One of the first things to know about a potential property is how the waste is handled. Are you connected to the main sewer line, or does the property come with a septic tank? If the home has a septic tank, here’s what you need to know. We’ll also share questions you need to ask in order to minimize potential problems.
Septic tanks, depending on the design and material used to make it, may last anywhere from 20 to 50 years. Ask how old the septic tank is and when it was installed. For older septic tanks, ask if it is registered. If it isn’t, this could create major problems for you later.
Septic Tank Condition
Septic tanks can age faster than expected if they’re not properly maintained. You could also see problems because someone drove a tractor over the septic tank or the drainage pipes. Ask the home owner when the septic tank was last inspected, if ever, and when the pipes have been cleared or repaired.
Another factor to consider is the drainage pattern for the septic tank. There are wastewater pipes leading from the house to the septic tank. The mix of solids and liquids are separated in the septic tank. Then the liquids are sent to a drainage field to seep into the soil.
Consider arranging for a drainage survey so you know exactly where those pipes are and the drainage pattern. Then you don’t drive your truck over the drainage field and damage the pipes, and you won’t alter the soil in a way that ends up causing plumbing problems in the home. In a worst case scenario, you’ll learn that the current drainage system is polluting a stream and needs to be addressed immediately.
Septic tanks push a lot of maintenance work onto the home owner that would otherwise be the obligation of the city or county. You’re the one who has to know the septic tank capacity and not send more water down the drain than it can handle. Know who you could call if the wastewater pipes are clogged.
Septic tanks may dissipate wastewater into the drainage field, but solid mass will collect in the tank. Know when the septic tank was last pumped. Then ask how often it has to get pumped. You’ll be the one who has to pay for it next time. Yet this isn’t a 100 percent accurate guide.
Septic tanks have a given capacity. If a family of four takes over a cottage that held a single resident, you’re going to generate four times as much wastewater. Know the capacity of the septic tank and compare that to the volume of waste you’ll be flushing down the pipes. This will give you an estimate of when you’d need to arrange for it to be pumped out. At a minimum, it saves you from unnecessary calls to the plumber when the toilets start to drain slowly and the issue is really the septic tank. Find out who they call for septic tank maintenance and service so you don’t have to research it at the last minute.
One potential issue is the identity of the septic tank operator. The operator is usually the owner of the system. That may be a neighbor who lets the property owner use it, and in the case of a tenant, it is often the owner of the property the tenant is renting.