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Should I be concerned about the septic system?

If you are buying a home in a modern subdivision or within city borders, you are probably on the community sewer system and don't need to worry about septic systems. However, if you are looking in the county or rural areas you need to ask if the home has a septic system.

A properly operating septic system is a vital part of many homes located in rural areas. However, the septic system is often the last thing on the mind of a homeowner until there is a problem with the system. When a home is purchased, the big question is, Will I have trouble with the system after I move into the home?

Unfortunately, there is no absolute way to predict how long a septic system will last or if it will be able to handle an increased load. A septic inspection, which is required by some states within 30 days of settlement, can yield useful information on the condition of the system as it exists when the system is inspected. While predicting the future with regard to the septic system is not part of any septic inspection, the inspection often uncovers defects in the system which can save the purchaser unexpected expense. There are many different types of septic systems ranging from what are called conventional in-ground systems to sand mounds and from spray irrigation systems to stream discharge systems. There are also seepage pits, cesspools, and homemade systems.

How often should a septic tank be cleaned or pumped? The frequency for pumping a septic system depends on a number of factors; the average frequency is between two and four years. You can, in some cases, abuse a septic system and neglect to pump it for 10 or 20 years without any apparent problem. This would be like driving your automobile for 50,000 miles without changing the oil. You might get away with it, but you would certainly cause undue wear and tear on the engine. The same is true with a septic system. You may get away with not pumping the system for many years, but you will pay for it in the end by having to replace the absorption area.

The Buyer's Point of View

Questions you might consider:


  • Is public sewer available if I need to connect to it?
  • Do I have sufficient, suitable land to put a replacement system if it is needed?
  • What if the property is vacant when it is inspected? Vacant properties further limit the inspection of the system since the water usage is nil.

Owning your own septic system has advantages and disadvantages. Public systems, of course, have fees associated with their use; private systems avoid these fees but are not without operating cost. When a public system needs renovation, the cost often is divided among a large number of people. When a private system fails, it's usually the owner's problem alone.

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  • Last edited November 11 2008
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