Real Estate 101: Buying a House with a Septic System

Real Estate 101: Buying a House with a Septic System

buying a home with a septic system, things to know

Buying a home is exciting, but being a homeowner also can be daunting prospect. One thing that home buyers may find off-putting is the idea of having a property with a septic tank.

If you grew up and have always lived within city limits, then the idea of having a septic system as opposed to being serviced by the sewage department of your city or town may make you nervous. Perhaps you even thought that there were no homes serviced by septic tanks anymore.

However, statistics suggest that as many as one in five residences in America have septic tanks. This means that as you browse for a home in Florida, you’re bound to come across a few properties that have this feature. It can be helpful to know what a septic system is, how it works and the potential benefits and drawbacks of using one. Accordingly, you’ll be able to make a better-informed purchasing decision.

Septic Tank Basics

A municipal sewer system services many residents of a community. By contrast, septic tanks are designed to provide these services to a single household.

Typically made of concrete, the tank is buried underground on the property. Greywater from the showers and sinks and blackwater from the toilets in the home flow into the septic tank. Solids sink to the bottom of the tank while liquids drain into a grid of underground pipes. Gradually, the liquids drain from the pipes and are naturally filtered by the soil where they become an important source of nutrients for the landscaping.

Thanks to natural microbial activity in the tank, solids are broken down to form a sludge. This material periodically is removed by technicians from a septic system servicing company.

The Benefits of a Septic Tank

The idea of owning a home with a septic tank may make you uncomfortable, but this isn’t necessary. In reality, there are benefits that go with a septic system.

For instance, septic tanks are a cost-efficient alternative. If you are on a municipal sewer system, you must pay a monthly bill to support this. Septic tanks generally do not involve this ongoing expense.

Septic tanks also are self-maintaining. They last for several decades with little maintenance being required. Homeowners who exercise proper care by conserving water, being watchful about what gets washed down the drains and minimizing their reliance on bleach will protect their septic system and the environment.

Relatively speaking, septic tanks also are pretty safe. If a rare blockage does occur and waste backs up into your home, it’s somewhat reassuring to know that only the household’s own waste is involved. When blockages and backups occur on a municipal system, the waste that comes into your home may come from anywhere in the community, bringing unknown pathogens into your home.

Homeowners with septic tanks also appreciate that these systems are environmentally friendly. Having one of these systems automatically makes the homeowner more aware of what’s being flushed down the drains. If a leak from the tank occurs, it only affects the premises rather than leaks on municipal systems, which can involve widespread damage.

Potential Drawbacks to Consider

Septic systems do require occasional services from a qualified professional. Every three to five years, the solid waste needs to be pumped from the tank. The technician also will inspect the tank to assess its overall condition. The cost for this periodic service ranges from $200 to $400.

Also, it’s important to keep in mind that when maintenance or repairs are needed, they are the homeowner’s responsibility. That means if a pipe leaks or the entire system backs up, you’ll have to pay for fixing it. Most homeowners find that if they understand their septic system and are prompt about calling in a professional when a soggy patch appears in the yard or the drains slow down, most problems can be minimized.

There also is a possibility that the drain field may fail. If the soil in the drain field has become compacted from cars driving over it or the encroachment of tree roots, the saturation of groundwater may lead to the failure of the drain field.

Evaluating the Condition of a Home’s Septic System

Are you considering buying a home that has a septic system? If so, then it is wise to request an inspection of the septic system. This inspection can be included in an overall home inspection that is recommended before buying any property. An additional fee may be owed to the home inspector to cover the cost of a complete septic system inspection.

Despite the extra cost, such an inspection is essential as it can give you peace of mind and prevent any expensive and unpleasant surprises upon moving into the home.

What’s involved in a septic tank inspection? The inspector will determine the date of the last service and inspection to see if the tank has been properly maintained over the years. Assessing the level of sludge in the tank and confirming that the tank is of an adequate size for the home are included as well.

The inspector will look at the location of the drain field to ensure that it is not placed too close to a body of water or a well. While looking at the drain field, the inspector will check for signs that there is liquid waste on the ground’s surface. An inspection of the tank will reveal the presence of any troubling leaks or cracks. Checking to see that the drain lines all receive an equal amount of water and that the baffles are well-connected to the outlet and inlet pipes also are part of the inspection.

The results of the septic system inspection will tell you a great deal about its overall condition, how old it is and how long it will last.

Tips for Keeping a Septic System Healthy and Functional

If you buy a home that’s on a septic system, commit to having the tank pumped and inspected every three to five years. Be careful about only allowing grey water and black water into the septic system. Refrain from allowing things like diapers, wipes, cigarette butts, sanitary products and any paper other than toilet paper into the system. It’s similarly unwise to flush large amounts of cleaning products into your septic tank as this can destroy the healthy, beneficial bacteria found in the tank.

Septic systems also do not need additives, such as Rid-X. As long as the system is well-maintained, nothing additional is needed to break down solid waste and create essential healthy flora. It is only seasonal homes on septic tanks that may require the use of additives because not enough solid waste is being introduced into the system to produce the necessary microbes.

You might also be wondering about planting anything in the area of your drain field. It’s critical to plant with care in this area because extensive tree or shrub root systems may damage the underground pipes. You may want to plant your vegetable garden elsewhere as these can be contaminated by drainage. Native plants work best in drain fields as they easily flourish and thrive in the environment.

Do You Have More Questions?

Call Florida’s Choice Realty today to learn more about the pros and cons of owning a home with a septic system. It’s neither as intimidating nor as inconvenient as you might think. In fact, there can be distinct advantages to having a septic tank.

Contact Florida’s Choice Realty to begin your search for a new home today.

Author: Dawna Cantway

Dawna Cantway has worked in the housing market for over 20 years. Her experience has included drafting house plans for builders, working in the field on remodeling and renovation jobs with her husband, and advising interior design for homes and businesses. These varied skills come together to make a real estate agent with an ability to guide you beyond the typical.

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