If you are looking at older homes or homes out in the country, chances are you’ll see some that have some type of private septic system for waste-water disposal. We’ll discuss what it usually entails and what to watch out for. But we will stress as always that you want to make sure and have any house you plan to buy inspected before you close on the purchase, and if included the septic system.
What exactly is a septic system?
Unlike a municipal (city) sewer system which treats waste-water for a large number of dwellings a private system is normally installed to treat a single family home. In rare cases a group of homes in the country will be on a shared private system and the only thing I’ll say about that is be VERY careful if that is what services a home you are interested in. Now for purposes of this discussion I’ll show what a single household septic system SHOULD be based on current guidelines. For older homes this may not be the case so you might want to check with county health department records to see what actually is installed (if they actually have any records of it at all).
Most homes with a private septic system are serviced by what is known as a ‘gravity’ type system. The diagrams below from the Indiana Construction Guidelines document (found at the link at the end of this post), show a common installation meeting current requirements. But most installed systems should at least have a tank to catch solids and a drain / absorption field. (I saw an old farm house where the tank drained directly into the creek in back). The diagrams include a dosing tank which is a new recommendation but not usually needed for most gravity systems. Perimeter drains are also a newer item and are often required in newly installed systems.
The basic idea is the tank will handle the solids which are partially digested by microbes and then the liquid overflow will drain out to a absorption field to keep the tank from constantly filling up with liquid. The nice thing with the gravity system is the maintenance is much simpler than some of the other types (no motors or pumps unlike the dosing tank shown in the system below).
With regular maintenance a properly installed gravity system can last many years. What many people don’t know is that the system is sized depending on bedrooms in the home at the time of installation, not bathrooms. It’s based on how many people might live in the home at any given time.
What to look for
So now that you understand the basic function what do you look for when purchasing an home with a septic system? When we list a home with a septic we try to find out what the seller knows as far as location, last time is was cleaned (pumped) out, and if they had any issues or repairs done while living there. Also, if there were any additions / remodeling done to the home was the septic upgraded or moved properly if needed (otherwise if might be undersized if bedrooms were added or part of the drain field was covered up). This is basically what you as a buyer should want to know before you even make an offer. When looking at the home you might be able to walk out in the yard and at least locate the clean-out for the tank. Then you have an idea from there where the drain field might be as it usually will be away from the home and downhill from the tank. Look for any fresh digging or uneven spots to indicate some work had been done. Or look for standing water in that area which might indicated the drain fields are not working, especially if the water is discolored and smells like, well not good. If all looks OK from what you can tell you’ll still want to have it inspected, and in some cases your lender will require it as part of the loan approval. If everything checks good and you end up buying the home you do want to keep in mind that even if you don’t see your septic system, it does require some maintenance (see list below). If the home is empty or is a foreclosure there is no real way to tell how well the septic will perform once you’ve lived in the home for awhile. Best just to assume the worst in that case and figure in the repair / replacement costs when making your offer.
If the type of home you’re looking for might have a septic you’ll want a real estate agent that has some experience with them and yes, The Derrick Team does. Our current home has one and they function just fine when properly maintained. In my younger days I owned a home with a system that had major problems as well. And that was no fun at all. Give us a call or text today at 317-563-1110 to see what we can help you with, we work 7 days a week.
Here is a list of recommendations based on what most septic companies see from common repairs:
- Have your tank pumped every 3-5 years depending on usage / number of persons living in the home.
- Take care of the absorption field as its basically a function of the volume and strength of water poured into the system so conserve water when you can. Never funnel rain or basement drainage systems into it or onto the yard area where the absorption field is located.
- Minimize use of chemical or biological liquids and check for ‘septic system safe’ labels on cleaners and such. Even antibacterial products may adversely affect your system as there are bacterial microbes that break down the solids in the tank.
- Don’t dump in or flush anything that doesn’t decompose.
- Keep trees, bushes, or any building away from the tank and drain field as roots and shading will reduce the systems effectiveness and possible lead to it failing.
For more details on gravity and other systems check out this link to the Indiana State Department Of Health: http://www.in.gov/isdh/23283.htm