Not Familiar With How a Septic System Works?
Wondering what you should do when you purchase a home that is not connected to public sewer?
If you are working with REALTOR, he/she should be aware of the laws regarding septic tank disclosures and make sure your offer/contract addresses the septic system. Some real estate agents are not familiar with them because they sell properties mostly on public sewer, so be sure to ask about their knowledge of septic systems.
In the Tennessee area, septic systems are based on number of bedrooms, not bathrooms. The tank holds the solid waste and the liquids drain from the tank out into the field lines(filled with gravel and also underground) The number of field lines determines the number of bedrooms that the system can handle. One field line per bedroom is typical but sometimes more field line trenches are required to accommodate the type of soil that may be present. You will need to see the permit to know exactly what the system was permitted for as a visual inspection of the lines can be deceiving. The bedroom measurement is used rather than bathrooms as it is a measure of how many people can typically live in the house and thereby create waste via bathrooms, laundry, dishwasher, sinks, etc. Septic tanks are usually 1000 gallons in size. You should ask to see the Septic Permit which will include a drawing of the septic system on the property and location of the field lines and the duplicate area(in case the first system should ever fail). It is important to know the location as you may NOT build on top of, or too close to this septic system. That would include pools, garages, barns or any other outdoor structure you are thinking of building in the future. Also, you should not drive any heavy equipment on top of those lines while doing any type of construction as it can crush those lines and create septic issues in the future. Again, it is important to know exactly where your septic system is.
When a septic system is first installed, there was a ground percolation test done to determine the absorption rate of the soil. Some homes are restricted to lesser bedrooms because of it, but most of the time, it is purely the number of bedrooms designed into the blueprints of the home. More field lines means more construction costs, so many builders or homeowners will only install what they need at that time. It is in later years, that a homeowner builds on, or finishes out an additional bedroom that this becomes an issue in regards to advertising a home for sale.
Every Day Usage
For ever day usage, It is usually not a problem to use a room or a loft space as a 3rd or 4th bedroom for instance, as these systems can normally handle the waste within reason. It is a matter of advertising. So, a 2 bedroom system cannot be advertised for sale as a 3 bedroom home. When purchasing your new home, your REALTOR will request the seller and seller's agent to produce the Tennessee Subsurface Sewage Disposal System Permit Disclosure. This document will state how many bedrooms the original septic system was designed for and the permit should be attached. There are cases in older homes where the septic records can not be found at the County Environmental office. In this case, the number of bedrooms approved is unknown and can be advertised accordingly.
Another thing to watch for is an older home that is still on septic but paying for city sewer. This happens when a municipality installs sewer lines on the street where the homes are already built and using septic systems. The homeowner is not always required to hook up to the sewer line but that city municipality may charge them for sewer anyway. Do not assume that because the listing says sewer, that it actually has been connected, especially on older homes. This is where the due diligence aspect comes in to play. Make sure you do your homework. Additionally, if you are planning on getting an FHA or VA mortgage loan and there is sewer available at the street, you or the seller(depending on negotiations) will be required to connect. This can add several thousand dollars to your purchase price along with the time involved to do so. This is more of a negotiation aspect of your purchase and sale agreement. Again, your REALTOR should know what to do.
Septic Tank Inspection
During your home inspection time period, you should also consider an inspection of the septic system. This can be done by a septic company. To inspect the tank, the inspector will dig with a shovel to locate the access lid, which will be slightly underground Then, open the hatch, empty tank into disposal truck if necessary and inspect the system. These tanks are usually not too far underground for this very reason. Septic tanks also require clean outs in the 3-5 year range depending on usage. You can also request a dye inspection to ensure the field lines are working properly.
Finally, don't be scared of the septic system. These systems last for a long time when treated correctly. Being kind to your system by not putting food, grease, or non-biodegradable paper down the drain will make for a long lasting system. When purchasing an existing home with a septic, it is important to have the seller pump the tank or provide proof that it has been done recently.
Additionally, you as a buyer may pay a fee to the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, Division of Ground Water Protection, for a septic inspection letter. This means that an onsite inspection will be done of the system but does not mean that they open up the tank. The purpose is to evaluate the system at ground level and to make sure there is no standing water or sewage visible and that there are no obstructions or buildings that could compromise the system. This Department also requires at least several weeks notice, to do this inspection, so make sure you allow enough time within your contract to accomplish this. This inspection is not required to be done, and is strictly up to the buyer. If you should decide to have this additional inspection, please ask your REALTOR for assistance in getting it scheduled.
Another good idea is to add a sewage rider to your homeowner's insurance policy. It is a very inexpensive yearly cost, usually less than $50. This will take care of any damage in your home caused by a sewer backup. In fact, I recommend this for everyone, not just septic owners.
Tennessee Consumer Protection Act Regarding Septic Systems
For additional information on Subsurface Sewage Disposal Systems(septic) laws in the State of Tennessee, please see the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act, section 41, updated 2018, regarding septic systems, septic permits, advertising homes for sale with septic systems, etc.
Feel free to contact me for any additional questions or help in purchasing or selling your home or farm.
If you do not yet have a Realtor, please view my award winning post on Best Reason to Use a REALTOR and give me a call to discuss your real estate needs. If you are searching for homes for sale in the Middle Tennessee area, be sure to contact Kim Blanton, a Certified Residential Specialist, if you are not yet working with a REALTOR.
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