Buying a Home With a Septic System


Many first-time buyers have always lived where municipal sewers were available or just haven’t given any thought to where the waste water from their parents’ house went.  When you take a shower or flush the toilet, you know the water and everything with it goes somewhere.  In the city, the sewer carries that waste water to a treatment plant where it is treated to remove waste solids and purify the water enough to be released back into a river or lake.  In suburban areas you don’t have the sewers so you have your own little treatment facility to deal with your waste water….your septic system!

There is nothing to be afraid of with having a septic system; however, there are things that you should be aware of and things that may need attention over time.

The septic system begins with a tank that is connected to the waste plumbing in your house.  On the ‘outlet’ end of the tank are pipes typically leading out to a distribution box (D box) and then to what is called the drain field or leaching field.  There are a variety of septic field designs, all are deep enough to avoid freezing in winter.

As the waste water and solids flow into the tank, some things float to the surface and some sink to the bottom of the tank.  The tank acts as a digester for the solids that flow into it.  Bacteria in the tank break down most of the material.  Some that floats to the top gets digested, but some is made up of things the bacteria can’t eat.  Over time that layer builds up, as will the sludge at the bottom, so it is recommended that the tank be pumped every 3-5 years.  ONLY LIQUIDS ARE SUPPOSED TO FLOW INTO THE LEACH FIELD.

The septic tank will fill to the level where the pipe exits the tank.  The liquid runs out into the leach field and into the ground where it percolates downward toward the water table.  That water eventually reaches the grown water aquifer at some level underground.  Keep that in mind when you dispose of hazardous materials or old drugs – DO NOT FLUSH THEM INTO YOUR SEPTIC SYSTEM.

When buying a house with a septic system, you should have the system evaluated and the tank pumped out.  It adds a little to the home inspection cost but it is worth it for the peace of mind.  There are things that can go seriously wrong with septic systems and letting them go too long can result in having to replace the septic tank and field.

You should also be aware of what you can do to keep your septic system working efficiently.  A well maintained system that is pumped out regularly will last for years; many do not because of homeowner neglect or carelessness.

Be sure to ask the seller or realtor about the location of your septic tank.  Quite often they will leave a copy of the approved septic plan which shows the tank and field locations.  If not, you might be able to obtain a copy of the plan from the municipality’s code enforcement office or State of N H Department of Environmental Services.  The location is extremely important as you do not want to drive/park on it, plow it off in the winter, if you are planning a pool or patio, or planting trees.

Obtaining service records for your septic system would also be helpful.  The seller/realtor should be able to tell you what septic service company has been servicing your system. Gather as much information as you can, have it in your household files, and enjoy your new home!

For ways to protect your septic system click here.