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Age of septic system raises red flags

May 16, 2010|By Barry Stone

Question: The home we're buying was built in 1947, and it still has the original septic tank. We've never had a home with a septic system. The seller promised to pay for an inspection and then backed out of his offer, so we'll be paying for it. Even if the inspection goes well, how difficult is it to live with a septic tank?

Answer: If a septic system is properly installed, not very old and has been serviced regularly, it could provide years of trouble-free use. A 1947 septic system raises a red flag in all three categories.

You don't know whether the system was properly installed. A permit may not even have been required 60-plus years ago. The system may have been installed by someone with no experience. The tank might have been made of lumber that is now rotted. The leach lines that carry liquid from the tank to the soil might be clogged.

Even if properly installed, there is the issue of age. A tank that was substantial 60 years ago could now be deteriorated and in need of replacement. A concrete tank could be decomposed and crumbling. A steel tank could be rusted through.

Who knows how often the tank was drained and serviced over the years. Septic systems are often neglected until there is a plumbing problem. Lack of maintenance is the most common cause of failed leach lines.

Replacement of a septic tank or leach lines can cost thousands of dollars.

For the inspection, be sure to hire a septic contractor who has years of experience, will totally drain the tank and will fully evaluate the leach line system. If possible, be there during the inspection and ask questions.

Often it is the seller who pays for the septic inspection. The unwillingness of this seller to pay for it should be a warning to you.

Barry Stone, Access Media Group

To submit a question, go to http://www.housedetective.com.

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