Buying A House With A Septic Tank

If you’re itching to move out of the city to somewhere quieter, you’re not alone. According to a 2021 Gallup study, nearly half of Americans would rather live in a city or in the country than in a city. But finding a place to live in the country comes with problems you don’t have to think about in a city — like whether the property is connected to the local sewage system or relies on a septic tank.

In short, a home septic tank is a way to treat and dispose of wastewater from a property that is not connected to a municipal collection system. Having one on site has its perks but can be intimidating. Before you buy a house with a septic tank, you should know the following.

It is common for homes in rural or off-grid areas to have a septic tank, which is a mechanism used to collect and treat wastewater from your home. Having a septic tank in your home means your sewage is treated on your property rather than at a municipal treatment plant, which is more common in cities and suburbs.

Septic tanks collect all types of wastewater from your household, not just toilet waste. Anything that goes down the drain, including water from your washing machine and dishwasher, leftover food in the garbage disposal, and household cleaning products, also ends up in the septic tank.

The tank itself is buried deep underground somewhere on your property and is completely waterproof. Most septic tanks are made of concrete or fiberglass. The size of the tank will depend on the size of your home, but for an average three bedroom home, the minimum size for a septic tank is around 1,000 to 2,000 gallons.

When you run the dishwasher or flush the toilet, your household waste water flows through an opening in the tank called the inlet, where the water collects. Heavy solids settle to the bottom of the tank (called sludge) while lighter solids (called foam) float to the top.

Once the solids have been separated, the water remaining in the tank, known as the effluent, is drained from the tank and flows through a series of pipes into a liquor field (also called a drainfield). The soil treats and distributes the water, which is eventually discharged into the existing groundwater.

septic tanks and wells

A common misconception about septic tanks is that they are somehow connected to your source of drinking water, especially if you have a well (like many country homes do). In reality, well water and septic tank are two separate systems. Sewage treatment plants collect and treat wastewater, while wells pump groundwater into your home for everyday use.

Septic tanks can be very reliable, but they need professional maintenance to function properly. And they need to be cleaned periodically by a professional through a process called pumping.

During the cleaning, a technician removes the sludge and scum from the tank through a large hose. You can also inspect the tank for signs of failure, leaks, or clogs. According to the EPA, a septic tank should be pumped every three to five years. However, smaller tanks may need to be pumped more frequently, and some types need yearly cleaning. The cost of pumping your septic tank can range from $250 to $500 per cleaning.

If you’re considering buying a home with a septic tank, it’s important to understand the rules and regulations in your state. For example, some states require that the sewage system be inspected before title can be transferred. Your mortgage lender may also request a septic tank inspection, since most standard home inspections do not include the septic tank system.

In addition, you must find out about the local building codes for septic systems in your area. There might be city or county specific requirements related to septic tank inspection and maintenance. If the sewage system doesn’t meet the code — for example, if the tank is too close to a well — you may need to reinstall it elsewhere.

Before you buy a house with a septic tank, you should weigh the pros and cons. Here are some things to think about:


  • More Affordable: A septic tank saves you paying for municipal sewerage and can also save you money on property taxes.
  • Better for the environment: Sewage treatment plants are environmentally friendly.
  • Long lasting: Properly maintained septic systems can last 20 to 30 years or sometimes longer.


  • Requires regular maintenance: Septic tanks require regular pumping and maintenance, usually every few years, which can cost up to $500 per cleaning. If not properly maintained, it can get messy – and expensive.
  • Septic tanks can be clogged: If you live in a house with a septic tank, you have to be very careful about what you flush or put down the drain. If the lines are clogged and not draining properly, waste water could be backing up into your drains.
  • Potential for water pollution: Septic tanks that are clogged or not working properly can potentially contaminate your well water.

bottom line

Home septic tanks are not necessarily something to fear when house hunting and in rural areas they might be a necessity. But they need regular maintenance to avoid costly — and messy — problems. Before buying a home with a septic system, you should have it checked to make sure there are no signs of problems.

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