A Septic System Solution
A Septic System Solution
If you are buying a house, you definitely should have a home inspection performed by a licensed professional to see if there are any hidden or unexpected issues with the property. And, if the property is not on a public sewer system you should also have the septic system inspected as well to make sure it is operating correctly and not in a state of failure. Replacing a septic system can cost many, many thousands of dollars so if there is an issue you want to know it before you buy the property. That way you will be able to negotiate with the seller to remedy the situation instead of calling a septic guy some weekend during a Pats game when the toilets won’t flush and the basement smells like the sewer. (Although, some have said the Pats smelled like sewer last week anyway so it could be hard to differentiate!) Most buyers want to have the septic issue fixed prior to closing but sometimes, depending on the circumstances or issue, a reduction in the purchase price or a seller credit might be in order.
Without getting into a detailed description of how a septic system actually works as there is a lot of science behind it (no pun intended), let me try and make it really simple. When you flush a toilet or turn on a faucet whatever goes down the drain goes out a pipe from the house into a really big concrete tank. The idea of putting the stuff into a big tank is that it allows the solids to fall to the bottom of the tank where they remain and an anaerobic bacterial process takes place breaking down the solids. This creates that wonderful odor you will encounter when you attend your first septic inspection. The septic pumping guys refer to this as the “smell of money.”
The liquids at the top of the tank pass by a baffle and into an outlet pipe that carries the liquid out to a thing called a leach field. While leeches were used as an early medicinal treatment, today’s leach field does not contain leeches, so don’t be confused. A leach field (with an “a”) allows the effluent (a fancy name for liquid) to be dispersed into the ground through a series of perforated pipes or tubes placed into a bed of stand or stone. Usually, to keep the system working correctly, the only thing you should do with a septic system is pump the tank to remove the solids every few years. That seems pretty simple. No moving parts, right?
But things can go wrong. Simple things like the pipe from the house to the tank having a dip in it rather than being straight can cause problems. A tank with a missing or corroded baffle is an easy fix but could cause bigger problems if not attended to. The liquid level in a tank should always be level with the bottom of the outlet pipe…if it is too low then the tank is probably leaking. If the liquid level is above the outlet pipe…well, you really have a problem with the leach field. Some systems have a filter in the tank that need to be cleaned every year or so or they clog. You can bet your behind that most homeowners wouldn’t know that or even do it if they did know!
By far the biggest thing that fails is the leach field. There are many kinds of leach fields today. Most older leach fields consisted of a series of perforated PVC pipe set in a bed of sand and crushed stone. Newer designs came along using larger pipes covered with fabric that were placed in a bed of sand only. These new designs reduced the size of the leach field considerably. There are even what they call “clean water systems” that can reduce the size of a leach field to a minuscule area by aerating the tank with a pump. These systems have to be maintained on a strict schedule in order to be permitted. All of these newer systems have to be installed properly using the correct sand specified by the manufacturer or they can be subject to premature failure…even after just a few years. So, even if the house you are buying is just a few years old, you need to get an inspection to be sure everything is working properly.
It seems like my partner, Ashley Davis, and I have had a run on septic system failures on deals we have had this summer. It has gotten to the point where all we can say is “Not again!!” There has to be a better, simpler way to deal with the old Number Two issue. My mind flashed back to the charming, but neglected outhouse I saw this summer! Why not? Everyone is getting back to basics. People must love to go to the bathroom outdoors. Why, look at all the hikers on any given weekend in Franconia Notch and up on Mt. Major. I know they aren’t all holding it until they get back. Some of ‘em get lost for days, you know! Let’s start using outside privy’s again. Yes, they are allowed! From the State of NH: “According to RSA 147:8, privies are permitted as long as they have the approval of the local health officials as to the location and construction of the facilities. Privies (outhouses not conveying sewage by water), if properly located, designed and constructed are a safe way to dispose of toilet wastes.” Imagine that!
Let’s do them right, with lighted field stone walkways (solar of course), electrified, fancy tile floors, nice windows, insulated, and heated. Make them an integral part of the landscaping. A place you want to visit! You gotta have an exhaust fan though… maybe solar powered, too! Put them on skids so you can drag them back a few feet and dig another hole when you need to. Cover the former hole with another piece of field stone. Then you are good to go. Literally. Put an outside shower out there and you can turn your bathroom in the house into another walk in closet for your wife. You’ll never worry about a failed septic again. Of course, you may get divorced…but take a gamble.
There were 825 homes on the market as of October 1 in the twelve Lakes Region towns covered by this report. The average asking price was $648,166 and the median price point was $319,000. Based on recent experience, I guarantee you there are more than a few failed septic systems included in this batch of homes. So get an inspection…or get a privy!
Data compiled using the NEREN MLS system.