Question about septic systems

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My wife & I are considering buying a house with a septic tank. I have never lived in a property that had such a system, but have always heard they can be troublesome (most things can, I guess). System is described by MLS as "Two bedroom septic", which I gather indicates its capacity. If anyone can give me some feedback on just how problematic septic systems can be, any questions I might ask the realtor when we see the house for the 1st time (he probably won't KNOW, but at least I'LL look like I DO ;-), any other general comments on septics, etc. There would be just the 2 of us living in the house, which is located in the Seattle area.
TIA
Dan
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If it;s not already screwed up, and you treat it properly, it shouldn't be a problem at all. People have trouble with septic systems when they abuse them.
Here are the rules: Have it pumped and inspected either immediately before or immediately after the sale.
One year later, have it pumped and inspected again. The results of that second inspection will tell you how often you need to pump it in the future. (assuming that's not dictated by law, where you are)
If the house has a garbage disposal, get rid of it. don't dump grease, food-waste or chemicals into it, any more than you can help.
If you can, dump the washing-machine (and RO-water-treatment system, if any) into a drywell separate from the septic.
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wrote:

Thanks for the prompt + helpful reply. You gave me at least 2 points: Does the house have a drywell, & will they do a drainage/inspection/remediation as a term of sale. What does drainage/inspection generally cost, appromimately?
This property is in an area that is transitioning from "rural" to "suburban". In fact, there are developments going in right across the road, which I'm guessing will be on the city sewer. I'm wondering if in such circumstances, it is normal for the local municipality to offer (maybe even require) the older properties to connect to the sanitary sewer system?
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yeah it will be REQUIRED, and tap in and fee per foot of frontage can cost thousands.........
Time to talk to local building inspector and sewer company
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Very unlikely in most locales for a new addition on sewer to require an existing subdivision/addition to be added (as OP confirmed later on). Any requirement (even if if does actually exist) in one area should NOT be inferred to be generally applicable.

Actually, in rural county area, County Health Department will undoubtedly be the controlling body for septic systems.
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It's not unlikely at all. Hallerb is right, it happens. The house I'm living in was initially septic, and within 10 years, when sewers were run down the street, homes were required to connect at the homeowner's expense. It;s not necessarily a bad thing, as it eliminates one big headache.
To the OP, I'd check on the age of the system. If it's only 5 years old, you're far less likely to have problems than if it's 40 years old. At that point, it's common to have problems with the leach field, as no matter what you do, eventually the area gets afftected to the point that it has trouble draining.

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Dan wrote:

GOOGLE: Septic problems (or similar).
Contact your county Health Dep't for info. Besides the usual, they may be aware of problems specific to the area you're buying into. Find out if there are sewers in the offing ($$$) or will the state mandate wholesale system replacements.
Line up a licensed septic co. to do an inspection should you place an offer. Make the offer contingent upon the inspection passing. The co. will be aware of local issues as well.
A well-maintained system may give you years more of trouble-free service. OTOH....
Jim
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Thanks Jim, you read my mind ;-) I'll give the cty a call.
Dan
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A lot of times, the purchase price of a place can be reduced because of the seller knowing there is going to be a big cost in the future. You already know it.
After finding out how long it's gonna be, think about the septic system as another family member. Feed the little yeasty beasties, don't poison them(Chlorine), give them plenty of water, and don't use excessive detergent. If your washer has an 'extra dirty' cycle, put the clothes on that for a lot more agitation time, reduce how much soap you need. And avoid powdered detergent. It reforms in the tank.
We went for 18 years and not once even considered having to have it pumped. But if you do have it pumped, have it emptied to the walls. Our first and only emptying when we got the place involved having the access cover removed, instead of simply sucking liquid out. And then we treated it gently.

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Thanks for all the replies. I just called the county. They agreed about having the tank pumped prior to sale. Also said they don't require tank users to connect to adjacent sewers when they are put in to newly developed areas nearby. They said there is a law on the books regarding how often tanks are pumped, but it's not enforced. I asked about a drywell, they said drywells are illegal & that they DO enforce that one ;-) He said basically what I've heard here, that you have it pumped, then again at a set interval (suggested 3 years) & based on that, you know how often to do it. He said they have thousands of them in their service area, and the vast majority work fine if cared for, as has been said here. They were very helpful, actually.
Thanks again,
Dan
Dan
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One of the most important things about a septic system was already mentioned here. NO disposal in the kitchen, and NO laundry drain into it. (if you're using a water efficient front loader, this is less of a problem) And while your at it with the dry well, put the dishwasher and shower into it also. And big water user loads off the septic are better. BUT, with all that said, with just two people in the house, you probably won't have to worry about any of that unless you have a marginal system already.
--
Steve Barker

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Thanks Steve. I've always heard the "backhoe in the front yard every 2 years" horror stories about septics, obviously not true! On a new purchase, the key seems to be assuring a drained & inspected & fixed if required septic system is part of the sale.
Dan
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It *IS* true, once you screw one up by letting it go too long unpumped. or if you add a 5 bedroom addition to a septic designed for a 1 bedroom cottage.
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If you read up on septic systems and really understand them, it's real easy to "visualize" what's going on in there. The worst that can happen is damage to the lateral field. This can happen several ways. a. physical damage from crushing loads over it. b. tree roots c. soil that won't "perk" meaning the effluent doesn't have anywhere to go. This can happen from improper installation (not enough gravel) or just bad (clay) soil. d. letting the sludge build up in the tank to the point where it is force out into the field.
people who say they've gone "18 years" or any other long period of time without pumping are just asking for trouble. 3 to 5 year between pumpings should be considered a maximum. That way you never have to worry about the sludge getting up to the outlet. I'm no expert, but I've been on a septic system all my life (48 years) and have seen the ups and downs of them.
--
Steve Barker



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I built my house and septic about 18 years ago. I opened the tank last year concerned about sludge buildup and found only a minor amount in the bottom. There are two adults and laundry is done off site. Both adults work. Usage is light. I expect the next 18 years to be the same.
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On Fri, 16 Feb 2007 21:55:30 -0800, "Pat"

Good answer. Visual inspection is the absolute key. Too many people fail to open it up and inspect it periodically and then complain when it quits working. Going 18 years without pumping is not that unusual.
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Open it up and do a visual inspection? Obviously you've never had a septic system. There is no visual inspection until you PUMP it. Opening it up and looking, all you will see is the "scum" on top. And only the pumping guy can really tell (by feel) how deep the sludge is/was. 3 to 5 years max, or trouble ahead. Period.
--
Steve Barker

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wrote:

Not necessarily true. When I had mine inspected & pumped after 10 years use, the first thing they looked for was floating debris in the scum. Seeing none he said it would be in good shape because stuff at the bottom of the tank gets dissolved but floating stuff stays a *long* time. When it was pumped there was 3-4 inches of sludge only. He said based upon that, I could go 15 years easily if usage doesn't change. So a visual is not all inclusive, but is a good indicator.
Red
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Disagree. Read about the Sludge Judge, at their site or in my post. Only part a person is likely to need for homeowner use is the bottom part with the valve http://www.enasco.com/ProductDetail.do?sku 9250WA or perhaps that part and a single extension. http://www.enasco.com/ProductDetail.do?sku 9251WA
It's like being able to take a core sample of the septic tank contents. Shows you exactly what's there under the layer of scum, because you would NEVER have known by simply having it pumped.
Steve, sometimes it's best to ask, such as the OP, instead of just taking timeworn 'truths' at face value.

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