Should I buy a home with a septic system?

Bob Nathan
Published on October 11, 2021

Should I buy a home with a septic system?

When looking at homes for sale you may see in the listing description that a home isn’t on “city services.”

What this means is that the home has its own “sewer,” known as a septic system.

We frequently field questions about septic systems, so we put together this report with the basics you’ll need to know about buying and owning a home that isn’t on city services.

The anatomy of the septic system

Let’s face it: Sewage is probably the least glamorous topic to consider. But bodily fluids have to go somewhere and sewers and septic systems are our current choices.

Whatever is put down the drain, from the toilet, shower, washing machine and sink, ends up in the septic tank.

That tank is located underground and it’s watertight. This is where all the incoming “stuff” is treated. The solids are trapped on the bottom of the tank and the wastewater that’s left over is released into the leach field (sometimes called a “drain field”).

The solids, or sludge as it’s called in the septic business, are broken down by bacteria naturally found in wastewater. Not all of it is broken down and what’s not remains in the tank until the homeowner has it pumped out.

As mentioned earlier, this is a basic description. If you want to dive into the technical aspects of septic systems, you’ll find lots of information online.

Septic system maintenance

If you purchase a home with a septic system, you will be responsible for its maintenance. Defer maintenance on the system and problems will get worse.

In fact, the national average cost for septic system repair is around $2,700.

Aside from a hefty bill, if the tank isn’t maintained it may spring a leak, saturating the leach field. You may end up with sewage coming back into the home, into the bathtub or another plumbing fixture.

Allow the problem to get so bad that you need a new system and you’re looking at a cost of around $4,600 (but it can go higher).

When considering purchasing a home with a septic system you’ll want consider basic maintenance costs. This includes paying for an annual inspection and having the tank pumped every three to five years.

The cost to pump the tank varies according to the tank’s capacity. The national average, according to HomeAdvisor.com, is $381.

Your due diligence

Aside from the whole house inspection every smart homebuyer should have performed, we recommend that you also hire a professional septic contractor to inspect the septic system.

The inspection will include looking for leaks, ensuring that the sludge levels are below the outlet tee, checking to ensure the electrical and mechanical components are in good condition and more.

Typically, it’s the homebuyer’s responsibility to hire and pay for the contractor, but not always. In some regions, such as Central Virginia, for instance, the seller must have the septic system inspected “within 30 days of the closing date,” according to information posted at Realtor.com.

Septic systems aren’t as scary as many homebuyers think. Yes, they aren’t as convenient as being on city services, but as long as the system is inspected each year and you keep up the maintenance, you should have no worries.

And, it beats having to pay to get the home connected to the city’s sewer system.