Private Septic Advice

Updated on September 25, 2009
N.V. asks from Medford, MA
15 answers

We are hoping to purchase a house soon but have come across homes with "private septic" which we are not familiar with at all! One home's description used the term "leach field" and another stated "1250 gallon". Like I said, we are not familiar with this and hope we can get some advice/information to help with our decision.

Thank you in advance!

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K.R.

answers from Lewiston on

HI I'm a realtor in Maine and a septic tends to be more common here than public sewer. leach field is the rainage "field" for the liquid waste and 1250 gallon is the size of the holding tank for the solid waste (which is average for a 3-4 bedroom home) basically the waste goes into the tank, the solids remain and the liquids go through a filter type system and then through the soil in the leach field where it is again filtered and sinks into the ground. A septic tank should be pumped out by a septic company at least every 3 years and the leach field serviced if you see pooling water. Hope this helps.

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C.H.

answers from Providence on

HEllo,
I bought a house a year ago with a septic system and was also unfamiliar with it. What I have learned is when you have the house inspected make sure it passes Title V inspection. The seller has to do it in order to sell the house and if it doesn't pass your bank probably won't give you financing b/c it is about $20,000 to fix. So the seller will have to do it. If it does pass inspection once you move in have it drained so you have an idea as how full it is (about $200 depending on who you have come out). The 1250 gallons is how much waste it holds Waste being laundry water, toilet waste, shower water, and sink water. Now to my understanding a leaching field comes with all septics the leach field is where the water from the septic goes and the solids stay in the tank which is what you have to drain. Also if you are looking at the house with plans to add on in a few years you will have to have the septic redone to fit the addition. We bought a ranch style house that has a 1500 gallon tank and 3 bedrooms. We would like to make an upstairs and add 4 bedrooms and take away 2 down stairs and make 1 large master suite with an office. So the town health inspector wants us to get a 5-6 bedroom septic about 3000 gallon tank. We have to do the septic before we can start any addintion on the house or we won't get a permit to build. YOu can also look to see if the town have a sewer system on your street b/c hooking up to that is alot cheaper then doing the septic. I hope this help I know its a lot to take in but you really don't want to buy it and have it back into you basement unexpectantly. Good luck!

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A.M.

answers from Boston on

Private septic is just a tank that your waste flows into. Instead of public sewer which is a pipe that everyones flows into and goes to a treament plant. A septic tank holds the waste water and slowly "leaches" the broken down contents into a field. The tank can hold a number of gallons. Mine is 1000 gallons of water and stuff. It should be pumped every year or so. The septic system should not be a deterrant to buying a home as long as you get it inspected when you have your home inspection and everything is fine. Hope this clears up some questions.
-A.

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L.O.

answers from Boston on

I see you've got some good descriptions about septics. I won't repeat a lot - but do keep in mind the Title V inspection is important and it can be costly if it doesn't pass. A 500 gallon tank would be small. It's important to find out the number of bedrooms permitted for your septic design - you can got down to the town hall/city hall and the Board of Health should have a copy of the house's septic plan on file. If you plan to add onto the house, you may be limited. Find out how old the septic system is. If it is considerably old, say more than 25 years, it may be just fine - or it may be close to needing to be replaced in a few years. If so, is there a location in the yard where a new septic and leach field can be put? New systems are required to design a space for a backup field - see if the town plans say that. Partly the size of the leach field depends on your type of soil - very sandy is great, clay is not. If it doesn't perc well (how fast the water percolates through the ground) they may not even let you put in a leach field. If there's no place for a backup, the alternatives depend on the town. Some towns will work well with you - others are quite picky. Ask the Board of Health agent what would happen if the system failed. (Some towns would allow an alternative system, or one that doesn't quite meet all the current requirements. Others would require a "tight tank" that doesn't drain out into a septic and is pumped once per month - costly! That's rare, but there are towns like that.) Also if there is a well for water, it needs to be a certain distance away from the septic - so limits things more. If you want to live in a rural area, you are pretty much going to have to learn about septics. Most rural areas do not have traditional sewer. The benefits of having no sewer are that the lot sizes in your neighborhood will traditionally be larger to accommodate the required septics. One last note - IF the system fails a Title V and the seller agrees to replace it - you could end up with one of those ugly mounded systems with a big white gooseneck pipe sticking out of it. These can sometimes be avoided with a good engineer, but you have to be pushy and may be out of your hands if the seller is doing it. Good luck - read up on it ! You're wise to ask questions. If you have information, you don't need to fear it, but be cautious too.

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K.F.

answers from Boston on

Hi N.. Being a realtor, my first recommendation is that you meet with an experienced realtor in the area you are purchasing that can go over all the ins and outs regarding a septic, as there is a lot to know before going ahead and buying a home. Every septic needs to be approved in size for the number of bedrooms the house has. Before passing papers on the home you need to have a clean Title V, which is just a document the bank requires in order for them to provide you the loan. However, in the offer you submit to any home should indicate this in the offer: "Subject to Title V report at time of closing". Your realtor or attorney might change the language a bit to satisfy and protect you. Sometimes, if the Title V is not up to date this needs to be done prior to closing. This basically means the seller needs to have it inspected, cleaned, etc prior to closing. Sometimes this cost may be negotiated but typically it is on the seller. Every so often the home owner needs to have the septic cleaned, etc. You as the new owner of a septic need to also learn what you can put down the toilet and sink. So. I would reccommend getting a buyer's agent and have them go over everything with you. I am happy to recommend a real estate agent to you if that helps!

Good Luck with your purchase!

-K.
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C.M.

answers from Boston on

I grew up in a house with a septic system, and the house I live in now has one. Here's a very easy-to-understand illustration of how septic systems work: http://home.howstuffworks.com/home-improvement/plumbing/s... The general rule is to have your septic system pumped once a year or so (depending on water usage) to prevent clogs and/or overflow. Personally I have only seen a tank overflow once, and it was because it hadn't been pumped in approximately 10 years.

Another thing to keep in mind...when you have a septic system you want to avoid flushing food down the toilet or using a garbage disposal. We have a garbage disposal at our house, but we are very careful what we put in it: nothing we wouldn't eat ourselves, and we always scrape dishes into the trash before we rinse them in the sink. Basically, the disposal just helps us avoid having to clean a nasty drain filled with small pieces of food.

Hope this helps!

C. M

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C.T.

answers from Atlanta on

We bought a house 5 yrs ago with septic. Something I was not used to coming from the city. So no city sewer bills. Something the city usually adds to the cost of your water bill. Some added saving there. However, we just had our septic pumped yesterday for the first time. We noticed bubbling noises coming from the toilets whenever water was run anywhere in the house. We were hoping that it was just full. It was. It costs $350. But we got estimates for as much as $550. So $350 in the last 5 yrs. The company said that was typical for a family of four. If you only have two you could go 6 or more before needing to be pumped. However we were told when we bought the house that we could go ten years. Probably told by the agent so we wouldn't worry about a septic. When we noticed the issue we thought it might be something much worse and cost thousands b/c we did not think it was time to pump. We were educated by the septic company and happy to know it wasn't something serious. Also you are advised not to use a garbage disposal, some do. We have not. We recently began composting, eco friendly and saves our septic longer... we hope. Many of our neighbors have since installed disposals with no issues as of yet but we'll see. As to leach fields, we have not had any issues but to be honest I do not even know what they are. I do know if you see a swamp in your yard one day you might be in trouble. Get an inspection.

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M.T.

answers from Providence on

I am actually a real estate attorney very familiar with this, so I will give you the short answer but if you want more details, email me ([email protected]____.com). Basically the property is on a private septic system instead of town sewer. The 1250 reference is to the size of the tank. Septic systems are perfectly fine (and safe!) if properly maintained. I am not sure where you are located, but in MA a seller would need to produce a Title V inspection report showing that the property has passed inspection before they could sell the property. Most towns also require the system be pumped at the time of inspection and should be pumped on a regular basis by the owners. Hope this helps

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S.C.

answers from Boston on

Hi N.,
I am actually a real estate agent and also happen to have private septic at my own home. This means that you will have to have your 1250 gallon septic tank pumped every 2-3 years by a septic company. So instead of paying monthly for water/septic you just pay when you have it pumped. You do want to make sure that the house you pick and decide to make an offer on has had a Title V done by the seller. This just tells you that the septic system has passed inspection and will also need to be pumped at that time (which is all done by the seller). If it does not pass inspection than the seller will have to resolve that issue. That is why it is nice to have Title V in hand right from the beginning rather then when you are ready to make an offer. Hope that helps.
S.

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E.R.

answers from Boston on

One other thing to consider, if you plan on expanding the house (esp bedrooms or bathrooms) you'll want to make sure ahead of time the existing septic is permitted to handle the size of the "new" house. Or you'll have to budget for a septic system as well as an addition.
Also - FYI I'd recommend against flushing tampons.

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A.B.

answers from Providence on

Hi N.,
That just means that those particular houses have a septic system rather than be connected to town/city sewer. So basically, buried in your yard somewhere is a septic tank where "everything" goes when you flush it. Depending on the size of your family, you need to have the tank pumped. For instance, we have ours pumped every 1.5 years because it's just my husband and I and our 4 yr old son. If you have a larger family you may think about having it done once a year. It's not that expensive - a few hundred dollars. And we also use Rid-X once a month, which helps keep the pipes clean and break down anything that may get stuck along the way. If you do purchase a home with a septic system, definitely maintain it and have it pumped regularly because if you have to ever replace a septic system it can cost you a lot of $$. One other thing - it's a law that if you are selling a home with a septic the sellers need to have a Title V performed on the system. This will tell you if the system is functioning properly, any problems, etc. so you will know right up front if anything is wrong with the system.

Good luck in your house hunt!

-A. B.

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D.N.

answers from Boston on

N.,

I am also a Realtor and have dealt with a lot of septic issues. The law regulating private septic in Mass is called Title V. A good source of information is:
http://www.mass.gov/dep/water/wastewater/septicsy.htm

A home is required to have a Title V inspection before it sells, but there is no requirement for the seller to fix it if it fails. The important thing is to have a Title V contingency on your offer so you can get your money back if it does fail. Sometimes the seller can't afford to put one in, so they sell it "as is". Mortgage companies won't give you a loan without Title V, but a cash buyer could buy the house and put it in themselves. Sometimes it's just a minor repair, but a new system can start at $20K and go up to $60K!

Check with the town you buy your home in. Most do not allow garbage disposals with private septic. A good size tank is 1500 gal. That is the requirement in many towns for a 3 or 4 bedroom home. The frequency of pumping is really dependent on both use and your system. A lot of people with a lot of laundry and showers with a high water table in the area will probably want to pump once every year or two.

I urge you to use a Realtor when you buy your home. He/she will know all of the above and guide you through the process of buying. Good luck,

D.

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B.P.

answers from Boston on

Hi N.,
A "private septic" simply means you are not tied into a city sewer system and your house waste water and toilet flush go into a tank --1250 gallon-- and then the digested sewage liquid flows into a leach field and if the field is working correctly ends up being absorbed into the ground around the leach field.
There is more to it so read up. Beware of soft spots on the surface of your leach field that indicate a saturated field and the need to remove and install a new leach field at a fairly substantial cost.
Maybe 6 or $7000. Make sure you have a professional examine the septic system before you buy.
B.

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S.B.

answers from Lewiston on

private septic means you are not connect to city sewer the capacity ma be 1250 as you saw in one add. It is important that you watch what goes into that septic and when it was last pped out and if is easy to get to to pump out. If you have seen comercials for Riddex that is what you put in our toilet (I used it once a month) to keep it clear and to disintagrate some of the waste) Leach field is used to get rid of some of the water before it gets into our septic. Good luck on your decision

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M.C.

answers from Boston on

It depends where you are looking for a home. In Mass. it is up to the seller to make sure the septic is up to code - sometimes this means replacing it at their expense. There is no problem with a septic. They can last for 30+ years (new ones even longer) or more years, you will have a company come that cleans it out, the leach field just means that the septic in under there so in that area you cannot plant trees - most if it is in the back yard it is a good place to put the swing set. Basically it just means you are not on the town sewer. If you decide to put in an offer on the house you should include that you will need to review the information on the septic - how old it is, etc. It cost about $10,000 - $20,000 to replace so if it is not up to snuff take the money off your offer or insist that the owner take care of it Prior to purchase!
Good luck!

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