Septic tanks aren’t scary was long as you have an expert plumber to help care for them.
If you’ve never lived in a home with a septic tank before, you might find yourself feeling a bit nervous about the prospect of buying a home with a septic system. Maybe you’ve heard horror stories about septic tanks backing up into homes or maybe you are just afraid the maintenance will cost too much. The reality is that septic systems are not really all that complicated or scary. The key is to make sure the system is in good condition before you buy and then keep up with your regular services diligently.
How Does a Septic System Work?
Septic systems collect all the wastewater from a home into a holding tank. There, any solids will settle to the bottom and become “sludge” while floating materials will rise to the top and become “scum.” Both sludge and scum are trapped in the tank, but the dirty water flows out of the tank into a drain field. There it will filter through soil and rock and any organic materials will get broken down by beneficial bacteria. The run off that eventually emerges from the drain field will be free from contamination and can safely rejoin the water table.
What Maintenance Tasks Are Involved?
Septic tanks need to be pumped out periodically to dispose of the accumulated sludge and scum that can’t make it out through the drain field. The best way to tell when a pump out is due is with an inspection. However, in general a small family can expect to go anywhere from 3 to 5 years between pumpouts depending on their water usage, the size of their tank, and the type of drain field they have.
Will I Have to Change My Habits?
Yes. Septic systems are more sensitive than sewer systems, so you need to be careful about what you put down the drains. Switching to a septic-safe brand of toilet paper is highly recommended, as is cutting back on your garbage disposal use. You may also need to change you habits to avoid doing multiple high-water-use activities at once to avoid overloading the system. For example you probably wouldn’t want to run the dishwasher and the washing machine and take a shower all at once.
What Do I Need to Do Before Buying a Home with a Septic System?
The seller should provide you with information about the age of the system (which in most cases will be the same as the age of the home) as well as the last time a pump out or inspection was done. However, you would still be well served to get your own plumber to perform a separate septic tank inspection to assess the condition of all parts of the system and give you an idea of when and if any repairs or services will be needed.