Digging Up Dirt on Septic Systems
News Release No. 64, April 2001
By: Dr. Charles Gilliland
College Station – Texans looking for a place in the country may not have septic systems on their minds. But when drains back up and an unpleasant aroma fills the air, they may wish they had asked some questions.
Dr. Charles E. Gilliland, research economist for the Real Estate Center at Texas A&M University, says there are three things prospective rural homebuyers should know about septic systems.
First, septic systems do not have unlimited capacities like city sewer systems do. Buyers should find out the capacity of the septic tank and if it is adequate for the number of people that will be living in the home.
A family may have to adjust its water-using activities to avoid overtaxing the system and causing overflows. Septic systems are sensitive to the introduction of certain materials, such as garbage disposal solids, hair, coffee grounds and kitty litter. Overuse or misuse of the system can cause it to fail.
Second, buyers should be aware of the costs. Urban residents pay a set amount for sewer service each month. But expenses related to septic systems may be sporadic.
There two basic types of septic systems: a conventional system that consists of a tank with a drain field and an aerobic system that adds air to the tank, creating a highly oxygenated environment in which bacteria work. Aerobic systems break down organic matter rapidly. The effluent from an aerobic system is usually chlorinated and then sprayed or dripped on the lawn.
Conventional systems are relatively inexpensive to operate; the only expense is pumping out the tank every three to five years. Pumping a 500-gallon tank costs from $150 to $200.
Aerobic systems use energy constantly, and owners of these systems are required by the state to maintain them in proper working order. Homeowners can either be trained to maintain the system or they can sign a maintenance contract with an approved contractor. Maintenance contracts cost from $150 to $200 per year.
Third, prospective buyers should know there are two different types of septic inspections. Systems installed since 1989 require permits and are checked by Texas Natural Resources Conservation Commission (TNRCC) approved inspectors during installation. But when a property is sold, the TNRCC does not inspect the system.
Lenders usually require a complete home inspection that includes verifying that plumbing drains properly and that the drain field shows no visible overflow. This type of inspection may not detect faulty septic systems, particularly if property has been vacant for a while.
Before buying rural property, prospective buyers should ask questions about the septic system.
For conventional systems, ask:
For aerobic systems, ask:
For more information on septic systems and real estate, call 800-244-2144 and ask for reprint 1456, "Digging Up the Dirt on Septic Systems." It is $2.50. Free copies can be downloaded from the Internet at http://recenter.tamu.edu.
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