Septic System: Hidden Stuff To Check When Buying A House

When buying a home, here's a subject you may not (want to) think about: the septic system.  Many homes in South Florida do not have municipal waste (sewer).  Instead, the household waste water goes into a septic tank and, after natural breakdown of solids, the water is then passed through a drain field (or leach field) where it re-enters the water table.

If proper maintenance is performed, a septic system can last the house's lifetime.  However, if the home owner skips cleanouts (about every 5 years) or the system is old and uses metal pipes instead of PVC, you could have problems buried beneath the surface of your dream house. 

I was recently in Coral Gables and saw one house in the process of changing out the drain field.  Costs for this can range from $4000 to $12,000 depending on how many bathroooms and the size of the home.  Much of the expense can be attributed to removing the old one, so if it was leaking and needs extra attention during removal, the expenses can rise rapidly.

Nowadays, the drain field is comprised of a series of PVC pipes with small perforations that allow filtered water to slowly leach out.  Old drain fields could be metal pipes or even just a series of stones at various sizes and strata.

Before the water reaches the drain field it first needs to settle out in the septic tank itself.  Heavy waste drops out to the bottom and the 'clean' water rises to the top.  Gradually, the lightest water drains off the top of the septic tank down a pipe into the awaiting drain field.

Here you can see the blue pipes that allow the water to enter the drain field.  Given the age of this house, the prior pipes were likely metal and had corroded.

I write this article not to scare people.  Most houses have a perfectly acceptable and functional septic system in place.  However, it is important to work with a Realtor with an eye to the smaller details of home buying.  I am no expert on septic systems, but I can tell you when you might want to have an inspection done to help avoid expensive surprises.

When buying my first house, I was unaware and not enlightened by my Realtor about septic systems.  While I didn't have a complete failure of my system, there was enough damage to provide me with a several thousand dollar repair bill within 6 months of purchasing the house.

It is my mission to enlighten my clients so that thing like this don't spoil a new purchase.