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Our Realtor has shown us 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 times a worry, however I believe it is typically due to a lack of education on how they work and how easy it really can be 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 tropical rain forest! If you find any of these issues, this is telling you that the drain field is not properly draining and needs attention before your kid’s next birthday party!

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 want to 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. Education is the key to understanding and getting comfortable. Yes, there are septic horror stories, but there are horror stories about EVERYTHING if you want to find them. Lastly, guys remember it is Valentine’s Day this Wednesday…do yourself a favor and make a call to one of our local florists!

Dave Kimbrough
The Kimbrough Team


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  • Great tip about how you should check for septic tank installation prior to buying a new home. I want to have a septic tank that can accommodate 6 people’s water usage. I’ll have to get a plumber to help with dimension sizing for installation.

  • Great tip about looking for soggy areas. You make a great point about getting proper draining for your house. I’ll have to get a contractor who can properly drain our flooded basement.

  • Thank you for pointing out that sluggish drains might be an indicator of future problems. My home’s drain causes the water to move slowly and become stagnant. I’ll make a call to the septic installation business to get my septic tank inspected and replaced.

  • My best friend and her wife are moving into a house with a septic system next month. Thanks for mentioning how septic tank pumping needs to be done every two to three years. Once my friends are settled into their new home, I’ll make sure they find a reliable septic company to service their tank every few years.

  • I like what you said about paying attention to gurgling noises. My septic tank has been making some weird noises. My wife and I are wanting to get an inspection scheduled.

  • It was helpful when you said that you might have issues if you have slow drains. My fiance and I have noticed this happening in our house for the past couple of weeks now, and since we haven’t been able to fix it on our own, I wanted to know what could be causing it. We’ll have to look into hiring a professional to come and fix our septic system for us as soon as possible.

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