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twilightcall 01-10-2008 06:36 PM

40s home still on Septic Tank? Inspection?
I am in the process of buying a home built in the 40s. It still uses a septic system. The sewer is very close to the property but hasn't been connected. It isn't mand. that you connect to the sewer. However, I am worried about the condition of the septic system. The house has been vacant for 10 years. I didn't notice anything strange in the yard but no one has lived there recently either. Should I have a special inspection done for the septic system? What recommendations do you guys have? Thanks.

Mike Swearingen 01-10-2008 07:06 PM

I'm a 21+year real estate broker in a very rural NC area, and I have dealt with many such systems, and have personally lived on (and properly maintained), a septic system for more than 30 years, and I would highly recommend that you connect this home to the public sewer system.
A 1940's home with a septic system that hasn't been lived in for 10 years, isn't necessarily a non-starter, but it is a major red flag.
You can have it inspected by the local Health Department, but in reality all that they're going to do is flush the toilets and run the sink and tub water, and if it doesn't bubble up to the surface, then they're going to "pass" it, but that will not hide the longer term problems with old drainfield lines.
If you buy this home, budget for the public sewer system hookup. You might be able to use the old septic system for rain gutter and sump pump drainage, but do not count on it working for your home.
Good Luck!

Marlin 01-11-2008 05:24 AM

I'll admit I don't know much about septic systems so don't take anything I say here and run with it. I'm trying to inform myself the same as you are.
I'm curious how a septic system can go bad though. I know it can collapse, fill with non-degradable waste, the waste line going to it could collapse, and the leach field could just wear out. If the tank is there and the lines are clear what would prevent it from working though? In my mind sitting un-used for ten years would mean that so long as it is in good physical shape it's had ten years to drain, and for the field to "recharge" itself and should be in great shape.

What I do know is that I'd defiantly get a cesspool company to come open the cover and take a look. They may recommend some chemicals to jump start the bacterial process that goes on in those pools which would be a good idea. Then get a plumber to put a camera through the line.

jpplumber 01-11-2008 06:28 AM

I think you need to be concerned about all the drains in a house that has been sitting for 10 years and have them scoped about the water lines...copper? galvanized? Water heater...throw it out. I assume everything have been winterized? Run lots and lots of water before you do anything though, if there are problems they will show up. Get a cost on connecting to the city main and eliminating the old septic if it comes to that vs. someone coming out and pumping it and scoping it, or if it is even possible to access the drain field lines, water is probably the best test, and then you still might not know...what happens the drain field in rainy weather and the ground is saturated? If this house has been sitting for 10 years you must be getting a good buy, as I am sure it has lots of other issues too besides the plumbing.

Mike Swearingen 01-11-2008 06:35 AM

You're right, Marlin. Even a 1940's septic system in good condition may work just fine. twilightcall may have the tank pumped out and the tank and lines video inspected, try it out and have it work from Day One.
However, one that old that has been sitting up could be clogged with roots growing into the tank and drainfield lines or from dirt washing into them. Unless it has been replaced or upgraded at some point, the odds of a 1940's system being adequate today for washing machines, dishwashers, and probably more bathing and other water usage by occupants may be questionable.
NC State Univeristy has been doing research on various septic systems for many years. In a nutshell, they recommend that the tank be pumped out at least every five years, or more often with above-normal use. I have ours pumped out in every year that ends in 0 or 5, for instance (my "idiot proof" plan for Also, their conclusion on all of those bacterial and chemical additives is that they all are a waste of money. Normal usage provides more than all of the bacteria necessary for a septic system to function properly, even with a brand new system.
The only thng that I've ever added to our system in 30 years, is a cup or two of copper sulphate crystals flushed down about three times a year to prevent root growth in our drainfield lines. There are a lot of ornamental shrubbery and trees over or near the field, and we've never had any problems.
P.S. jpplumber posted while I was writing my post, and makes even more good points about a 1940's house. If the plumbing hasn't been upgraded, it surely is old galvanized that probably isn't even functional now after sitting up for 10 years. nopt to mention the electrical.
It all calls for a thorough licensed Pest Control Operator inspection and a licensed General Home Inspection of the structural and mechanical prior to closing. Even if a property is under contract, if major issues are discovered by inspections, the whole deal may be renegotiable.

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