Buying A Home With A Septic System

The Home has a Septic System…..

If you or someone you know recently purchased a home with a septic system, or are considering purchasing a home that uses a septic system, there are a number of things you need to know and consider in advance. Here’s a quick overview on septic systems, how they work, and what maintenance a homeowner needs to know:

Rural Properties Typically Use Septic Systems

In South Placer looking at rural homes for sale it isn’t unusual to find a septic system to be used to dispose of the liquid waste. A well designed and running septic is nothing that should concern a future homeowner. Just make sure you get the information you need and proper inspections to make sure its in good operating condition before you buy the home.

How It Works

Here’s the short version: A pipe drains all of the wastewater from your home and deposits it in a watertight underground tank. This is where solids (called sludge) settle to the bottom, and floatable materials (called scum) rise to the top. Both sludge and scum remain in the tank and are periodically pumped out by a professional septic service technician.

There is also a middle layer made up of liquid wastewater (called effluent), that drains from the tank into a buried drainfield in your yard, which helps the wastewater disperse into the soil. The soil in your yard filters out any contaminants, and the beneficial bacteria in the soil break down organics in the wastewater to use as plant food.

Here is a deeper dive into how aseptic system work:

Bacteria are what makes a septic system work. They break down waste, leaving water clean enough to safely percolate down into the earth. The whole system is designed to keep bacteria healthy and busy. Some live in the tank, but most do their work in the drain field.

1. All waste flows to the septic tank.
2. Watery waste, called “effluent,” fills most of the tank. Anaerobic bacteria begin breaking down the organic material in the effluent.
3. A layer of sludge falls to the bottom. Sludge is composed of inorganic solids and the byproducts of bacterial digestion.
4. A layer of scum floats to the top. Scum is primarily composed of fats, greases and oils.

The septic tank acts like a settling pond. Greases and oils float to the top. Heavier solids sink to the bottom.
5. A filter prevents most solids from entering the outlet pipe.
6. Effluent flows to the drain field.

The drain septic field provides a large area where bacteria can thrive and treated water can seep into the ground.
7. Holes in the drain septic field pipe allow effluent to seep into surrounding gravel.

Gravel around pipes allows water to flow into soil and oxygen to reach bacteria.
8. Aerobic bacteria in gravel and soil complete decomposition of the waste.
9. Clean water seeps down into the groundwater and aquifer.

It's a cafeteria for bacteria

The Septic System is Completely Separate

Both the potable water source for your home (a well, city line, etc.) and your septic system are completely separate from each other. The septic system is intended to disperse contaminated water back into the ground as a means of filtering it, but that effluent water does not come in contact at any point in time with your drinking water.

Types of Septic Systems

The only difference between types of septic systems is the size of the drain field and the soil in a home’s yard. For example, liquid waste sometimes encounters difficulty in dispersal when it is drained into clay-rich soil as opposed to sandy soil. When that occurs, the drain field will need to be large enough to handle the volume of effluent the average family generates. To prevent the possible clogging of a septic system, it is essential not to use toilets or sinks as a disposal for dental floss, coffee grounds, cat litter, paint, chemicals, or other non-biodegradable materials. However you should be aware that septic systems that need to be more “engineered” because of soil conditions are more expensive to maintain, repair or replace.

What Maintenance do I need to do with a Septic System?

The system system tank will need to be pumped every so often. The periodic pumping of a septic tank must be handled by professionals to remove the accumulated sludge and scum. How often the tank needs to be pumped depends largely on how large the tank is and how much wastewater the household generates. A three-bedroom house will most likely have a 1500-gallon septic tank that needs to be drained every three to five years, though depending on the waste generation and soil conditions, it may need to be done annually.

In addition to pumping, the tank should be regularly inspected for any leaks or clogs. The telltale signs that the system may be clogged include bad smells and slowly draining or gurgling fixtures. Also, it is very important to avoid the use of septic tank additives, which claim to break down sludge and scum within a septic tank to reduce for pumping. Studies have shown these additives can actually damage your septic system, resulting in a costly repair.

How Much Does It Cost?

There are several factors that go into determining the cost of draining your septic system, including tank size, drainfield size, and distance for hauling away waste. Pumping a 1500-gallon tank might cost somewhere in the $400+ range depending on the specific circumstances of the job based on your home’s tank size, location, and access to pump.

Before Buying a Home with a Septic Tank and System

You need to understand the septic system for the home you are purchasing.

  1. You should inquire and ask for what the Seller knows about the system including the last time it was pumped and if any repairs were made to the septic system.You should go to the county or county website to research what septic system was installed at the property.
  2. You should go to the county or county website to research what septic system was installed at the property. Make sure you get the complete design including the location of the septic field and any reserve field. Septic tanks are sized based upon bedrooms in the home. Also note the age and type of septic system design. Please note the distance from the home and the well if there is one.
  3. You should schedule an septic tank pumping and inspection. On the contract to purchase your agent can request that the Seller perform this pumping and inspection. I recommend that this step be done prior to the close of escrow and unless its is available as a pre-sale inspection report you should not accept a report over 6 months old.

Inspections can give you important details about the condition of the home’s septic system but is often limited to the tank, You should walk the leach field and make sure there are no shrubs, trees, or pasture animals on the leach field.

Quick Tip: Adding a bedroom to the home? Adding a bedroom may require you to increase the capacity of the septic system. Planning to put in a pool, garage, granny flat, etc?... Its critical to understand the septic system design or you may be faced with an expensive cost to move the tanks and or leach field to accommodate the pool or garage you were hoping to add. 

An Old Septic System or one Needing Repair can be a Big Expense

Even a well-designed and installed system can need replacement after 25 to 30 years, and replacement costs can vary widely. Most experts state a basic gravity-feed septic system can cost as little as $4,000 to replace, but if your system requires electrical or mechanical parts of function correctly, the replacement cost can range anywhere from $15,000 to $35,000. Replacing a Septic Tank

If you are looking at rural property it makes sense to make sure your real estate agent can help you understand buying a home with a septic. A septic system can be a big issue if you don’t do your homework before you complete the purchase of the home.