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We’ve looked at a few houses with septic systems—which we learned is actually pretty common here—and we hate to admit it, but the houses that have them have moved down our list for that reason alone. We’ve heard some horror stories! We got to thinking about it though and what if we find a house we love, but it’s on a septic system. What do you recommend we ask the seller and have done before buying to save us from having a septic horror story of our own in the future?

Thank you!!

Mike and Andrea, Grand Junction

Mike and Andrea,

I completely understand your concerns and reservations. Septic systems are often a worry, however I believe it is typically due to a lack of education on how they work and how easy it is to maintain a healthy septic system. In my opinion having a septic system is not a reason to rule your dream home out or even bump it down the list, unless it is showing signs of distress or failure! Yes, having a sewer hookup is easier and generally safer, but I have seen perfectly functioning septic systems that are 30–40 years old and are showing no signs of failure. Spotting signs of failure should be pretty easy.

Here are some common signs of septic system failure:

1. Slow drains, gurgling or “stuff” backing up into the home. If the drains are slow, that can be a sign of impending issues.

2. Unpleasant odors inside or outside your home. You will know the smell when you smell it. It most likely won’t be a, “honey do you smell that?,” it will be a “honey was that you?” odor. All kidding aside, it will be a noticeable sewage odor and something that should be looked into promptly.

3. Look for soggy areas, puddles or places where your lawn is growing like it is located in a tropical rainforest! If you find any of these issues, this is telling you that the drain field is not properly draining and needs attention!
While looking over the seller’s property disclosure or going through the home inspection process if you notice any evidence or remarks similar to the above, then proceed with caution.  I know we often ask prospective sellers to have their septic tank pumped, it should be done every 2-3 years depending on usage, and inspected to ensure all looks to be in order. If you want to go the extra step, you can have the main line and the leach field lines scoped with a camera to help detect any possible latent issues with the system. Should all those tests come back with a good report, my suggestion would be to proceed with little concern. If the septic system is performing properly it should continue to maintain good performance for many years as long as you follow some simple rules.

Good rules to follow to ensure your septic remains trouble free. Items to never flush down your toilet include, but are not limited to, sanitary napkins, tampons, hair, coffee grounds, paper towels, condoms, or cigarette butts. Stuff you should put in the trash, instead of down your sink would be chlorine, oils, grease, animal fats from cooking and really any type of chemicals. If the home has a disposal, be careful. Just because the disposal will grind it up and get it down the line does not mean that it should go down the line! Compost your kitchen scraps rather than shove them in the disposal or get yourself a new Labrador Retriever puppy and pretty soon you will have two disposals!

The bottom line, do your homework on any septic system to ensure it is functioning properly and move forward with confidence. Yes, there are septic horror stories, but there are horror stories about EVERYTHING if you want to find them.

Dave Kimbrough
The Kimbrough Team – RE/MAX 4000



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