If you are thinking about buying a home with a septic system, you should know that there is a lot to consider. Though the septic system may not be at the top of your list, you will want to get a careful inspection before buying. Not every homeowner knows how to properly maintain their septic system, and their lack of care could lead to expensive problems in your future.
Approximately 21% of American households, many in rural or suburban areas, still use septic systems and are happy with them. With proper care and regular maintenance, a septic will last for 20-30 years.
There are many reasons to get a septic system inspection before buying a home.
Septic System Overview
Septic systems are underground wastewater treatment structures, commonly used in rural areas without centralized sewer systems. They use a combination of nature and proven technology to treat wastewater from household plumbing produced by bathrooms, kitchen drains, and laundry.
A typical septic system consists of a septic tank and a drainfield, or soil absorption field.
The septic tank digests organic matter and separates floatable matter (e.g., oils and grease) and solids from the wastewater. Soil-based systems discharge the liquid (known as effluent) from the septic tank into a series of perforated pipes buried in a leach field, chambers, or other special units designed to slowly release the effluent into the soil.
Alternative systems use pumps or gravity to help septic tank effluent trickle through sand, organic matter (e.g., peat and sawdust), constructed wetlands, or other media to remove or neutralize pollutants like disease-causing pathogens, nitrogen, phosphorus, and other contaminants. Some alternative systems are designed to evaporate wastewater or disinfect it before it is discharged to the soil.
5 Reasons to Get a Septic Inspection
Modern septic tanks last for two decades or more, depending on the construction material. No matter what type of septic tank you have, you can easily add 5-10 years to its life by getting it inspected regularly. While there is no bad time for having a septic inspection, it is a must-have if you are buying (or selling) a home. Without it, you will miss out on important details, which may cost you dearly in the future.
1. Septic systems are about more than just toilets
Any drainage that happens in the home, from the kitchen sink, to dishwashers, showers, and washing machines, leads straight to the septic system. It is important to keep those toilets flushing, and the kitchen sinks draining, and that washing machine cleaning.
2. A home inspector will not necessarily look at the septic system
When buying a home, consider that the home inspection does not necessarily cover the septic system, even though it is integral to a comfortable home. Home inspectors are not required, nor do they have the expertise, to perform a full septic system inspection. The most that they will do is a visual inspection, which does not cover some of the problems that a septic system may have due to neglect or lack of maintenance.
3. Problems with a septic system can go unnoticed at first
There are other insidious causes of septic malfunction. If trees are planted too close, the roots can create blockages or leaks. Because many of these culprits are unknown or misunderstood by homeowners, the problems can go unnoticed for a period of time. If you neglect to get a septic system inspection before buying, the hidden problems could sneak up on you only after it is too late to affordably deal with it.
4. It will save you money on unnecessary repair costs in the future
A septic system inspection is more cost-effective and efficient than dealing with septic system issues only after problems become apparent. If the inspector does find problems with the septic system, you can negotiate with the seller to try to lower the cost of the property, or you can ask them to make the repairs before purchase. If there are no problems with the system, it will be helpful to know the level of maintenance so that you are not caught off-guard at some point in the future.
5. Determine whether or not the septic system meets your household needs.
A septic system inspection is a great opportunity to consider potential changes. Some older septic systems may have undersized tanks and may not be adequate for your family size. Take this time to consider your needs. If the previous household was a smaller family, you may want to upgrade your system instead of waiting for the system to become backed up due to overuse.
The Septic Inspection
The actual inspection of the septic system starts with gathering information. Since the system is underground no inspection can find everything without excavating and this is impractical.
Here is a list of questions you will want to answer before the inspection:
- Has the system ever been pumped? This one is important because it is the only real maintenance item the seller would need to have performed.
- Location of septic system– You will need to know the location of the septic tank for future pumping and maintenance. You can get this information through the county, but asking the previous owner is much easier.
- Septic Location Map– Whatever entity is in charge of overseeing septic systems in your area should have a map of the septic location provided by the original home builder. This document should show not only where the tank is located but the location of leach field as well as the number of leaching Chambers.
- Any available history on the maintenance of the system-Things like:
- How often has the system been pumped
- What contractor was used?
- Obtain any maintenance records
- Have there been any problems
- Were they repaired
- Where are the covers? – The tank itself should have manhole covers over the chambers of the tank. This is what the technician will use to access the tank in order to test and or clean.
What Will the Inspectors Look For?
- Find the date that the tank was last pumped
- Check the sludge level
- Location of the septic tank and drainfield in relation to wells and streams
- Ensure that the system is large enough for the home that it serves
- Check for liquid waste that has leaked onto the ground surface
- If riser lids are present, they should be inspected for cracks and made sure they are secure
- Make sure that the baffles are firmly connected to the tank’s inlet and outlet pipes
- Inspect drain lines to ensure that each receive the same amount of wastewater
The Pitfalls of Not Getting a Septic Inspection When Buying a Home
Of all the systems a household relies on, the wastewater treatment system (whether septic or public sewer) is probably one of the most underrated. When asked which is most important, most people often think of the HVAC, electrical, and plumbing systems without ever giving much thought to the household wastewater. But the truth is, your wastewater treatment system plays a part in nearly every day-to-day activity, from the moment you wake up until you go to bed.
Without a septic inspection, you are taking a gamble on whether the home you’re buying will be safe for your family. A failing septic system creates many issues for the household and the environment, potentially contaminating drinking water, soil, and any nearby bodies of water. Inheriting a failing, damaged, or inadequate septic system from a previous owner may mean you have to foot the bill for costly repairs or upgrades. You may be okay with making those repairs, but at least a septic inspection will allow you to make an informed decision about the home you’re buying, ensuring your dream home isn’t actually a money pit.
Call West Coast Sanitation Today!
Like everything else, your septic system requires regular maintenance. Have it inspected by a septic company near you at least once every year. During a maintenance session, your contractor will pump your septic system, conduct a drain test, and look for & rectify issues. We understand the value and importance of a septic system inspection prior to purchasing a home. Our professional inspectors strive to exceed your expectations and help you obtain the essential information you need to make an informed decision.
At West Coast Sanitation, we know that you don’t have time to deal with septic problems. If you think that your system has reached capacity, please give us a call right away. We have professionals ready to answer your questions and get your system working properly again.
Call us at (951) 780-5922 right away. We have professionals ready to answer your questions.