by Larry Losoncy, PhD
Given that nearly half of all the homes in America are on septic systems, anyone buying a home outside major metropolitan areas has a one in two chance of ending up with a septic system. Few states require inspection of sanitation systems before allowing homeowners to sell. The assumption is that you, the potential buyer, will do your own inspection. Here is a walk-through of what to ask and what to do.
- What type of sanitation is in place?
- If the property has city hookup, what is the monthly fee?
- If the property is new but permitted for city hookup, what will be the cost?
With city sewer hookup you need go no further with this checklist.
- What sanitation system is in place?
- When was it first used?
- What records are available showing any problems, repairs or alterations?
Without a trustworthy maintenance record you are about to buy a pig in a poke.
Third: if the sanitation system is a septic system, ask questions.
- When was it installed?
- Have there been any problems?
- Where is the maintenance documentation?
- What is the cost of operating the system?
- How often does it need routine monitoring and servicing?
- How long is the system expected to last?
Fourth: ask to inspect the leech field.
This is the area in which perforated lines have been laid below the ground surface. Treated waste is dispersed through these lines and discharges into the ground. Look for pools of water and areas of mud on the surface of this area. These would be indicators that the waste matter is not percolating into the ground properly: a red flag.
Look for ruts and tire tracks. Driving a vehicle, tractor or heavy machinery over a leechfield can crack or compress the leech lines: a red flag.
Check for the access manhole cover where the septic system would be pumped.
Also check for how the system’s tanks or treatment chambers are accessed. In both cases be sure the access is secured against a small child accidentally falling or climbing into the system. Any access covers should be out of the traffic pattern of vehicles and machinery so as to ensure that the cover will not accidentally be damaged or loosened. This is important in places where snow could cover them to the point that a driver would not know they are there.
Fifth: alternative System. If the sewer line is not on city hookup and the sanitation system is something other than a septic system:
- What is the system?
- When was it installed?
- How long is it expected to last?
- How does it work?
- What does it cost to operate?
- What are you supposed to do to keep the system operating well?
- What problems have there been and when did the problems occur?
- What was the solution and how much did it cost?
- Where are the service and maintenance records?
Then: ask for a demonstration.
Remember: aside from the toilet, most of a home’s sanitation system is hidden from view. That makes it easy to take for granted that everything is in working order. The tendency is to ignore what is not visible. Sanitation is one of the hidden foundations on which any civilization rests. At the current time in our history that foundation could be in considerably better condition than is the case!
Questions? Check with your local sanitation professionals. The advice attorneys often give applies here: “Better to seek advice and take counsel before making important decisions!”
Larry Losoncy is the president of Clean Up America, Inc. The company manufactures and markets The Sanitizer™ non-discharge, evaporative toilet. To learn more about The Sanitizer™ please go to http://www.cuaproducts.com.