Septic systems are more common than you think, but yet they still make some home buyers nervous. Homes that aren’t serviced by municipal sewer systems rely on septic tanks. While very common in rural areas, some urban and suburban homes also have septic systems.
How Does a Septic System Work?
Before making a decision on whether to buy a home with a septic system, you should understand how they work.
Wastewater is collected in a pipe that connects to a watertight septic tank underground. Once in the tank, solids settle at the bottom, and floatable material floats to the top. The water in between is known as “affluent.” This liquid exits the tank and travels to a drain field buried in the yard. The wastewater then disperses into the soil. The soil filters out the contaminants, while the beneficial bacteria break down organic material.
Periodically, septic tanks are pumped by a professional to remove the waste.
How are Septic Systems Maintained? What Does Maintenance Cost?
Septic systems do require maintenance. A professional will need to pump the sludge and scum (floating material). The frequency of pumping will depend on the size of the tank and the size of the family. Most septic tanks need to be pumped once every three to five years.
Tanks also need to be inspected on a regular basis to ensure there are no clogs or leaks.
“An excessive accumulation of sludge and scum can clog the drain field and cause a backup of waste into your home or other significant damage,” says Vietzke Trenchless, which offers septic repair and installation services.
Pumping a tank can cost anywhere between $200 and $500.
Should a Septic Be Inspected Before Buying a Home?
If you plan to buy a home with a septic system, it’s essential to know its condition. Septic inspections are optional, and inspectors aren’t as easy to find. That means it can take longer to get the inspection done.
Sellers may pass up buyers wanting an inspection if someone else comes along and wants to purchase the home without one.
Ideally, the seller will have the system pre-inspected so that you know what you’re getting into before you sign on the dotted line.
A septic inspection typically covers three things:
- The tank and all of its parts to ensure they are working properly.
- The drain field.
- A hydraulic load test.
The hydraulic load test isn’t always performed.
The seller is required to provide you access to the system, but you – as the buyer – would be responsible for paying for pumping (if necessary) and returning the yard back to its normal state.
Sellers may boast about having their system cleaned before listing the property. Keep in mind that cleaning is not the same thing as having the system tested.
To ensure peace of mind, it’s always a good idea to have the system tested. If it passes, great! The deal can move forward. If it doesn’t, be prepared for a round of negotiations.
Sellers aren’t automatically responsible for paying for repairs or a replacement. That is a negotiable term and one that may lead to the seller walking away.