded.  Not  a happy buyer. Always learning and adding to the tool boox.  Thanks for your informative post😎

 

 

Dec 09, 2020 07:11 AM
Bill Gassett

Eileen - over the years I have had a few sales fall apart due to septic failure. It is never fun to go through.

Dec 10, 2020 04:01 AM
Lisa Smith
Keller Williams Capital Partners - Worthington, OH
Listings Manager

Great information for buyers...I learned a thing or two as well!

Dec 09, 2020 09:39 AM
Bill Gassett

Thanks Lisa. Septic systems can be a bit tricky when you are not familiar with them.

Dec 10, 2020 04:00 AM
Mary Hutchison, SRES, ABR
Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate-Kansas City Homes - Kansas City, MO
Experienced Agent in Kansas City Metro area

Thanks for the detailed pros and cons list! I've sold one or two homes with septic systems--they are not common in the city.  Those buyers that want to try the country life with septic systems need to know it's much different than a municipal sewer

Dec 10, 2020 08:07 PM
Merv Edinger & Associates
Remax Nova - Halifax, NS

We too often deal with homes on septic systems. A few things you forgot to mention in regards to maintenance:

A) The septic system and field is designed for a specific # of bedrooms & baths that the home was built with.  So a 3 bedroom home should be designed to handle the needs of a family of 4. So if you decide to add another bedroom or bath or increase your family size, your field is going to require more maintenance and more frequent pumping. 

B) There are different types of systems designed for the type of soil in your area. Whether it be clay, loam, sand, etc. Soil type hugely impacts the type & cost of installation / replacement.

C) It is recommended that systems be pumped every 3-6 years depending on your particular system and how much use it gets.

D) Refrain fro driving over, building anything on top of, installing an above grade pool, or planting trees and shrubs on your field/system. This may damage your system.

E) A good rule of thumb is if you  can't digest it, do not flush it. Do not dispose of pads, tampons, cigarette butts, paper towels, condoms, or anything non biodegradable  down your toilet.  Also, don't use bleach, fabric softenenrs, or drain cleaners when you live on a septic system which kill the bacteria that berak down the wastes and may also corrode the pipes of the system. Don't wash off or flush cosmetics as most contain heavy metals which are not biodegrable & can lead to contaminating the ground water.

Dec 11, 2020 04:49 AM
Bill Gassett

Excellent advice on septic systems @Merv. Much of what you mention is in the first resource link you see in the article. It is worth checking out!

Dec 11, 2020 05:02 AM
Eva B. Liland Century 21 Doug Anderson
Century 21 Doug Anderson - Lancaster, CA
Glad to be of Service 661-714-1643

So nice of you to explain the pros and cons of septic systems Bill Gassett . As a Realtor, it is important to have that knowledge in order to help your buyers.

Dec 12, 2020 07:06 AM