Guide to Buying a Home With a Septic Tank

Joseph Coupal - Thursday, March 14, 2019
Morse Engineering and Construction, Fiskdale, MA

This blogs provides information for home buyers who are buying a property with a private septic system, that is, a septic tank and a leach field or drainfield or similar soil absorption system.

Be sure your septic inspection and septic test are conducted properly.

When, Where, Why, and How to Inspect and Test a Septic System When Buying a Home

While no septic inspection and test can guarantee 100% that all septic defects have been found, properly conducted, septic inspection and testing procedures can reduce the chances of a dangerous or costly surprise at a property served by an onsite waste disposal system.

When buying a home with a private septic system, septic tank and leachfield, at a minimum you should always do the following.

ASK ABOUT THE SYSTEM What to Ask the Property Owners About the Septic System

Basic Questions: Ask the seller the following questions. Don't worry if the seller says they don't know the answers. "Not knowing" is also important information.

How old is the property?

Is the property occupied or vacant? If occupied, for how long and by how many occupants? If vacant, for how long?

How long has the seller owned the property?

Where is the septic system?

Tip: if the owner has been at the property for years and does not know where the septic tank is located, they have never pumped it - which looks bad for the leach field. On the other hand, if they know exactly where it is and if it has an easily-opened access cover, you might wonder if it's being pumped unusually often - which could also be a telltale.

What is installed?

This means: is it a conventional tank and drain field? Is the tank concrete or steel? How big is the tank? Are there separate drywells or seepage pits? If so the owner may have had a concern with the capacity of the leach field.

What is the service or repair history of the septic system?

If the system has received regular pumping that's good. If it has never been pumped, you should be pessimistic about the remaining life of the leach field. If a new tank has been installed but connected to old fields you should be pessimistic about the leach fields. If everything was installed new last year, you may be a lucky buyer.

When was the septic tank last pumped?

Warning: if the seller offers to "have the tank pumped for you" ask them not to do so before your inspection. Pumping the tank prevents testing the drain field.

You should also ask for any drawings regarding the actual location (an "as-built drawing) of the existing septic system.

However while you should ask for drawings and records, you should never completely trust them. A septic system may not have all of its components installed just as they were placed on a drawing. The excavator could have hit bedrock or other obstructions and moved things a bit.

Ask for the records regarding maintenance of the system;

Has the septic tank been pumped at a frequency of at least 3 to 5 years?; What pumping contractor was used?; If the system contains a pump. how often has it been maintained?; If major repairs have been made, when and to what extent?

Ask about the past performance of the system. Have any of the symptoms described earlier manifested during the life of the system?

For more information, contact Morse Engineering and Construction.