Having a septic system inspection before you close on a new home is the smart way to go. Experts can find and assess septic problems that you might not discover if you looked all day. But sometimes problems are so bad you can detect them on your own. Then you can move on to the next house, rather than paying for inspections and tests that this house is likely to fail.
So, before you lay out a significant amount of cash for an expensive inspection or to purchase the home itself, what kinds of things indicate a possible problem with a septic system? Which ones are easily observed by a layperson?
Fortunately, it absolutely requires no special training to spot some obvious signs of septic system trouble.
What is that smell?
The first two or three times you walk through a property that you are thinking about purchasing, you will certainly be looking for as much information as you can get on the potential benefits and problems of owning it. While you are looking things over with your eyes, don’t forget to also use your nose. If you notice any odors, but especially foul or unpleasant ones, you might suspect trouble with the septic system.
Odors inside of the house can indicate a potential problem with the system of pipes that carry waste water outside to the septic tank. Odors outside are more likely to indicate a more serious problem with the holding tank itself, rather than the interior portions of the home’s septic system.
Replacing a 1500-gallon tank can cost up to $25,000!
Why are my feet wet?
Properties that have been having problems with their septic systems for a significant period of time may eventually have actual puddles of standing water in the area where the septic system is located. Puddles can indicate a host of problems, from leaky pipes to a clog in the septic tank’s egress route to a complete fracture in one of the tank’s seams. Wet feet in combination with a foul smell should make you particularly suspicious about what is going on with a property’s septic system.
When both of these things are present in the area where the system is located, it is probably not even worth paying for a professional inspection. Unless the property is very under-valued – leaving plenty of wiggle room in the budget for repairs and renovations – there is the potential for a substantially negative financial outcome.
Where are the maintenance records?
Anyone who is selling a property with a septic system should have records of its maintenance. These records not only prove that they have taken care of the property, but also show subsequent owners how to properly maintain it. The records should indicate what provider has serviced the system in the past, at what intervals it should be serviced, and what should be done at each service appointment.
Some additional things to consider when it comes to a septic system:
- How often does the tank get pumped out?
- If it is an aerated system, does the generator require any type of regular mechanical servicing?
- Does this septic system need a regular additive to maintain adequate bacteria growth? If so, what additive and how often is it added?
If the seller cannot provide the service records for the septic system, it is probably wise to take a pass on the home, no matter how much you like it otherwise.