Septic question

jane__nyFebruary 27, 2009

Planning to sell in April and I live in NY. House was built 1960 and has well and septic. Both have always worked find and I've never had a problem in 30+ years.

I have read comments on this forum about older septic's not passing the standards required today. What does that mean? Will I be required to replace a septic system to fit today's rules? That would be an enormous expense and would destroy my landscaped property.

This is making me very nervous. Could someone please explain what I might be facing.



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Last yr we sold a house in CT, built in 79, we had the septic pumped just before closing, gave them the name of our service co. The home we bought has an even older system, passed inspection just fine. Been here almost a yr and no problems.

    Bookmark   February 28, 2009 at 7:51AM
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A 30 year old septic system is on borrowed they typically last about 25 years or so. It could last another 10...or crash tommorrow.
Most buyers these days are savvy enough to have a thorough analysis done, as septics can cost up to 30K plus to replace. Professional inspections involve camera scoping as well as digging up the D-Box among other things.

This type of inspection will find any problems that may be prepared. may live in an area of NY where buyers hire home inspectors who still perform septic "dye tests", which are meaningless to the buyer, as they only prove the system is working on that could crash the next.

If your buyer has a good attorney and/or a good RE agent, they will warn them against using such a test. However,since they are still done often enough, there is a good chance that your buyer will be the victim of such a test...which can be beneficial to you...but possibly catastrophic for the buyer if the system crashes after the sale.In NJ, a specific septic inspection protocol has been established by NJDEP.

Responsible septic inspectors follow this protocol, not just in NJ, but elsewhere as well, as it is the only way to determine the actual true condition of the entire system.

Below is a link for more info on what to expect from a thorough septic inspection.

Here is a link that might be useful: Technical Guidance for Inspection Of Onsite Wastewater Systems

    Bookmark   February 28, 2009 at 10:46PM
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Well, I read the entire thing and have no idea what the condition of the septic is. We've never noticed anything odd but no one has ever inspected it, so who knows. This area (40 miles from NYC) does not have sewers or municipal water. We are all on wells and septic.

My luck something's wrong and I don't know it...guess I'll find out.

Thanks for the info,

    Bookmark   February 28, 2009 at 11:31PM
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Jane, I really think you would know if something is wrong. :>)

Here is WNY, dye tests are the typical tests done when buying/selling homes.

    Bookmark   March 2, 2009 at 12:18PM
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pamghatten: "Here is WNY, dye tests are the typical tests done when buying/selling homes."

If Jane is lucky...and her buyers are unlucky, that is the only "test" that will be performed.

One of the best things that NJ did for home buyers when they licensed home inspectors was to prohibit home inspectors from performing septic testing of any sort unless they hold a P.E. or R.E.H.S. (Registered Environmental Health Specialist) this precludes the buyers from being fooled by the bogus dye test.

The buyers then have no choice but to hire a professional septic inspection company which in turn gives them a far better chance of having a thorough inspection.

Personally, I think dye tests should be outlawed..especially when one considers that replacing a septic system is probaly one of the most....if not the most expensive repair one could have to make on the house.

And, yes, a septic system could indeed have problems that not yet evident to the owner. That is why the system can pass the "dye test" today...and crash tomorrow.

    Bookmark   March 2, 2009 at 12:30PM
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In my county in upstate NY, the dye test is not required. One county over however, it is.
Inspectors tend to test the septic by flushing toilets. And on disclosure forms, you are required to answer questions, to the best of your knowledge, about septic issues and date of last pumping.
It would be a good idea to get it pumped before listing. If you have lived there for 30 years and can't put down a date for last pumping, it would signal a red flag for me.

    Bookmark   March 2, 2009 at 1:37PM
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You WOULD know if it was failing- it would be coming into the house or pooling on the ground and the smell.. If you get it pumped they can check some of it at the same time. If you really want to ease your mind you could have a septic inspection and provide the results to the buyer.

    Bookmark   March 2, 2009 at 1:50PM
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newgardenelf, while the above is partially correct, there are more subtle signs as well, such as sluggish drains in the home, plumbing backups, as well as gurgling sounds in pipes and drains as well as excessive, moist, lush green growth over the septic fields.

Some homeowners do not equate the above with septic failure...that is why septics can be failing and the may be owner unaware of that fact.

There can also be damage to the laterals, the d-box etc that has yet to result in problems, but are indeed problems waiting to happen.

    Bookmark   March 2, 2009 at 3:15PM
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jane_ny; I just wanted to let you know that my family has a cabin that is 50 years old and has never had a problem with the septic. Our home that we are living in for the last 15 years is 22 years old with a septic, no problem there either. Of course anything could happen but that's true of anything in life. If your septic has been performing good all these years and you don't get back up and stench I don't see why you wouldn't pass inspection. Good luck on your sale.

    Bookmark   March 2, 2009 at 3:51PM
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logic- none of those seem subtle to me but it reminds me of a house I went to do a CMA for and things were backing up into the basement "occasionally" and they asked if I thought that would be a problem? Yeah I'm pretty sure that would be a problem for a buyer. They had never had it pumped and they had a crushed dbox so they thought winter would be a good time to sell so no one would see the "occasional sludge" in the backyard.

People seem to be afraid of septics but I would rather have one than the monthly bill. They can last a long time.

    Bookmark   March 2, 2009 at 9:49PM
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Never had backups or any sort of sluggish draining. There are 4 bathrooms and they all work well. We have over an acre and the grass is greener over the septic fields. But not wet or soggy. I garden in the area and always wish the rest of the lawn was as green.

We had it pumped out approx 8 years ago. Will do it this Spring and ask the man if he see's anything wrong. I have a feeling, in my area, Westchester Cty, the rules are strict.

We have a well also, and that will probably be another headache. I'm sure the testing rules have changed with wells over the past 30 yrs.

Might just have to stay here.

Thanks all,

    Bookmark   March 3, 2009 at 1:24AM
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Jane, well and septic are very typical in my area .. and people don't have a problem buying homes with either of them if they want to live in our area ... which they do.

I wouldn't listen to the negative comments, do your own research for your area.

If it's typical in your area, then people buy and sell with them all the time. Ask your town what is required when transferring property.

    Bookmark   March 3, 2009 at 1:02PM
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The guidelines that are posted here for the invasive inspection mandates that the inspector has to tell the homeowner that this inspection only can tell the current condition of the septic, and is not able to determine if the septic will fail in the near or far future, as logic implies.
Tell me one seller that is going to dig up his yard for an invasive inspection when things are working normally. Have the buyer do a dye test.
Any system in a home can crash at any time, not just the septic. You would not dig up a well just to tell the seller that it is still working.

    Bookmark   March 3, 2009 at 2:39PM
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ncrealestateguy: "Tell me one seller that is going to dig up his yard for an invasive inspection when things are working normally."

Here in NJ it happens on almost every sale for homes with septic, which is exactly how our township discovered that so many septics were failing.

So many problems were discovered in another township (Montgomery) that they actually require that anyone who inspects septic systems in the township be licensed BY the township...and they have regulated septic care and maintenance..even though the state has not done so. Our township is on the road to the same...but many owners are unhappy as this could prove to be very costly to many.

As a matter of fact, the REA who sold us our home 10 years ago was selling hers at the time in Bridgewater NJ...the buyers had a through septic inspection performed, and the result was she had to pay to replace the 30 year old original system.

Areas such as NY/NJ/CT...especially the affluent sections...generally attract a more educated buyer...and if the seller wishes to sell (especially in this market), they will allow the system to be throughly evaluated.

As far as the wells are concerened...NJ passed the Private Well Testing Act around 2003 or so....which states that when a home is sold, the well must be tested by a licensed testing lab...and the well head must be sited via GPS..or the title can't change hands.

The water is tested for total coliform bacteria, iron, manganese, pH, all volatile organic compounds (VOCs) with established Maximum Contaminant Levels, nitrate, and lead. If total coliform bacteria are detected, a test must also be conducted for fecal coliform or E. coli. Private wells located in certain counties also have to test for arsenic, mercury and 48-hour rapid gross alpha particle activity.

Proper septic and well testing protects our ground water, and it is something that should be done on a periodic basis by every homeowner.
However, in NJ at least, it seems as if it is a whole host of problems are continually found when the home is up for sale, and the inspections commence.

Last but not least, there are two different high end developments about 12 years old, septics are failing. Another about 3 years old..same thing.

The article linked below is regarding Westchester County in NY...but pretty much sums up our NJ county as well..

Here is a link that might be useful: Are You Drinking Your Neighbor's Sewage?

    Bookmark   March 3, 2009 at 4:06PM
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Jane, you should talk to a local real estate attorney.
I believe that septic testing is done as part of the home inspection process (if buyer chooses) and any remedations you agree to are worked into the signed contract. In NY you don't sign a contract until the inspections are performed once you the seller agrees what you will or willnot remediate. The Well I am nearly certain needs to be tested by the seller such as in the NJ Law above (to convey title). But a RE attorney could answer these questions for you with absolute certainty.

    Bookmark   March 3, 2009 at 6:48PM
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In Mass, a septic inspection is called a "Title V" inspection. This happens to every house that is transacted. It includes (mandatory) digging up and inspecting the septic tank and D-box. The tank is pumped as part of the inspection. The inspection includes a review of indoor plumbing to make sure all wastewater is discharging to the system.

A properly designed, properly used, and properly maintained septic system will function indefinitely. Systems fail because they are either not properly designed, maintained, or they are abused. That being said, if you you buy a home from an elderly couple that in a typical week take a total of six short showers and do 4 loads of laundry, don't be surprised if the system fails when trying to serve a family of 6 with teenagers (long showers and a dozen+ laundry loads per week).

    Bookmark   March 3, 2009 at 8:29PM
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Before purchase we did a "dig-up" inspection of a 30-year-old septic system in PA. It failed because the pipe leading from the box to the laterals was crushed. The inspector (from a septic installation company) estimated $1500 (to replace the pipe, add a baffle and access hatch, and jet the laterals) so we bought the house anyway and had the work done. Not a big deal.

My point is, not all septic failures require $30k to fix.

    Bookmark   March 7, 2009 at 4:02PM
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All I can do at this point is keep my fingers crossed. I had it pumped about 8 yrs ago and nothing appeared abnormal. I'll arrange to have it pumped again next month. I'll make sure he tries to really check it out.

Carol, you post was hopeful!


    Bookmark   March 8, 2009 at 12:21AM
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We have owned three houses in northwest Jersey. (Morris County) All three were purchased using the dye test. On our very first home ($36,000!) the PE said the septic would last "maybe another two years". And he was right. It cost us $1,100 to replace the field. But that was in the late 70s. But with the other homes the purchase and sale went smoothly. I now live about 5 hours north of Jersey in the country. Again we have a septic and well. And dye tests are still the norm.

When we built our current home in 2002 the well AND septic cost $2,500 complete.

    Bookmark   March 13, 2009 at 8:27AM
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christopherh, you have been quite lucky. And...5 hours north of NJ is not NJ. I know all too many people who have had to have their systems replaced...more often than not the leach field is shot...and IN NJ, we are talking up to 30K.

In addition, they have passed a reg that all new construction has to perc in 2 areas, in order to have a back-up when the first goes.

I have a friend who has won in AC a few times. Unfortunately that does not mean that "winning" is the norm....nor does it mean that someone else won't "win" as well.

As with old septic is the luck of the draw.

    Bookmark   March 13, 2009 at 11:30AM
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Jane, I am selling a home in Putnam County, NY - also purchased two homes in Putnam. Westchester I believe has new rules about septic and pumping. I think that a company that pumps has to report to the county if they find a problem with the system.
How big is your tank? I find it hard to believe that you go eight years between pumping. Ours is 1,200 gallons - quite large and we were told to have it pumped every two years. Infrequent pumping can lead to waste being pushed into the leach fields which can cause failure.
Have it pumped now.
As far as selling, I know that Putnam requires no testing. A bank may have a requirement that the septic passes a dye test before they will write the mortgage.
Best to talk to a realtor who will give you the right info.
Good luck.
Our house has been on the market for 2 years ...

    Bookmark   March 21, 2009 at 8:19PM
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2 Years! OMG I'm dreading this. One reason I haven't had it pumped is the cover is almost impossible to find. I have a map and no one can find the cover. They have dug, pushed that stick all over the place and still can't locate the cover.

I've used a septic company for many years and they always found it but they went out of business 8 years ago. I've called others and they gave up after hours of trying to locate the cover. I'm not sure what to do. The cover is under a deck and there are many shrubs. It has been so many years, I'm not even sure where it is. It is deep down.

I'll have to keep trying.


    Bookmark   March 22, 2009 at 2:12AM
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If the cover is under the deck, how did the other septic company access the cover?

Also, as far as I know, nothing is supposed to be built over any component of the system.

It would really be to your advantage to find a company that can find the this will most assuredly be an issue for a potential buyer, as most people would think more than twice about buying a home where no one can find a way to pump the system.

As far as a bank requiring any kind of septic testing, be it the meaningless dye test or otherwise,I have never heard of that being the case.

    Bookmark   March 22, 2009 at 11:05PM
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Septic companies have this cool gadget that they flush down the toilet to help find the tank. It sends out a signal that helps them find it. Not sure this will help with the cover, but it can narrow down the search.


    Bookmark   March 23, 2009 at 8:26AM
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Jo, that sounds like a cool gadget!

Part of the septic repair that I mentioned in my earlier post was adding a hatch/cover. The septic originally just had a pipe sticking up out of the tank, but now it has a full-sized code-compliant access hole big enough for a person to get through.

If you can't find your cover, Jane, maybe it's because your system has a pipe instead.

I agree with the other posters that it would be good to get the location/access issue straightened out before buyers start inspections. There's no way of avoiding it, and it'd be better to get it down now, without an anxious buyer looking over your shoulder.

    Bookmark   March 25, 2009 at 8:23PM
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You are right. I need to get moving on this. Having the deck repaired over it and then I'll tackle the cover issue. I like that 'gadget.'

BTW, the company I used all these years had their own map and always found it. I don't have their map and neither does anyone else. I tried calling others and they would give up. My map is not accurate. There is a cover, we had one built bigger years ago to make it easier to find. My septic is on the side of a hill and my guess is the construction of the deck buried it deeper.

Thanks for the advice,

    Bookmark   March 25, 2009 at 10:41PM
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Perhaps your township has a more accurate map...or the Board of Health? Just a thought.

    Bookmark   March 26, 2009 at 12:15AM
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Logic, that is the map we have. Makes no sense it is not accurate. Our deck is two stories tall. Our house is on the side of a hill. The property slopes off about 10 ft. from the wall of the house. The septic tank was deep down, I remember. The ground is full of rocks and boulders. Murder to dig in. The septic guys would stick a pole in the ground to tap the cover and always hit rock. Then they start digging and wind up digging up the whole area.

I need to try another company and see what happens. I think the 'gadget' thing would be perfect unless the tank is too deep to read the signal. I'll ask about it.


    Bookmark   March 27, 2009 at 1:09AM
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logic may also want to check into firms that use infrared imaging....but they are only as good as their ability to use it I would check their references as well in terms of accurately locating septic tanks...

    Bookmark   March 27, 2009 at 12:55PM
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