Morse Engineering and Construction Industries

Does Cold Weather Affect the Septic System?

- Friday, January 08, 2021
Morse Engineering and Construction Industries - Septic System Guidance

Maintaining a septic system is important, especially in the winter time. Here are helpful tips and instructions to help you keep your septic system healthy through the cold months.

A lot of new homeowners wonder whether or not cold weather can affect their septic systems. The answer is yes, and in a multitude of different ways.

It is important to understand how brutal these conditions can be on your home’s septic system. There are a number of different factors that can affect the many components of your septic system and (in some cases) cause them to freeze. These include soil and snow compaction.

If you want to prevent costly damage to your septic system, the first step is to know what the causes of any potential issues are in order to be able to seek out the proper solutions. Luckily, in this article, we will be exploring how, exactly, cold weather can impact a home’s septic system and how you can take the necessary steps to prevent problems from occurring.

Frozen Septic System Components

When winter hits, and the temperatures outside drop below (approximately) 32 degrees Fahrenheit, many of your septic system’s components can begin to freeze as a result.

Unfortunately, if your septic tank is frozen, waste won’t be able to be broken down quickly enough, which can lead to serious issues for the people living inside the home, condo, or apartment complex that the septic system belongs to.

In these situations, the areas that become the most impacted are typically the pipes that lead into the septic tank from the home, along with the drain field and tank. Preventing your septic tank from freezing entails covering your entire septic system with either a thick insulating blanket or cover to keep it warm throughout the winter season.

Many experts would also recommend using your septic systems as much as possible during the winter, as this will help make them less susceptible to potentially freezing. Continuous usage means water will be continuously flowing.

Soil And Snow Compaction

You should avoid parking your vehicle above the drain field or septic tank, as this can cause any snow on the ground to become compacted in the area. This can lead the soil that is over the septic tank to become heavily compacted; resulting in less effective insulation of your septic tank.

This can lead to a frozen septic system. If you want to take the prevention of this problem one step further, you can aerate your soil before the winter season even begins.

Pipes That Don’t Work Properly

It’s common to have a leak (or two) in your septic system’s pipes. Unfortunately, not only can this result in improper drainage, but it can also allow cold outdoor air to pass through and cause water to freeze over. This can lead to further damage to your septic system.

Another issue you need to watch out for is clogging. Any clogs in your pipes can cause wastewater to become backed up and accumulate where it will eventually freeze as a result of the cold outdoor air.

If you want to prevent these issues from occurring, ensure any clogs or leaks are addressed and fixed before the winter begins.

Overworking Your Septic System

Are you planning on inviting a lot of guests and visitors during the holidays? While this can be an enjoyable time for you and your friends/family, with more people in your home this means the septic tank is going to be used significantly more than it normally would.

With more laundry being done, dishes being washed, and showers being taken, this can overwork your septic system and increase the likelihood of causing damage.

Not Enough Usage

Again, if you’re going a long period of time without using your septic tank, this can cause it to freeze. This is actually a common problem in homes that aren’t used regularly during the winter months — such as summer vacation homes — but can also occur in homes with only one or two residents.

Because wastewater is not being passed through the septic system’s pipes on a continuous basis, you don’t have a continuous flow of water running through your pipes to prevent them from freezing over.

What to do if Your Septic System Freezes

If your home’s septic system does happen to freeze during the winter season, it might be time to call on a professional to help identify and fix the issue. If the problem can’t be fixed quickly, you can use your septic tank as a holding tank until it can thaw out properly.

Keep in mind, though, this is only a short-term, “bandaid”, a solution that can be quite pricey. With that said, it might be deemed necessary while you wait for the right weather conditions or equipment to be able to make the proper repairs.

Contact Morse Engineering and Construction for more information.


Septic Service Coming? Here is What you Need to Know

- Thursday, December 17, 2020
Septic Service Coming? Here is What you Need to Know

When you call a septic company, the technician will inspect for leaks and examine the scum and sludge layers in your septic tank.

Keep maintenance records on work performed on your septic system.

Your septic tank includes a T-shaped outlet which prevents sludge and scum from leaving the tank and traveling to the drainfield area. If the bottom of the scum layer is within six inches of the bottom of the outlet, or if the top of the sludge layer is within 12 inches of the outlet, your tank needs to be pumped.

To keep track of when to pump out your tank, write down the sludge and scum levels found by the septic professional.

The service provider should note repairs completed and the tank condition in your system’s service report. If other repairs are recommended, hire a repair person soon.

Contact Morse Engineering and Construction for more information on what to expect when your septic tank needs service.


Guide to Septic Tank Maintenance

- Friday, December 04, 2020
Guide to Septic Tank Maintenance in Sturbridge, Fiskdale, MA

Did you know that it costs anywhere from $3,000 to $7,000 to replace the septic tank? With this in mind, proper septic system maintenance is absolutely essential to keeping your septic system up-and-running. Routine septic system maintenance will not only save you from spending big bucks on expensive repairs, but it will also help make your living environment a healthy and safe space. Fortunately, septic system maintenance isn’t rocket science. From your toilet and shower to your garbage disposal and washer, whatever goes down your drain ends up in your septic tank. Therefore, it’s important to pay close attention to what items you are putting down the drain, as well as the efficiency of your appliances. For more information on how to maintain your septic system, read our guide below.

Septic System Basics

Your septic system contains a septic tank and a drainfield. The septic tank container is located underground and is responsible for holding solids and scum accumulated from your wastewater. According to the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), “more than one in five households in the United States depend on an individual onsite system or small community cluster system to treat their wastewater.” Households that use a septic tank system are typically located in rural areas without access to public city sewers. While potential home buyers may initially view having a septic tank as a negative, they should know that with proper maintenance, these septic tanks have the ability to last 30 years or more.

What is a drainfield?

Once wastewater exits the septic tank, it passes on to the drainfield. Part of the septic system, the drainfield is a “shallow, covered, excavation” in the soil, according to the EPA. It is sometimes referred to as a “leachfield.” If the drainfield becomes inundated with wastewater and/or outside liquid, it can flood. This can lead to a sewage backup.

Why is septic system maintenance so important?

Given how expensive it is to replace a septic system, proper maintenance is an important step to keeping your septic system (and your finances) healthy. The more proactive you are in caring for and maintaining your septic system, the longer that septic system will last. When maintaining your septic tank, the goal is to prevent the accumulation of solids, as well as any groundwater contamination.

How often should I have my septic system pumped?

The size of your household, total wastewater generated, amount of solids present and tank size will all determine how often your septic system will need to be pumped. The EPA reports that while the average septic system is pumped every three years, those with “electrical float switches, pumps or mechanical components should be inspected more often.” In general, we recommend having your septic system inspected and pumped once a year to be safe. Below is an easy four-step maintenance program, which, if followed carefully, will prevent solid build-up and ensure that your system will operate at peak efficiency for many years to come.

4 Steps to Septic System Maintenance

  • Step 1 – Responsible Pumping – Each household should be on a regular septic service schedule to prevent the accumulation of solids in their system. Servicing frequency varies per household, so be sure to ask your technician their opinion on how often your septic system needs to be pumped.

  • Step 2 – High-Pressure Water Jetting – All septic systems, regardless of responsible pumping, will accumulate solids and other debris in their drain pipes. The presence of these solids clog the pipes that connect the septic tank to the drainfield. Therefore, we recommend high-pressure water jetting every five years to eliminate and clear any debris that could prevent your system from operating efficiently.

  • Step 3 – Use a Bacteria Additive – Septic owners should use a live organic bacteria that breaks down the presence of unnatural substances and solids, like detergents and soaps, that sometimes enter your septic system. If these common household substances penetrate your septic system they kill off the naturally occurring bacteria that allow your system to function properly. Bacteria additives are an inexpensive insurance policy that keeps your pipes clean & clear, odor free, and your system functioning properly.

  • Step 4 – Install an Effluent Filter – Your filter, which prevents solids from entering into your drainfield, needs to be cleaned or replaced whenever you service your system. Some older systems do not have a filter. If your septic system does not have a filter, inform your technician.

Contact Morse Engineering and Construction for more information.

Septic System Guidance for Before and After Winter

- Thursday, November 19, 2020
Morse Engineering and Construction Industries - Septic System Guidance

Before the Winter

Always keep your septic system well maintained; a well-maintained septic system is better able to withstand the stresses of winter weather. Take these steps to protect your septic system.

Know and document all components of your septic system. Take photos of the connections and system components. These photos will be helpful if components are destroyed and you need to replace them or file insurance claims. Make sure your photos and/or documents include:

  • Septic tank location
  • Septic system records or drawings
  • Electrical components

Check for and repair any leaking plumbing fixtures. Small trickles of water can freeze within the pipe and eventually cause the pipe to freeze solid.

Let the grass in your lawn get longer in the late summer/fall over the tank and soil treatment area to provide extra insulation.

Consider wrapping your pipes with heat tape if you have high-efficiency appliances that generate small amounts of water.

Make sure the land around the manhole covers is sloped downwards so that snow melt flows away from the system

Avoid compacting the soil around the system. Compacted soil provides less insulation than uncompacted soil. Never allow vehicle traffic or livestock above the tanks or on the drain field.

Check with a septic system service professional before doing any landscaping to make sure that your system complies with freezing depths for the area.

Consider adding more insulation to the system if your system is new, you have had issues with freezing in the past, or you have a mound system. Options include installing insulated pipes, adding insulation to tanks or manhole covers, or placing a layer of mulch (8-12 inches) over the pipes, tank and drain field. This mulch could be hay, straw, or any other loose material. Contact a septic system service professional for more information.

Check for open, broken or uncapped risers, inspection pipes, or manhole covers that may allow cold air in and cause freezing. Be careful around any openings to the system and contact a septic system service professional for any needed repairs.

Check for any water pooling near the drain field. Effluent released from a failing system may freeze and prevent further effluent from entering the soil. Contact a septic system service professional for any needed repairs.

During the Winter

If you will be gone for more than a week leave the heat on in your home and consider having someone come by and run warm water regularly to prevent pipes from freezing.

Limit all traffic above and near the system during freezing temperatures. Excessive foot traffic, pets, or other impacts can cause snow to compact and the system to freeze.

Avoid removing or compacting snow above the system. Compacted snow provides less insulation than uncompacted snow and cold PVC pipes and plastic risers may crack or break.

If you feel the system starting to freeze use warm water and spread out your laundry and dishwasher schedule to at least one warm load per day. Do not leave water running, as this will hydraulically overload the system.

If you will be gone for several months, follow the steps listed above and check with a septic system service professional about having your septic tank pumped to prevent the effluent from freezing. In certain areas pumping the tank may cause it to pop out of the ground.

If your septic system freezes, call a septic system service professional. Do not add antifreeze, salt, or a septic system additive to the system. Do not run hot water continuously, start a fire over the system, or attempt to pump the sewage. Unless the cause of the freezing is corrected the system will probably refreeze next winter.

If you hear water constantly running into a pump tank or the pump turning on and off your system may be frozen. Shut off your pump and call a septic system service professional.

If your septic system cannot be repaired, contact a septic system service professional about using the septic tank as a holding tank until the system thaws naturally. If this complies with local code the tanks will need to be emptied on a regular basis. This can be costly. Reduce water use by limiting the number of toilet flushes, taking short showers, using the dishwasher at full capacity, and doing laundry at a laundromat.

Contact Morse Engineering and Construction for more information.

Hiring a Septic System Professional

- Friday, November 13, 2020
Morse Engineering and Construction - Hiring a Septic System Professional

There are several types of septic system professionals which provide different services at different stages of a septic system’s lifetime. Once you have determined which type of professional you need, contact at least three of them, and ask them about their services.

Types of Septic Professionals

Maintenance Service Providers

Septic System Inspectors and Maintenance Service Providers can inspect the whole system, including tanks, pumps, additional treatment devices (such as a sandfilter), and the drainfield. These professionals may be known as Operation and Maintenance (or O&M) Specialist, Inspectors, or Monitoring Specialists. These professionals should be hired for routine inspections and called first when there are issues with your system. Your local health department may or may not require these professional to be approved and certified.

Questions to ask Maintenance Service Providers:

  • What are the estimated costs? Does this include health department fees?
  • What will the inspection include and not include? (Examples: checking tanks and drainfield, cleaning filters, checking for leaks)
  • Do you charge extra to dig up the lids to the system? What if I do the digging?
  • Do you know how to service my type of system? (Examples: pumps, pressure distribution, sand filter, specific proprietary components)

Septic Pumpers

Sewage Pumpers can pump tanks and transport the sewage material to an approved treatment facility. Many can also inspect the tanks for cracks and leaks, as well as check the drainfield area and evaluate landscaping and proper drainage. Washington State regulation requires that Septic Pumpers are approved by the local health department.

Note: Having your tank(s) pumped is not a substitute for an inspection. In general, a Maintenance Service Provider (or owner, if allowed in your area) should inspect the system and determine if pumping is needed. If it has been five or more years since your last pumping, or if you are selling your home, you may need to have your tanks pumped regardless.

Questions to ask Sewage Pumpers:

  • What are the estimated costs? Does this include health department fees?
  • Do you pump both sides/chambers of the tank?
  • Do you charge extra to dig up the lids to the system? What if I do the digging?
  • Do you inspect the tank?

Septic System Designers and Engineers

Licensed Septic System Designers and Professional Engineers can design systems for new installations, alterations, and repairs. Many also evaluate system problems, and perform inspections and maintenance. Designers and Professional Engineers are licensed through the Washington State Department of Licensing.

Questions to ask Designers and Engineers:

  • What are the estimated costs for your project?
  • What's included and not included? (Examples: site evaluation, design package, pressure test, as-built package, health department fees)
  • Do you charge extra for inspections, extra visits, or the homeowner’s manual?

Septic System Installers

can install new systems, alter or expand existing systems, and repair failed systems. Some may also inspect and perform maintenance on systems. Washington State regulation requires that Installers are approved by the local health department.

Questions to ask Installers:

  • What are the estimated costs?
  • What's included and not included? (Examples: full installation, backfill, electrical work, health department fees)
  • Do you contact the local health department or do I need to?
  • Do you warranty your work? For how long? Ask them to explain their warranty.
  • Do you charge extra for any services?

Contact Morse Engineering and Construction for more information.


What Happens When a Septic System Fails?

- Thursday, November 05, 2020
Morse Engineering and Construction Industries, LLC - Septic System in Sturbridge, Fiskdale, MA

A septic system failure causes untreated sewage to be released and transported to where it shouldn’t be. This may cause sewage to come to the surface of the ground around the tank or the drainfield or to back up in pipes in the building.

What are some common reasons a septic system doesn't work properly?

Pipe from the house to the tank is clogged. When this happens, drains drain very slowly (perhaps slower on lower levels of the building) or stop draining completely. This is often an easy problem to fix. Usually, a service provider can "snake the line" and get it unclogged. You can prevent a clogged line by flushing only human waste and toilet paper down the drain and having your system inspected annually. Sometimes this pipe gets crushed or broken by vehicle or animal traffic. Plant roots sometimes block the pipe (particularly on older systems). Fixing a crushed or root damaged pipe will require replacing (at least) a portion of the pipe.

Inlet baffle to the tank is blocked. This failure is very similar to when the inlet pipe from the house to the tank is clogged. If you have access to your inlet baffle opening, you can check to see if there is a clog. If you see toilet paper and other debris, you can try unclogging it using a pole. Be mindful not to damage any of the septic systems components. A service professional can also be contacted for this relatively easy and low-cost fix. Prevent your inlet baffle from getting clogged by only flushing human waste and toilet paper and having your system inspected annually.

Outlet baffle or effluent filter is clogged. This may result in sewage backing up into the home, or possibly surfacing near the septic tank. This issue may be a sign that the tank is receiving too much water, possibly in a short amount of time. If there is an effluent filter this must be cleaned off or replaced. If there is not an effluent filter, fixing this issue will probably require getting the tank pumped to identify and remove the clog. Prevent this type of issue by cleaning your effluent filter (if you have one) and having your system inspected annually.

Drainfield has failed. When the drainfield fails, or is saturated with water, sewage may backup into the home. Wet, soggy areas may develop above or near the drainfield and you may see spongy bright green grass over the area. There may also be odors near the tank or drainfield. This could be the end of life for this component of your septic system. It may be that the system was operated inappropriately and too much solid material made it to the drainfield causing it to fail prematurely. Or, maybe the system worked for many years and simply has no more capacity to accept waste. However, if too much water has saturated the drainfield (through large amounts of water going down the drain or through flood water on the drainfield), it's possible that the drainfield can be dried out and rehabilitated. Contact a service professional to assess the situation. If the drainfield has failed, a connection to the public sewer system should be considered, if it’s a possibility. Otherwise, a replacement drainfield will need to be installed.

There are other reasons a septic system can fail or malfunction. If your system isn't working properly, contact Morse Engineering and Construction for more information.


Signs of Septic System Failure - Fiskdale, Sturbridge, MA

- Thursday, October 29, 2020
Morse Engineering and Construction Industries, LLC - Septic System in Sturbridge, Fiskdale, MA
  • Water and sewage from toilets, drains, and sinks are backing up into the home.
  • Bathtubs, showers, and sinks drain very slowly.
  • Gurgling sounds in the plumbing system.
  • Standing water or damp spots near the septic tank or drainfield.
  • Bad odors around the septic tank or drainfield.
  • Bright green, spongy lush grass over the septic tank or drainfield, even during dry weather.
  • Algal blooms in nearby ponds or lakes.
  • High levels of nitrates or coliform bacteria in water wells.

Like most components of your home, septic systems require routine maintenance. If maintained, the septic system should provide reliable service for many years. If the septic system isn't maintained, owners run the risk of dangerous and costly failures. And, septic systems do have an operational lifetime and will eventually need to be replaced.

A quick response may save the owner money in repairs and may prevent illness and negative impact on the environment.

For more information on septic system inspections and repair, Contact Morse Engineering and Construction for more information.


6 Signs Your Septic System Is in Trouble

- Thursday, October 22, 2020
Morse Engineering and Construction Industries - Septic System Construction

As long as you use and maintain it properly, a well-designed septic system shouldn't give you any trouble. With proper upkeep, it can last as many as 30 years. But considering that it's underground: How do you tell if there's a problem?

Here are the signs your septic system's got a problem and it's time to call in the pros.

1. Water (or sewage) is backing up inside your home

Water—or smelly black liquid—gurgling up into the drains in your kitchen or sink can happen for a couple of reasons:

Your tank or drain field are too full

After dirty water and waste enter your septic tank, solids get separated from liquids. The wastewater is eventually pushed out into a drain field, a series of underground trenches or chambers. Once there, any harmful bacteria gets absorbed by the soil or digested by naturally occurring microbes.

But if your tank receives lots of water very fast—either because of heavy rain or maybe you're using much more water than normal—the tank or the drain field can become overloaded.

A blocked pipe

Another likely reason that water's backing up into your home: a clogged distribution line somewhere between your house and your septic tank. Maybe you've got a small kid who happily flushed a sock down the drain, or you're guilty of tossing things like not-so-flushable wipes in your toilet.

Be proactive: Keep an eye on your water usage.

You should also limit the amount of food you put down your garbage disposal. Yes, it gets ground into tiny pieces, but over time, food waste can also end up clogging your drain field.

2. Green, spongy grass around your septic tank

Surprisingly, dying grass on top of your septic tank isn't necessarily a bad sign. (The soil on top of your septic tank often isn't as deep as it is over the rest of your lawn, which makes it easy for grass there to get parched.) But it is a red flag when the grass on top of your septic tank is thriving far more than anywhere else in your yard.

That could be due to a leak of liquid wastewater before it hits the drain field. Once it escapes your septic tank, it basically acts as fertilizer.

Be proactive: Get a septic system inspection each year, and have it pumped every three to five years so you can catch problems like damaged pipes, rust damage, and cracks in your tank early on.

3. You’ve got trees or shrubs near your system

Tree roots naturally seek out sources of water—including leaky pipes or even condensation. And in their gusto to get nourishment, they can crack septic tank pipes, allowing dirt to enter, or they can collapse the pipes completely. Smaller shrubs aren't necessarily better, since they can also spread out some deep roots.

Already have trees in the danger zone? Each time your system's serviced, make sure the pipes aren't compromised. If there’s a problem a camera can be sent into the line to see if tree roots are to blame.

4. Water's pooling in your yard

Occasionally, a high water table or excessive rainfall can saturate the drain field and prevent the septic tank from draining properly, Gallas says.

If you're pretty sure heavy rains are to blame for little lakes in your yard, you can try to give your septic system a chance to catch up by using it less. But if that doesn't get rid of standing water, call a plumber.

5. A rotten egg smell

Yes, a gross sewage odor can indicate your system's failing. But that's not always the case.

There can be several different reasons you might smell septic gases. Those include a dried-out wax seal on a toilet (which seals your toilet bowl to the floor) as well as a dry trap in a floor drain. (It's often filled with water, which keeps out sewer gases.)

Be proactive: If you have a persistent odor inside your home, the first course of action is to check all exposed fixtures, and if nothing is found, it should be followed up with a smoke test to find leaks in the lines.

6. Slow drains

Slow drains are an indicator that there's a stoppage on the pipe itself that flows into the septic. And while you might be tempted to pull out the Drano or another drain cleaner, don't.

Harsh chemicals can deteriorate your pipes over time. Plus, chemical drain cleaners can kill the good enzymes and bacteria in your tank that help to break down waste, Monell says.

Be proactive: Use a natural product with bacteria and enzymes; the accumulated gunk inside your pipes is tasty food for them.

Contact Morse Engineering and Construction for more information.


Septic System Inspection: How Often, Costs, Precautions, and More!

- Friday, October 16, 2020
Morse Engineering and Construction - Septic System Inspection

A is one of those home maintenance tasks that you might put off, and then put off some more. Because septics exist underground in the backyard, they are often out of sight, thus out of mind. But letting it go too many flushes without an inspection can result in some major problems if the system fails.

Plus, septic system inspections are also required if you plan to sell your home. Even if you don't know if you're going to sell, keeping your septic system in good condition will save you thousands of dollars in repairs if anything does go wrong.

Here's everything homeowners need to know about a septic system inspection.

How often should you get a septic system inspection?

Experts say you should get a septic system inspection every three years. But here's a dose of reality: Most homeowners never get their septic systems inspected unless there is a notable issue.

But that means homeowners get an inspection only when issues that may signal big trouble arise, such as when the toilet backs up, water takes too long to drain, or there's an actual septic system leakage. The benefit of doing an inspection every three years is to avoid major problems like these.

The three-year mark is also the maximum amount of time you should let your septic system go without being pumped out.

A problem caught at inspection can save you from having to replace the entire septic system (read: shell out a ton of money). It's especially important to keep your septic system in good shape if you plan on selling. During closing, a certified inspection will be performed and you don't want any last-minute surprises.

Who should perform a septic system inspection?

You're going to want to hire a professional septic contractor for the inspection.

General home inspectors do only a limited, visual-only inspection of the septic system.

A septic contractor will look for cracks in the tank indicated by a low level of liquid, the amount of solids inside the tank using a measuring device called a "sludge judge," and possible ground contamination.

How much does a septic system inspection cost?

Cost depends on how extensive the septic inspection is as well as the size of the tank, which is usually either 1,000 or 1,500 gallons. But a basic septic system inspection typically runs between $300 to $600.

Is the home seller or buyer obligated to get an inspection?

The person who's responsible for carrying out the inspection is determined based on where you live. In Massachusetts, it is generally the seller who is responsible.

Is the seller obligated to fix any septic problems?

The responsibility to pay for septic repairs typically falls to the seller. However, repairs of any kind found at inspection are generally negotiable. Contract terms usually dictate the course of action, but sellers may have such options as doing the repairs themselves, splitting repair costs with the buyer, giving the buyer a closing credit equal to the amount of the repairs, or refusing to do anything. If an agreement on repairs isn't reached, the buyer does have the legal right to walk away from the transaction.

Don't forget about disclosure

Sellers are required to disclose any known problems with a home to potential buyers. If there's a septic issue after closing that the sellers knew about, they will be liable for the entire cost of the repairs.

For that reason, it's good practice for all sellers to perform their own septic system inspection. That way, the seller is protected from any future septic issues after the closing.

Contact Morse Engineering and Construction for more information.


Should I Buy a Home With a Failed Septic System?

- Thursday, October 08, 2020
Morse Engineering and Construction - Septic Tank Inspection

You might wrestle with this question if you fall in love with a home only to find out during the home inspection that the septic system is in serious disrepair.

Properties usually have septic systems for one of two reasons: The home is in a rural area with no public sewer available or the home is older, and while it previously didn't have access to a public sewer, it now does—but may have not been hooked up yet.

The good news is that a bad septic system doesn't automatically mean you should flush your hopes of purchasing the home. Here's when a bad septic system is a deal breaker and when it's not.

Bad septic system: Repair or replace?

Septics are a simple system: water goes into the septic tank and displaces the same amount of water that travels to the drain field.

Common problems with septics include tree roots impacting the soil around the drain field. A simple fix could be as easy as clearing the roots. Or a septic may be failing because a tank baffle—what separates a tank from the drain field—needs repairing. In both cases, a septic professional can inspect the system and determine if a repair is possible. Such minor repairs may range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars.

But here's the thing: If there isn't an easy fix available, a failed septic will need to be completely replaced, or it will fail. Failure means the septic can no longer treat and distribute wastewater. Signs that a house needs a new septic system include toilets that drain slowly and standing wastewater on the ground above the drain field.

How much does a septic system cost to replace?

If a house is listed at a lower price because of a failed septic system, it could be a tremendous steal depending on the type of system that will need to be installed, says Wise. The cost of installing a new septic in the same place as the old one usually ranges from $10,000 to $15,000, depending on the soil and the type of system that will be installed.

Septic systems and financing

Keep in mind a bad septic system complicates the buyer's ability to finance a property.

It's often the case that the lender will require a working septic on traditional financing options. The FHA won't approve a loan on a house with a bad septic.

Who pays for septic system repairs: The buyer or the seller?

In most states, home sellers must pay for the cost of repairing the septic—or if it's irreparable, you might be able to persuade the sellers to replace it entirely.

When replacing a septic may not be worth it

If the leach field itself has failed, the entire septic system may need to be moved to a different location on the property.

In that case, a septic technician will survey the property for system requirements such as a location relative to any water sources. You'll also have to get a soil evaluation, which runs about $1,500. Soil technicians will be looking at soil type and slope of the property.

Then a septic contractor will determine if the lot is large enough to accommodate a new drain field. Many existing systems are even with ground level, but new codes may no longer allow this and require unattractive remedies. So if there's no place with appropriate soil to move the septic to, the homeowner may be forced to install what's called a sand mound system (a literal mound of sand) or a holding tank system. The former is unsightly, and the latter could require monthly pump-outs.

Keep in mind, a failed system could also have contaminated the soil around its original location, so do soil tests for potential ground contamination at the old site.

Septic systems and home improvements

If you're planning a large remodel in a home with a septic system, one thing to know is that any major improvements would require the owner to hook up to the public sewer system first (assuming it's available, of course). In this case, the condition of the septic tank isn't a factor as it will no longer be in use.

The cost of connecting to the municipal sewer system falls to the buyer, and is far from cheap.

The one upside, of course, is that you can point this out to sellers and negotiate a great bargain. In other words, a bad septic system can always be turned to your advantage.

Contact Morse Engineering and Construction for more information.