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Buying A House With A Septic Tank: Pros And Cons

Andrew Dehan5-minute read

November 19, 2021

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When you’re moving from the city or suburbs out to a little piece of land, there are many things you dream of. Maybe you want to live on a homestead or you just need more quiet and space. Maybe you’re thinking of all the stars you’ll see or all the neighbors you won’t have to deal with.

Whatever you’re dreaming about when looking for a home in a more rural area, chances are those dreams don’t include a house septic tank.

What Is A Septic Tank?

A septic tank gathers wastewater – waste generated by your toilet, garbage disposal and washing machine – from your house and holds it underneath the yard. Solids remain in the tank while liquids exit into a buried drain field.

Since the solids sink to the bottom, septic tanks need to be routinely emptied and maintained to avoid potential issues.

Here are a few terms you should become familiar with when talking about a septic tank:

  • Inspection ports: Inspection ports or pipes allow cameras, tools and small glances inside the tank to make sure everything is functioning.
  • Manhole: This is the top port on the septic tank that covers the tank. Someone can climb in the manhole if necessary.
  • Scum: Scum is the oil/grease that floats. Special compartments and the outlet prevent the scum from leaving the tank with the wastewater.
  • Effluent/wastewater: The effluent, or wastewater, is the liquid waste that leaves the tank.
  • Sludge: Sludge is solid waste that sinks and settles on the bottom of the tank.
  • Drain field/leach field: The drain field, or leach field, is where the effluent flows into outside the tank. It’s basically a section of unsaturated soil outside the tank where the soil filters out the harmful bacteria.

Now that you understand a little about how they work, let’s talk about buying a house with a septic tank.

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Tips For Buying A House With A Septic System

Are you interested in a house, but it has a septic tank and you’re not sure what to look for? There are a few things to keep in mind when looking at a house with a septic system.

Here’s what you should do to ensure the septic system works before buying a house.

Learn Your Local Laws

Septic systems are built to match your home for local code. These local laws may have rules around septic tank inspection, maintenance and replacement. Some states require a septic tank inspection before you can transfer the title. They may also require you to put in a larger septic tank if you decide to expand and add plumbing.

Get The System Inspected

Septic systems need to be regularly inspected and maintained to avoid problems. Inspectors need to check for pipe integrity, proper ventilation and proper drainage. They will look for leaks and clogs, spotting potential problems before they become bigger ones.

Inspections should happen every 3 years, but know that a lot of people forgo these inspections. If you’re buying a home with a septic tank, you should ask to see its inspection history.

Know The Specs Of Your System

You need to have some idea of the specifications of the septic tank. The size will determine how frequently it needs to be drained. You also need to know when it was installed, as septic tanks may need to be replaced every 20-40 years. To have your tank replaced costs $3,000-$10,000 on average, depending on the size of the tank and where your home is located.

Prepare For Regular Maintenance

A septic tank needs to be regularly inspected, maintained and drained to avoid issues. Typically, you’ll need to have the sludge pumped out of it and disposed of every few years. On average, this can cost you $300-$600 depending on the size of the tank.

Be Careful What You Put Down The Drain

A lot of things shouldn’t go down the drain, whether you’re on a septic system or on a municipal system. The difference is, if you put something down the drain that doesn’t belong, on a septic system, it’s your problem.

Hygiene products, paint, grease and oil, hair, dental floss – all of these can cause clogs and prevent drainage. These clogs can result in leaky pipes and sewage flowing back into your home. Be mindful of what you put down the drain so it doesn’t cause you a much larger problem.

Know What Can Go Wrong

Some things can go wrong with septic systems, especially if they’re not maintained. Leaks, ruptured and clogged pipes and a flooded drain field can result in a big mess. For instance, if your yard floods and there isn’t enough weight in the septic tank, it can cause the tank to move or float, breaking the pipe.

If there’s too much liquid in the tank or in the drain field, the tank may not drain quickly enough – or at all. This can cause backflow problems if you’re using a lot of water regularly through things like running a dishwasher, washing machine or taking showers/baths.

Recognize Signs Of A Potential Problem

You need to know how to spot a potential problem before it becomes a real one. Things like unusual odors, odd plumbing signs, slow drainage and backflow into your drains are all signs you need your septic tank inspected.

Septic Tank Pros And Cons

Here are some of the pros and cons of having a septic tank.

Pros

  • You can save money by not having to pay for public sewer.
  • When properly maintained, septic systems are more environmentally friendly.
  • Septic tanks allow you to live further away from cities/towns.
  • Septic tanks can last up to 40 years.
  • Having a septic tank can save money on property taxes, since your property isn’t hooked up to municipal sewer.

Cons

  • Maintenance costs $300-$600 every few years (which can still be cheaper than municipal sewer).
  • It can cause groundwater contamination if the system leaks. This can be a problem for well water.
  • If not maintained, you can have a costly mess on your hands.
  • Septic tanks will eventually need to be replaced.
  • You must be more careful about what you put down the drain.

Should You Buy A House With A Septic Tank?

Septic systems are a part of living in a rural area. If you want to be away from the bustling city, they’re something you’re probably going to have to deal with. In the long run, they may save you money on your taxes and utilities.

But, unlike a city sewer system, if something goes wrong with your septic system, you’re the one who must deal with it.

The Bottom Line: You Don’t Need To Be A Septic Skeptic

Septic systems are the reality of living in a more rural area. If you want a place where you’re away from the crowds and noise of a city, chances are it will come with a septic system. Don’t fret. Inspections and maintenance every few years can keep your septic safe and worry-free.

When buying a home with a septic tank, ask for inspection records and be aware that there may be local laws/ordinances regarding septic systems. A septic inspection should be part of the general home inspection you need before purchasing the property.

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Andrew Dehan

Andrew Dehan is a professional writer who writes about real estate and homeownership. He is also a published poet, musician and nature-lover. He lives in metro Detroit with his wife, daughter and dogs.