What to Know About Buying a House with a Septic System

Septic System
Source: pca.state.mn.us

A septic system includes a tank as one component—most single-family homes will have a 1000-gallon septic tank on average. When wastewater leaves your house, it goes through a sewage line, where it then reaches the septic tank, beginning the first phase of the treatment process. A septic tank size depends on how much it’s expected to be used. 

The septic tank separates wastewater into three layers—solids, effluent, and scum. Sludge settles at the bottom, and scum will float to the top when microorganisms start decomposing the organics and solids. The effluent is the middle layer, a clear liquid that leaves the tank eventually and goes either to the drain field or maybe is stopped by a sand filter. There are also risers and lids which provide access to the septic tank. 

The following are some of the implications and things to know if you’re considering buying a house with a septic system. 

How the Drain Field Works

The drain field is a major part of a septic system, with its function being the removal of waste from your tank. It then sends it to pipes so that it can be slowly and evenly distributed into the soil. 

A septic system is essentially an onsite, underground sewage facility that treats your residential wastewater. 

Drain fields work by using buried, perforated, sloped pipes that connect the septic and allow for the diversion of waste from your home. The pipes will deposit waste into something porous, like sand or gravel. The drain field also helps make sure your septic tank won’t overflow, and it prevents odors from becoming problematic in your yard. 


If you buy a home with a septic system, prepare yourself for the fact that it’s going to have to be regularly maintained. Septic tanks need to be inspected, maintained, and sometimes drained to avoid major issues. At least every few years, plan on having the sludge pumped out. That costs upwards of $600, but it depends on your tank size. 

You might also use something called biological additives to help better maintain your system. These increase the number of helpful bacteria and enzymes in your system that can then break down scum and sludge. If you use additives, it can increase how much time can go by between cleanings of your tank. 

If a septic system isn’t well-maintained, things can go wrong. 

For example, clogged pipes or a flood drain field can lead to a mess

If there’s too much liquid in your septic tank or your drain field, your tank may not drain fast enough or may not drain altogether, causing backflow problems. 

If you’re going to buy a home with a septic system, as well as knowing that you’re going to have to maintain it, you’ll have to learn how to spot problems early on, like odors, slow drainage, or strange plumbing sounds. 

Some things you’ll also have to make sure you’re doing if you buy a home with a septic system include the following:

  • Be careful what you’re putting into the system. For example, you can’t put things like diapers, disposable wipes, kitty litter, chemicals, or feminine products down the drain because any one of these items can clog your septic system. 
  • Don’t park on or drive over your drain field because the weight of your vehicle can potentially damage your pipes. 
  • Be careful about what you plant close to your drain field. Some species, like weeping willows, can put roots into your drain field or even your tank.

The Pros and Cons

Some of the pros of having a home with a septic system include the following:

  • You can save money since you aren’t paying for the public sewer. 
  • As long as you’re properly maintaining your septic system, it’s more environmentally friendly. 
  • You can live further away from the city when you have a septic system. 
  • A tank can last up to 40 years. 
  • You can save money on your property taxes if you have a septic tank because you aren’t hooked up to the municipal sewer system. 

There are downsides to consider too. 

One is that the maintenance costs can range from $300 to $600, and you have to do this every few years, although this can still come out as being less expensive than the costs of the municipal sewer. 

If you don’t maintain your system, it can cause a big mess, and eventually, you’ll have to replace it. 

Finally, another downside of septic systems is that you have to be pretty careful about how much water you’re using and what you’re putting down the drain. 

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