You’ve finally found your dream home… and it has a septic system.
If you’re a bit nervous about taking the plunge and buying a home with a septic tank, you’re not alone: Many homebuyers aren’t sure what to think about septic systems.
But as it turns out, septic systems are more common than you might think. In fact, one in five U.S. households treat wastewater with a septic system, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. While it’s true that such systems do require regular maintenance, the upkeep is minimal.
Don’t let this home feature scare you away! Here’s what you should know before you buy a home with a septic system.
Septic systems are used by homes that aren’t connected to municipal sewers. Contrary to popular belief, septic systems don’t turn a home’s wastewater into drinking water. Rather, it’s a standalone system that collects, treats and disposes of a household’s wastewater.
First, a pipe collects a household’s wastewater from:
The pipe transfers waste into a watertight, underground tank. Inside, solids — a.k.a. “sludge” — settle to the bottom, while anything that floats — or “scum” — rises to the top. The sludge and scum remain in the tank until it’s pumped out.
In between lies a middle layer of wastewater known as “effluent.” In a standard septic system, anaerobic microbes break down effluent, which then drains into a surrounding drain field. As effluent disperses across the field, beneficial bacteria further break down contaminants as soil filters the wastewater.
An aerobic septic system adds two more steps to the process. After the waste separates into layers, the effluent flows into a treatment tank. Here, an aerator circulates oxygen, creating a friendly environment for aerobic microbes that break down waste quickly.
Finally, the wastewater passes into one last tank where it’s treated with a disinfectant that kills pathogens. At this point, the wastewater is considered clean enough to use for watering landscaping plants or to disperse into the soil.
Before you purchase a house with a septic system, look into your state’s rules. Some states (and some mortgage lenders) require a septic system inspection before the title can be transferred to a new owner. Keep in mind that standard home inspections don’t always include the septic system.
Other questions homebuyers should ask include:
Take time to review the service and maintenance records. While pumping frequency depends on factors like tank size and the amount of waste generated by the household, tanks should typically be pumped every three to five years. Home records should reflect consistent maintenance.
When you’re touring the property, ask to see the drain field. Be on the lookout for any indications of problems; these may include damp or wet areas, patches of bright green grass or unpleasant odors.
Even if you don’t notice any red flags on your walk-through, a professional inspection is necessary before making any final buying decisions.
A licensed septic inspector will provide an objective assessment of the system’s condition and note potential issues. An inspector should also:
What happens if a septic inspection finds issues or, worse, if a septic system fails? It’s time to call in a professional service.
Dealing with septic tank issues isn’t a DIY-friendly activity; in some cases, it’s actually illegal to service your own system. In addition, septic tank service requires specialized tools and parts, as well as experience with electrical issues. Plus, working in wastewater may expose you to microbes and waterborne diseases. Why take the chance?
Regular maintenance is key to a septic system’s long life. While pumping frequency depends on tank size and household wastewater output, regular professional inspections will help nip any problems in the bud.
Homeowners can take steps to promote septic system health. These include:
Following these steps and a regular maintenance schedule can help keep your system in good condition.
Having a septic tank doesn’t have to be scary. If you’re considering a house with a septic system, take the time to ask the right questions. Most importantly, enlist professional help and have a certified inspector take a look.
If you have septic system questions, Van Delden Wastewater Systems has answers! Whether you need an inspection, maintenance or a new system, we’re here to help.