Most homes are connected to the main sewer line. However, older homes and properties in rural areas may have a septic tank or private sewage system instead. This means most people don’t know what to look for when buying these types of properties.
Here are a few tips on what to check if you’re buying a house with a septic tank.
Age and Condition
Here are a few questions you need to ask about the septic system to assess its age and condition. When was the septic tank installed? When was it last pumped out? Has anyone inspected the emptied tank to assess its condition? How much longer is it expected to last? This includes how long the septic tank itself will remain intact and how long the tank can go before it needs to be serviced again. Ask for documentation instead of relying on someone’s memory.
Is the septic tank officially registered? If it isn’t, this can create serious problems for you. And it may be reason enough not to buy the property. Furthermore, you should ask where it is located. Then check the soil around the septic tank. If the soil is wet, muddy or smells like waste, it needs to be pumped out at best and replaced entirely at worst. For example, a septic tank fills up with waste but can create similar problems if the body has cracked and leaks waste.
Check the landscaping or gardens around the septic tank. You don’t want to see trees or bushes immediately next to the septic tank or the pipes leading to it. Also check the ground down slope from the septic system. Look for drainage issues in and around the septic tank, since drainage from someone else’s irrigation system can results in sewage overflows into your home. If the septic tank is leaking wastewater into the nearby stream or other people’s land, it can create legal headaches for you, the new owner. You can have the septic tank’s drainage field surveyed to assess its current state. This is essential if you plan on planting a garden or grading the area around the septic tank field.
The first question to ask along these lines is when it was last emptied, but that is only a starting point. How often does the septic tank need to be emptied? And what is its capacity? Determine how much wastewater you will send to the septic tank each day so that you know if it isn’t going to handle the demands your family places on it. For example, a septic tank that handles the waste for a retired couple or just weekend visitors may not be able to handle a family of five doing laundry every day.
Ask about the cost of emptying. Better yet, see the receipts if you can. This has the side benefit of proving when it was last emptied. Ask about annual maintenance costs like adding extra bacteria to accelerate waste breakdown or inspecting the unit.