While the majority of homes in the Springfield and Burke areas of Northern Virginia are on public sewer, buyers may run across the occasional home that has a septic tank. This is a home feature that can make some prospective buyers nervous, but it does’t have to be the factor that makes or breaks your decision to buy a particular home!
Here’s what you need to know about buying a home with a septic tank:
What is a Septic Tank?
Septic tanks are basically onsite sewage facilities. They are underground chambers through which wastewater flows for treatment, and in which solids and organics are collected.
Septic tanks are part of a home’s wastewater system, and they are usually found in homes that aren’t served by municipal sewers, but this doesn’t mean they are only found in rural homes. Many home in suburban neighborhoods rely on individual septic tanks.
How Does a Septic Tank Work?
In homes that have septic tanks, a pipe collects all of the home’s wastewater and the solids within and transfers all of it to the underground watertight storage tank. Once there, solids (“sludge”) settles to the bottom and floatable materials (“scum”) rise to the top. Sludge and scum are contained within the tank and will need to be periodically pumped out.
The rest, the liquid wastewater (“effluent”) exits the tank into a buried drainfield in the yard, dispersing into the soil, which filters out contaminants.
What to Do Before Buying a Home with a Septic Tank
Before buying a house with a septic system, it is highly recommended — if not essential — to have it inspected. You’ll want to know if there are any problems with your system before you close on the property because simple repairs are one thing, but a complete system replacement can be quite costly indeed.
During the pre-sale inspection, you’ll want to find out if and when the system has been pumped. This is essential maintenance that the seller should have performed an a consistent basis and is the single most important piece of information you can know about the function of a septic tank.
You’ll also want to know where the septic system is located, including where are its covers. This can help you to know both where the tank is for future maintenance, and where the location of the leach field and any leaching chambers may be found.
Other helpful information to find out would be if there were any past problems with the maintenance of the system, if the system has undergone any repairs, and which contractor was used for repairs and/or pumping. Knowing the age of the system can also be helpful if you think you’re going to need to replace the system any time soon.
In addition to function and condition, an inspection can help prospective buyers to determine if their home’s system is situated a proper distance from a well (to avoid contamination), and can assess the potential for damage to the system by confirming there are no invasive tree roots in or near the drainfield.
Some states require a septic system inspection before a title transfer, though Virginia is not one of them. Even so, it is possible your lender might require it. (Conventional home inspections typically don’t necessitate an inspection of a septic system.)
Signs a Septic Tank is Failing
In addition to maintaining a pumping schedule, a home’s septic tank should be inspected regularly for leaks or clogs. Some signs that this is occurring will be bad odors and slowly draining or gurgling fixtures.
Septic Tank Maintenance and Expense
Maintenance on a septic system isn’t actually that bad! Cost depends on the tank and drainfield sizes, tank accessibility, and distance from a waste disposal site, but on average, pumping a tank might cost between $250 to $500, and usually only needs to happen every three to five years. (Some systems may need to be pumped as frequently as annually, however.)
Prices can vary widely if you do have to replace a system though. Conventional systems may cost between $3,000 and $7,000, but alternative systems may cost even more, and if you need to undergo a complete system replacement with drainfield cleanup due to poor maintenance, the fees can add up to the tens of thousands.
Septic tank care and usage requirements vary and differ greatly from sewer systems, so homebuyers should educate themselves on what to expect before buying, but owning a home with a septic tank doesn’t have to be scary.
With the proper maintenance and care, a septic system can be one of your home’s easiest features.