Many buyers when purchasing a home opt for an inspection to check structural soundness, plumbing, electrical and many other components to eliminate the surprise of underlying major issues. One thing that is often left out of this inspection process is the home’s septic system.
According to Claude Powell, owner and operator of Powell’s Septic Tank Service in Buffalo, potential home buyers should ask questions regarding the system and sellers should be able to answer.
Powell suggests both owners and potential owners of homes with septic systems ask themselves: What is the age of the system? What kind of system is it? What is the location of the tank and lateral field? Who installed it? When it was last serviced? Does it have a manhole?
“If you can’t answer all of these then you need to have an inspection of the system,” said Powell.
“A septic system is a miniature sewer system in your back yard and every sewer plant has to have maintenance...it’s important to know your system.”
“It’s like this,” said Powell “suppose you go out and buy a new car and you get a manual with that car of what you should do to take care of it. If you follow that manual it will prolong the life of that car. But if you said, ‘all I want to do is put gas in it and drive it and not change the oil,’ yeah the car will last for a little while, but not long. Everything has to have maintenance.”
With the cost of repairing a failing system coming somewhere near the $3,000-$5,000 range, Powell suggest maintaining to prevent replacing.
“The difference between a failed system and a good operating system is maintenance,” said Powell. “The state of Kentucky recommends servicing every three years, but I recommend it every two.”
Failing to maintain a septic system can cause several things to happen, including “backups, overflowing systems and the laterals failing ... once you get to this point you have to replace,” said Powell.
So you may ask, what causes septic systems to overflow?
“The biggest problem is sludge in the tank,” said Powell. “It is the damaging part of the system.”
Sludge is produced by bacteria breaking down what comes into the tank, such as waste.
“As the years go by the sludge starts building up,” said Powell. “Once it gets to the point of overflowing it can go into the lateral lines and seal the ditch. Standing water will appear in your yard and that means you have sewer problems, real bad sewer problems ... it’s too late then.”
Powell explained that lateral lines are underground pipes used to flow water from the septic tank into the ground.
“A family uses several gallons of water per person per day,”said Powell. “Obviously the tank is only so large and the water has to go somewhere ... this is what the lateral lines are used for.”
When these lines become sealed by sludge, backups occur which can cause overflow inside the home and become a major aggravation until the system is replaced.
“Septic tanks are cheap if you maintain it,” said Powell. “It would be much better to call your local pumper every two years to have your tank pumped and cleaned.”
When asked about bacteria chemicals, such as RID-X, that are flushed down a toilet to help promote the growth of healthy bacteria in a septic system, Powell agreed that these products can help. However, most septic tanks produce enough of their own bacteria off of the waste that comes into the tank.
“If you have a question whether or not the system has enough bacteria, I can tell you almost instantly,” said Powell. “If you go to your septic system and it is awful smelling it’s not working. If it smells pungent almost earthy, it’s working.”
Although Powell says most pumpers do not have a manual to give homeowners on maintaining septic systems, one can be downloaded at http://www.kentuckyonsite.org/publications.htm.
“Maintenance is the biggest thing if you want to keep your system running smoothly,” reiterated Powell “It is up to the homeowner to do this.”
If you have questions regarding your septic system, Powell urges you to call your local pumper.