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septic sewer
Old 06-06-2007, 08:32 PM   #1
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septic sewer

I thought we were there, finally. But the truth is...

In the last minute, I was told the house we are going to buy has a septic sewer instead of municipal. We have not signed the contract. That's good, but what should I do now?
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Old 06-06-2007, 08:48 PM   #2
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Septic tank with lateral lines? Very commom in the country where houses are too far from town. If its a recent installation in relatively sandy soil there shouldn't be any problems. There should be a percolation test report available showing how many feet of lines were needed to meet requirements. I have a septic tank with lagoon due to my very heavy clay soil. Several neighboring properties do have trouble with their tank/lateral line systems during rainy weather as they are likely undersized.

If worried, I'd specify that the system meet perc. test requirements.
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Old 06-06-2007, 08:57 PM   #3
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I may have more details tomorrow. But the current owner really knows little. Only after home inspection, he realized there is one oil tank underground.
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Old 06-06-2007, 09:06 PM   #4
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Originally Posted by semtex View Post
I thought we were there, finally. But the truth is...

In the last minute, I was told the house we are going to buy has a septic sewer instead of municipal. We have not signed the contract. That's good, but what should I do now?
It all depends. If the septic system has been cleaned and inspected, and is in good condition and good working order, you should have no problems.

If it hasn't been cleaned and inspected, or if it's in poor condition, your talking a good chunk of money to repair or replace it.

If the house you're looking at is within the boundaries and zoning authority of a municipality, check with them to make sure you won't be forced to connect to the city sewer system. Not that a municipal sewer system is a bad thing....but it could be a VERY costly thing.

I worked in the wastewater (sewage) field for over 30 years for a municipality, and I had daily interaction with septic cleaners, installers, and inspectors. I've heard the good, the bad, and the ugly. And in our municipality if the property is within 150 feet of a municipal sewer, you HAD to connect to the sewer.....at 100% YOUR cost! If a new sewer main was installed within 150 feet of your property, you had 12 months to connect....at YOUR expense. (I guess you could say I know my sh*t)

Both septic and municipal systems have there benefits and drawbacks. But either way, if everything is in good working order (and it's been professionally inspected by a reliable septic inspector) you should experience no major problems. With municipal sewer you'll have a monthly bill. With a septic system you'll have to pay to have it cleaned and inspected occasionally....around here it normally runs from 10 to 15 years, sometimes 20 years between cleanings, and that cost roughly $200 each time. Costs may vary in your area.
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Old 06-06-2007, 09:32 PM   #5
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What Goonie said.

That the owner was unaware of the existence of the septic system is a major concern.

Have the tank pumped and it and the distribution box dug up and inspected.

The big advantage to septic is no monthly fees for sewer, but you have to pump it out every now and then...particularly if you put bad things into it like grease, hair, and too much waste food.

The big disadvantages are that you have to be careful what you put down the drain and the pumping costs. I got mine pumped for about $325 if I dug up the two hatches myself...about 3 feet down. Around $550 if they dug it up themselves.

If its a large property, good slope, soil that absorbs and lets water disperse well (sandy, as mentioned), should be okay. If its a very small property (quarter acre or less), clay soils, old system, hasnt been pumped in 10 years, oblivious owner has been pouring bacon fat down the drain for the whole time, etc...could be a big problem.

Septic sort of makes peeing out in the yard a little less disturbing.

One last thing...any small bodies of water downhill from you or on the property? That lovely 'pond' down the hill might smell fairly bad come July. Have those tested for bacterial issues from the septic system if so. Anyone steeply uphill from you that also might not be aware they have a septic system until theres clogs and overflows down onto your property?
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Old 06-06-2007, 09:33 PM   #6
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Check with the county is there just one tank? How much room do you have if you need to run a new system? Grandpa had a tank under the house on a small lake lot (he was screwed if he needed to place another. FIL has 3 acre lot with the tank in the same place working fine for the last 20 years and plenty of options if it ever fails. I had to get a new system put in a few houses ago (13/14 yrs ago) I think it was between 2&$4,000.
Just get a pro out there and look at your options this shouldn't be a big deal. I think the pro's & cons city sewer to septic are about a wash.
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Old 06-06-2007, 10:42 PM   #7
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We have a 20 yr old septic/leach field system. Almost every one in our subdivision had to construct "seepage" pits when their leach fields plugged which is the typical failure. A seepage pit is kind of a vertical leach field & this requires boring a 3-4 ft dia hole about 30 feet deep. In our area, the seepage pit remediation cost is about $6,000.

A key thing to a septic/leach field system is routine maintenece. This requires accessing the septic tank and pumping out the solids. If this is not done, the build-up will eventually crest over the chambers of the septic tank and eventually plug the leach lines.

Some jurisdictions require 2 complete leach fields (100% oversizing) to be constructed when the system is built and a valve to be put in the main leach line that outlets the septic tank, typically near the "distribution" box. When one leach field plugs, the intent is to be able to turn the valve and discharge into the other leach field system. Unfortunately, the valve location and instructions are not typically documented or given to the homeowner. Also, the need for the changeover is usually years after the home is first occupied and at this time there may be a new owner.

Again, the real important thing is routine maintenence and also putting RidEx or some comprable treatment into the system on a reg basis. We have been pretty religious about this and as I said, our system is 20 yrs old.
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Old 06-06-2007, 10:50 PM   #8
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Septic systems started failing in my area when neighborhoods came close to build-out. The soil doesn't perk real well, then with homes and driveways increasing the concentration of water after rains.. well there were issues.

One City Councilman didn't want to approve the extension of sewer lines, he said the health department hadn't said that there were problems. Think about that, if sewers were failing no one wants to admit that because they couldn't sell their homes.. and maybe the health department would claim the homes weren't habitable.

Someone offered to bring him raw oysters from the neighboring beach.. After much kvetching sewer extensions were approved.
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Old 06-06-2007, 11:01 PM   #9
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You will find much pseudoscience/folklore on the topic of septic tanks.

You will find that most development dwellers to not have any knowledge on the care and feeding of septic tanks.

Many modern developments have McMansions with water softeners/4 bathrooms/garbage disposals/hot tubs... on septic tancs

Accidents looking for a place to happen.
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Old 06-06-2007, 11:22 PM   #10
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Old 06-07-2007, 06:07 AM   #11
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We are about to find out what the (monetary/physical) damage will be for hooking up to the town sewer. We'd be responsible for all costs including digging up the street, not just taking it to the prop. line.

Our house was built almost 40 years ago. There seem to be 2 "fields"; one going from the 3 bathrooms/washing machine and one from the other side of the house where the kitchen is. The first one has a separation tank for solids and we had that pumped just a couple months after moving in 3 yrs or so ago. (Hey hon!! There's raw sewage spewing out from under the sidewalk outside the house!). Septic newbies. We also called these same "spurgo" people when the kitchen drain stopped draining. They blamed it on root infiltration/soap build-up and blasted the line with a high-power water jet. Didn't have a chance to try Nords' copper sulfate trick.

Things were more or less ok after that 'til recently when we really started to see a couple of small 'puddles' in the general direction of where the fields supposedly are. After a bunch of Internet research I learned (correct me if this seems wrong):
-The systems generally do not have an unlimited life even under the best of circumstances.
-Overflow can kill off the field and you are screwed. This can be either because of solids/clogs (as in our first scenario) or because of sheer excess water (killing off aerobic bacteria -- as in our second scenario with the "helpful" drain blaster). I've read it's unlikely "normal" (small) amounts of grease or chemicals would cause serious damage.

Thinking back to when we first bought the house, we did notice there was always a little damp/muddy zone in a particular spot (field A, as it turns out) and a little hole in the ground where one could hear drain water running (field B). We didn't put 2+2 together.

While I did wash out the odd paintbrush, I was careful not to put grease or oil down the drains, and I always used the most minimal of household chemicals (1 qt. of bleach can last us a couple years). We also did put in those flushable "enzyme" packets, but I have read mixed opinions on their usefulness.

We have no way of knowing what the previous owners did or didn't do over the last 37(?) years. Whether the system had already reached the end of its natural life when we got the house or not, we may well have given it the "coup de grace" out of sheer ignorance. We have the building plans for the house, but they don't include any of the plumbing, electrical, heating, sewage lines. The practice was just to "wing it" on-site.

We've also got a ton of trees, clay soil, and bedrock (travertine; porous by exceptionally hard) close to the surface. There's no place to set up a new leach field. For the sewer, they will have to tear up most of the driveway (not asphalt, but a kind of rustic flagstone) and may encounter serious rock below the surface intrying to dig a channel for the line. We just don't know yet how gnarly it will be--I'm just gritting my teeth right now. It's going to be a bloody mess as they are going to have to dig cross-wise across the back yard to link the kitchen drains from 'round the other side.

It's very frustrating as no one seems to be "competent" in septic systems. Company A might put them in. Company B will empty them out (these are the same people with the water jets, which I learned were actually damaging to the system!!!) No one is much concerned with maintenance, instructions, repair.. the only advice from anyone--even di$intere$ted parties--is to hook up to the sewer. Fortunately at least that is an option, since it does pass down our street.

Anyway, I wish I had been smarter and more informed from the start. Semtex, you are wise to have put things on hold until you can get more info/tests/inspections.

Apparently there CAN be very good utility and lifespan to septic systems (37 years is still pretty good, considering many estimate a natural lifespan of 1/2 that...) if they are well-designed and mantained, but it is worth checking out.

And yes, Khan.. "knowledge of care and feeding" is key. It's really too bad that these systems are not required to come with an owner's manual and "30,000-flush check-up" schedule just like you'd get with a car, or a furnace/boiler.. The septic is no less costly or important, also health-wise... could save everyone a lot of trouble down the road.
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Old 06-07-2007, 06:10 AM   #12
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I thought we were there, finally. But the truth is...

In the last minute, I was told the house we are going to buy has a septic sewer instead of municipal. We have not signed the contract. That's good, but what should I do now?
A successful inspection of the whole septic system MUST be a condition of the sale !

Otherwise, do like everyone else said !
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Old 06-07-2007, 07:25 AM   #13
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Whenever I hear stories of failed septic/leach field systems I always think of the line from the Beverly Hillbillies TV show theme song:"...and up through the ground came a bubblin' crude."

You can always do what those of us in non-perc soil areas (in my case, solid limestone rock) do - install an aerobic system. Waters and fertilizes your lawn for free, too!
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Old 06-07-2007, 07:36 AM   #14
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I may have more details tomorrow. But the current owner really knows little. Only after home inspection, he realized there is one oil tank underground.

Is there in fact a oil tank in the ground? This used to be common for homes with fuel oil fired furnaces and after a time they leak and leach oil into the ground water. If there is an oil tank it needs to be dealt with.
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Lot's of good Info Posted for Semtex
Old 06-07-2007, 07:40 AM   #15
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Lot's of good Info Posted for Semtex

Thought I would add a resource references Like Goonie, I've been involved in wastewater for almost 30 years - on the engineering side. In my early engineering career days, I participated in several feasibility studies for small municipalities with failing septic systems, to determine a cost-effective solution (which usually meant installing a municipal sewage system). Being the junior engineer, I was "elected" to stomp around a number of residential backyards with ponded water from failing septic systems to review the number of failing systems up close and personal - and the odor is pretty bad if the air temperature is above about 60 F. I also developed a case of intestinal worms after one such jaunt - not a lot of fun.

Anyway, the Federal EPA has a website devoted to on-site and small municipal systems with more information on it than you can shake a stick at. I've linked one of their publications geared towards homeowners with septic systems. It contains a lot of information that people have already posted here. It also makes a pretty good reference for people buying a house with a septic system for the first time, to see if they are up to the responsibilities. However, since it is estimated at least 25% of the homes in the U.S. are on some sort of on-site wastewater disposal system, it is not like these things are that rare.

http://www.epa.gov/owm/septic/pubs/h...guide_long.pdf

PS: CFB hit the nail on the head - if the previous owner really did not know that the house had a septic system, you have no idea of its status without a good inspection.
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Old 06-07-2007, 07:41 AM   #16
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The old oil tank has the potential to cause you a untold expense if it has leaked. The local EPA Goons will make your life extremely hard. Possible permit to remove, long time monitoring of the surrounding ground water, possible interference with the septic tanks and/or fields. I think I would get out of that contract to purchase immediately and look elsewhere.
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Old 06-07-2007, 08:50 AM   #17
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We switched from oil to gas at the time of our purchase, as the existing oil burner was busted. Someone contracted by the plumber/gas guy came and pumped out the oil. Then they filled the tank with dirt. That, they said, was one of the two consented ways for dealing w/it, the other being wholesale removal. I would have chosen removal, but no-one asked me; they just filled it w/dirt since that was the cheap solution (which also allowed them to get rid of excess dirt from their trench-digging -sigh). I don't think there are any real environmental monitors 'round these parts.

Seems like every house I own (this is only my 2nd) teaches me new things I "shoulda known".

REWahoo.. that's an interesting link about the powered aerobic systems. I'll try and find out if there's anything like that here as an alternative to the sewer hook-up.
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Old 06-07-2007, 09:59 AM   #18
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The house changed hand twice in three years, not counting this coming transaction yet. That's why the owner has no clue about the house, he does not live there often.

Rating is up, I wish I could lock it two weeks ago.
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Old 06-07-2007, 10:24 AM   #19
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Nothing wrong with a septic tank. You be off the grid, poop-wise.
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Old 06-07-2007, 10:37 AM   #20
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Nothing wrong with a septic tank. You be off the grid, poop-wise.
Absolutely correct.

But some of us draw the line at septic tanks in the 21st century. I have already put up with enough sh** in my life and personally I choose to "just say no" to septic tanks.

That's one bill I don't mind paying one bit. Each to his/her own.
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