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Septic versus Sewer

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Dear Phyllis,

My wife and I have been looking at homes for a few months and the one we like best is on a septic system rather than connected to the sewer. A co-worker advised me that being on septic is a big problem. Can you elaborate on septic versus sewer?

La Canada buyer

Dear La Canada,

I am curious if your co-worker has a home on septic and how he came to the conclusion that a home on septic versus sewer is a “big problem”. My home is on septic and I have it pumped about once a year. The cost is approximately $350; I don’t have a sewage fee tacked on to my utility bills.

A septic system is basically an underground tank buried in the yard with a leach field. As wastewater enters the tank it displaces the water already there which then flows out into the leach field. When my family first moved into our home we didn’t have any trouble with our septic. But after our pool was put in things changed. Apparently our pool contractor didn’t pay attention to portions of our system but we since resolved the issue.

I typically have my septic tank pumped annually, just before company arrives for Thanksgiving. Although I don’t know if it is necessary to have mine pumped each year, I prefer to be safe than sorry. I have clients who have lived in their home for decades and have not had their tank pumped and don’t have problems.

Home inspectors often recommend that those purchasing a home connected to the sewer, inspect the main sewer line. Those buying a home on septic should have the system inspected (within your investigative contingency period) to be certain it is in proper working order. Additionally you should ask the seller:

1) The location of the tank and leachfield.

2) How old is the system?

3) How often do they have it pumped? And by whom?

4) Have they had any problems with it in the last ten years? Who services the system (other than pumping)? Call the service and ask them if there is any information they can share with you. Ask if they also perform septic inspections. If they are familiar with the system, they may be the right company to hire for this inspection.

5) How many people reside in the home? If just a couple live in the home and you are moving in a family, the system will get more use and that might pose a problem.

As with all aspects of purchasing a home, investigate by having the proper inspections.

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