Buying A House With A Septic Tank: Is It A Good Idea?

Mortgage Dove

Buying A House With A Septic Tank: Is It A Good Idea?

Many people want to leave the city for a quieter place to live. Nearly half of Americans prefer rural areas over urban ones, as shown by a 2021 Gallup study. However, looking for a house in a rural area has different concerns compared to living in the city, such as checking if the property uses the local sewer system or a septic tank.

A house septic tank handles and manages wastewater from a property not connected to a city's sewer system. It offers advantages but might seem daunting. If you're considering buying a house with a septic tank, here's what to consider before deciding.


What is a Septic Tank?

A septic tank collects waste from your home, like toilet and bathroom water, as well as from the washing machine and garbage disposal. It holds these wastes in your yard, separating solids inside the tank while letting liquids flow into a buried drain field.

Because heavier materials settle at the tank's bottom, it's essential to regularly empty and maintain septic tanks to prevent system issues.

Here are the main parts of a septic tank system you should know about:

  • Inspection ports

These allow a look inside the tank using cameras or tools to check if things are working right.

  • Manhole

It's the top opening on the tank, which someone can access if needed.

  • Scum

It's the oil or grease floating on top of the wastewater, prevented from leaving the tank by special compartments and the outlet.

  • Effluent or wastewater

This is the liquid waste that exits the tank.

  • Sludge

It's the solid waste that settles at the tank's bottom.

  • Drain field or leach field

This is where the liquid waste flows after leaving the tank. It's an area of soil outside the tank that filters out harmful bacteria.

Now that you know how septic tanks function, owning a home with one might seem manageable. Suppose you're eyeing a property with a septic system. In that case, making your offer contingent on a septic inspection is a good idea.

Many homeowners with septic systems understand this and may agree, especially if you're a committed buyer with initial lender approval, showing you're ready to proceed if the inspections go smoothly.

If you're house hunting, starting the approval process now is a good idea. It shows sellers you're serious, plus you'll figure out what you can afford, which is crucial no matter the type of home you're eyeing.


Tips for Buying a House With a Septic Tank

Here are some things to consider before buying a house with a septic tank.

Learn Your Local Laws

Septic systems are designed to fit your home based on local rules. These regulations involve checks on septic tank conditions, upkeep, and replacement. In certain places, state or local health departments might need a septic tank inspection before property transfer. Also, if you plan to expand your home or add plumbing, they might ask for a bigger septic tank.

Get the System Inspected

Regular inspections and maintenance are crucial for septic systems to prevent issues. Inspectors check pipes, ventilation, and drainage to ensure they work well and spot any leaks or clogs before they escalate.

These checks ideally occur every three years, yet many overlook them. If you're purchasing a home with a septic tank, it's wise to review its inspection history. These reports can reveal past problems, such as tree roots blocking pipes or clogged filters, helping you understand the system's condition.

Know the Specs of Your System

You should know the details of the septic tank. Its size decides how often it needs emptying. Also, find out its installation date as tanks might need replacing every 20 to 40 years. Replacing a tank typically costs $3,000 to $10,000, based on its size and your home's location.

Prepare for Regular Maintenance

A septic tank needs regular checks, maintenance, and cleaning to prevent problems. It requires removing the sludge every few years, which might cost around $300 to $600, depending on the tank's size.

You can also consider using biological additives. They help boost the microbes in the tank, like bacteria and enzymes, which break down the sludge and scum. These additives help extend the time between tank cleanings.

Keep an Eye on What You Put Down the Drain

Be careful what you toss down the drain, especially if you have a septic system. Stuff like hygiene items, paint, grease, hair, and paper towels can block pipes and cause leaks.

It's essential only to flush septic-safe items like toilet paper and wipes that break down quickly. Even bleach can harm the good bacteria that help break down waste. So, watch what you drain to avoid more significant plumbing issues!

Know What Can Go Wrong

Septic systems can run into issues, especially when not properly cared for. Problems like leaks, clogged pipes, or a flooded drain field can create significant messes. For instance, if your yard gets flooded and the septic tank doesn't have enough weight, it might shift or float, potentially damaging the pipes.

Additionally, an overloaded tank or drain field may not drain promptly, leading to backflow issues. This can occur if you regularly use a substantial amount of water, such as running appliances like dishwashers and washing machines or taking frequent showers or baths.

Recognize Signs Of A Potential Problem

Look for signs of trouble before they get serious. Smells, weird sounds from pipes, slow drains, or water backing up could mean your septic tank needs checking.


Pros and Cons of Owning a House With a Septic Tank

Owning a house with a septic tank has its advantages and drawbacks. Let's look at the benefits and downsides of a septic system.


  • Cost-effective

With a septic system, you can avoid monthly fees for municipal sewage services and sometimes even save on property taxes.

  • Environmentally friendly

Septic systems are known for being better for the environment compared to some other sewage systems.

  • Long-lasting

Well-maintained septic systems can endure for 20 to 30 years or more.


  • Regular maintenance required

Septic tanks need routine pumping and maintenance every few years, costing up to $500 per cleaning. If neglected, it can lead to messy and costly issues.

  • Clogging risks

Being cautious about what goes down the drain is crucial in homes with septic tanks. Clogged lines can disrupt proper drainage, resulting in sewage backing up into your home.

  • Water contamination risk

A poorly functioning septic tank could contaminate your well water, posing a risk to your water supply.


The Bottom line

Septic tanks at homes in rural areas aren't necessarily something to be afraid of, but they need regular care to avoid expensive issues. Before buying a house with a septic system, it's wise to get it checked to ensure everything's okay and avoid messy problems later on.

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