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What to know about your septic system

Ah, country life. There’s nothing like it. If you’re looking for your dream home in the country, you’ll need to consider a couple of factors that city or suburban folks don’t need to think about: the well and the septic system. The two tend to go together. If you have well water, you'll probably have a septic, too.

In our previous blog, “What you need to know about your well,”  we talked about the important points to consider when purchasing a home that has a well instead of a city or country water system. This time, we’re focusing on the septic system. If you’re moving from the urbs or burbs, you may not be familiar with this vital component to your home.

The skinny on septics

How does a septic work?

According to the EPA, the water you use in your home travels to an underground, water-tight tank on your property where solids settle to the bottom. Meanwhile, the wastewater exits the tank into a (buried) drainfield in your yard, where it gets absorbed into the soil, which acts as a filter for contaminants.

Is it part of your water system?

No! It’s completely separate. The two systems need to live at least 100 feet apart on your property.

What are the types of septic systems?

They vary by size of the tank and the type of drainfield you have. The tank size depends on a lot of factors, like the amount of people who will usually use it. For example, a rustic resort will have a lot bigger system than a single-family home. The type and size of drainfield depends on the type of soil you have.

How are septics cleaned?

Periodically, a professional pumps out your tank. How often that happens depends on the size of the tank and the size of your family. According to the EPA, most single-family-home systems should be pumped every three to five years. The cost of this can run you about $300. But that fee for regular maintenance is a fraction of the cost of repairing or replacing your system, which can run between $3,000 and $7,000 for a conventional system and more for newer, alternative systems.

How old is the septic?

Just as you need to know the age of the well on your new property, you want to know the age of your septic system. If you're shopping for a home, your Realtor will have that information. Generally, septic systems last around 25-30 years.

How do I know the septic is working properly?

You may be required by state or local rules to have the septic inspected by a professional before purchasing a home, but even if you aren’t required to do so, do it anyway. Inspectors will look for leaks, clogs and other problems that you want to be aware of before signing on the dotted line.

What are some signs the septic is failing?

Telltale signs your septic is failing include wastewater backing up into your household drains; bright green, spongy grass on the drainfield; and a strong odor around the septic tank and drainfield.

What can I do to care for my system?

Getting your system professionally maintained periodically is only part of the equation. You and your family need to be mindful of caring for your system, too. Here are some dos and don'ts for caring for your septic.

  • Do get your septic inspected and pumped every three to five years.
  • Do use water efficiently in your home. All of the water you use, whether it's to flush the toilet, do the dishes or take a shower, ends up in your septic. So using water wisely will add life to your system.
  • Don’t throw anything down your toilet! This goes for cooking oil and grease, baby wipes, feminine products, dental floss, diapers, coffee grounds, pharmaceuticals, paper towels and more.
  • Ditto for your sink! Remember, anything that goes down the drain is headed to your septic. That means if your drain is clogged, don’t use chemical drain openers. Use boiling water instead. If you have a garbage disposal, consider getting rid of it. The food particles can eventually clog your septic.
  • Don’t park your vehicles on your drainfield or plant trees too near your system.

Septic systems are a fact of life out in the country. With a little care and maintenance, they'll last for years to come. We're happy to give you this Septic 101 primer, and if you do need to replace your system for your dream home, we can sit down with you and go over the basics of financing, too. We're your partner in rural life! Get in touch with us.

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