What you need to know about buying a home on a septic system

Kim Bartells
Published on July 25, 2018

What you need to know about buying a home on a septic system

Not all homes are on city services – some have their own systems to deliver water and remove waste from the property. If you’re considering putting in an offer to purchase a home that has a septic system, read on for what you need to know.

General septic system anatomy

Whatever substances go down the home’s drains ends up in the septic tank. This means everything that is flushed, swirls down the sinks’ drains, and the stuff that drains from the washing machine and shower.

This tank is built to be watertight, to trap the solids it receives and then release what’s left (wastewater) into the systems drain (or, “leach”) fields.

Yes, that’s a simplistic explanation and if you’re interested in a more detailed look at septic systems, check out homeadditionplus.com or the U.S. EPA’s “Homeowner’s Guide to Septic Systems.”

If you buy it, you’ll need to maintain it

One of the biggest benefits of homes on city services is that the homeowners typically don’t have to worry about sewer maintenance. Buy a home with a septic system, however, and those chores are all yours.

And, like all home maintenance tasks, ignore them and you may end up with a rather large repair bill.

In fact, the national average cost for septic system repair is $1,472

according to homeadvisor.com.

So, what’s involved in maintaining a septic system? Ongoing maintenance includes:

  • An annual inspection – A professional will check the system for, among other things, leaks, inspect the scum and sludge levels, check the effluent screens and inspect the mechanical and electrical components.
  • Pumping out the tank – every three to five years

The nationwide average cost of pumping or cleaning a 1,000-gallon septic tank is $378, according to homeadvisor.com.

On the flipside, you’ll save money by not having to pay the city for sewer services (and, possibly water since many homes on septic have well water)

We can ask the homeowner for a ballpark figure of how much he or she pays for septic system maintenance each year and then compare it to what comparable homeowners on city services pay.

Think you can put off taking care of the system?

You don’t really want to find out.

Left unchecked, a leaking septic tank can saturate the leach field. If the field floods, sewage may come to the surface. Most likely, however, it will come back into the house – to the bathtub or sink. Neither a pretty site nor a healthy situation.

Although you may be tempted to put off the system inspection, it’s not wise. You have no way of knowing if everything is working as it should and that the groundwater isn’t being contaminated.

Then, there’s the cost of replacing what you failed to maintain. If you need a new tank, it will cost between $600 and nearly $4,000, depending on size and material. Then, you’ll need to have it installed which will cost between $2,753 and $8,016, according to HomeAdvisor.

The cost of installing a new drain field varies, according to the problem that caused the failure. Plan on spending between $5,000 to $20,000.

Don’t let this scare you off

If you’ve fallen in love with a home that comes with a septic system, don’t let the maintenance requirements scare you away. As mentioned earlier, the annual costs may just beat what you’d pay to be on a city sewer.

We’ll order a septic inspection before you finalize the deal and bring problems found to the seller.

Then, decide that you’ll have the system inspected annually to prevent any large surprises and that you’ll have the tank pumped out every couple of years. This way, the cost of living off the city grid doesn’t have to be a huge surprise of a bill somewhere down the line.

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