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3 Septic System Red Flags for Home Buyers

septic tank

Having a septic system inspection before you close on a new home is the smart way to go. Experts can find and assess septic problems that you might not discover if you looked all day. But sometimes problems are so bad you can detect them on your own. Then you can move on to the next house, rather than paying for inspections and tests that this house is likely to fail.

Here are three big warning flags that mean your prospective new home may be rife with septic difficulties.

1. The Owner Can't Answer Your Questions

Talk to the owner about exactly where on the property the system is located. This means not just the septic tank, but also the entire drainfield. If the owner doesn't know the answer, that's a bad sign. After all, responsible septic tank ownership includes things like not parking cars on top of the drainfield.

If the owner doesn't know where the drainfield is, it's entirely plausible the drainfield area could be compacted, improperly insulated during the winter, and full of bushes and trees.

The owner should also be able to answer questions about capacity, maintenance history, and other basics.

2. You Find Trees in the Vicinity

If you find a lot of trees on the property, you'll need to make sure none are growing on or around the septic system. In fact, only non-woody plants should be growing in these areas; bushes are also a no-no. Trees are the biggest culprit, though; a tree can send roots from across the yard to pick at the pipes and worm their way inside.

As a rule of thumb, any tree should be at least as far away from all parts of the system as its full mature height. If the tree is still small, you can extract it after buying the house. Still, if it's very close to the system, the damage may already be done. So if you find any trees that are near the septic system, especially mature trees closer than their height, that's a red flag.

You should especially watch out for trees that are known to be water-hungry, such as willow trees and poplar trees. Trees that have heavy water requirements or have overly robust roots may need to be much farther from the septic system to be safe. If you're uncertain about some trees that you find, consult with your septic contractor about whether those particular trees are a bad sign or not.

3. You Detect Signs of Septic Backup

You probably know that slow drains, or drains that don't smell too fresh, can be an indication of problems at the other end of the drain. But there are a few more signs you should look out for that can indicate your potential new-to-you septic system has recently had major surgery (or is headed that way quickly).

For example, if the current owners have a garbage disposal in their kitchen sink and use it regularly, that bodes ill for the future, especially if they don't get their septic tank pumped more frequently. Using a garbage disposal makes the tank fill up faster, and if a full tank doesn't get pumped soon enough, solids can make their way to the drainfield and start plugging pipes.

Other telltale signs you should look for include:

  • Bad smells both indoors and out

  • Especially lush grass over the drainfield or septic tank

  • Drains that are slow even though the tank was pumped recently

  • Mushy or flooded areas of ground around/near the septic system

Like symptoms of a disease, one of these signs may not mean there's a drainfield failure. For example, slow drains can just mean there's a plumbing problem (such as a plumbing vent that's not working correctly). But if you notice a pattern, you're right to be concerned. 

Anchor You should never buy a house without knowing what you're getting into, but if you notice one or more red flags, a thorough septic inspection is even more critical if you decide to go ahead. Chuck Keene Septic Tank Pumping Service is always here to help with septic inspections and repair, so contact us today if you need an expert opinion.