Septic Inspection

8 Replies

I have found a house that I am considering purchasing as a Buy and Hold.  We are still in negotiations and I have a pretty good idea of my costs and what I want to invest in the property to update and rehab it.

My question is about the septic system.  The house is being sold as a 2 / 1, when it has a third bedroom.  There seem to be some questions regarding the septic system and whether or not it is rated as a two or three bedroom "system".  I am not familiar with this perspective and would like to know if anyone has encountered this before.  The septic system did have some work on the "paddlebox" about 15 years ago.  The house is 60 years old, but is in generally good shape.  I was provided a form from the "environmental office" and they are stating it is only a two bedroom house.  I have never seen this entity decide how a house can be designated.  

I usually perform my own inspections, but I was thinking of getting a septic inspection performed.  Does anyone know what kind of cost I can expect for an inspection?  Or what kind of costs I may be looking at to improve or replace the system?  Thank you for your input.

@Steve Bruza ,

In my area septic tanks are usually sized by number of bedrooms as a simple way of calculating the occupant load that would impact the septic system. Usually it is sized as follows:

750 gallon septic tank for one and two bedroom homes less than 1,500 square feet

1,000 gallon septic tank for three bedroom homes less than 2,500 square feet

1,250 gallon septic tank for four bedroom homes less than 3,500 square feet

This is a quick way of calculating it. It really depends on your local jurisdiction and what they will allow in your area. 

I'm not privy to how much it costs to have them maintained or replaced.

Good luck,


Thanks for the response.  I am going to speak with that office to get further details.

The health department should have a record of the system size. If it was a 2 bedroom it is likely is a 750 ft system. We are installing a replacement system in a house right now and making it 1,000 sq ft as we are also adding a 3rd bedroom. 

That is where some of the discrepancy comes in.  I have seen some of the records from 1987 that show it as a 3 BR system.  But the local field office has told me that they are ignoring that older statement and are deeming it a 2 BR.  Sounds a little strange to me, but I am hoping to get more information from an independent inspection.

Steve - Up front disclaimer: all septic system issues are site condition and regulatory jurisdiction specific and I have very little information to go on - that being stated ... Agree with comment to check with local officials - probably environmental health section of county health department - as you apparently have done. As you may know, most septic systems have 2 main components -the septic tank (usually split into 2 parts) and the leachfield (where the wastewater percolates downward from the leach lines/pipes). Unless the system was repaired or replaced relatively recently, the local government agency may have no detailed record (or any) of the system. If the local government agency does not provide a service for it, you would probably do well to contact a local soil scientist that has septic system experience or reputable septic system contractor. Most engineers and home inspectors have very little expertise with septic systems (there are always exceptions). What really matters if you are buying and holding the property - assuming permitting is okay - is whether the system works or not. A change in the occupants can "shock" the system and cause failure. For example, use by an elderly couple (usually low water usage) changing to a young couple with young children (lots of water use and likely more rich waste - think laundry, baths, and milk) can overwhelm the microbes in the system and/or the overall ability of the soil to receive the additional load. This can result in a wet smelly mess. If plenty of suitable land is available for a repair/replacement/expansion system, this may not be too big a deal ($1k-$3k), but if not (and sanitary sewer is not available) - a repair solution could run $5-$20k for a pumped or on-site treatment system. Replacing the leachfield is a much bigger deal than pumping out the tank. Of course, I have seen some systems 100+ years old with multiple owners and different uses requiring almost no maintenance and working well. Good luck!

Thanks for all the comments.  I wanted to update this conversation for future reference.

I spoke with two people from the state environmental office.  They did have some files on record and explained the confusion regarding the 2 BR / 3 BR designation.  I also spoke with a reputable septic vendor who explained to me their process for inspecting the system as well as the drain field.  Each informed me of the need for a permit for any repairs, upgrades or modifications which would be then bring the record current and re-classify the property as a 3 BR.  The property sits on 1/2 acre lot so there is room to improve the drain field as needed.  

In the days since I posted this conversation I have secured a contract to purchase.  I have a good idea of the investment that will be needed to bring the property up to my standard and still be profitable.  I do employ a buy and hold strategy with all of my properties.  This house is older (1958), but the current owners cannot make upgrades or repairs so I was able to negotiate a price that works for me.

I will update again with any news of the septic system.

Nice work Steve.  Sounds like you have solved your problem.  I am only adding this comment for anyone else who may be interested and read the thread.  On properties that have a lot of clay instead of porous soil (perk rate) a pump system is used to pump the liquid onto a mound that is built above the soil line and infused with french drains to disperse the liquid.  It is a two tank system where the solids stay on one side and the liquid is allowed to flow over to the second tank.  There are a few issues with this kind of system that need to be addressed.  First, the pump that is required to get the liquid side to empty into the french drain needs to be inspected occasionally.  Second, the main sludge tank needs to be pumped out every few years.  One very important thing to remember with mound systems like has been described is that you should never plant trees on it.  The mound can be left as dirt or planted with grass but trees and large shrubs will send roots into the french drains and block them.  In my area, and inspection will run around $100 and pumping of a tank will cost $175 depending on the volume pumped.  It is never necessary to pump the liquid side unless the pump needs to be replaced.

General note ... there are dozens - maybe hundreds - of different on-site wastewater system system types, from basic "conventional" septic systems with a septic tank and gravity driven leach lines to complete package treatment systems (like a miniature municipal wastewater treatment plant). Installed costs range from around $1,500 to over $30k, with $3k-$6k more common for a new system. (Costs obviously vary not only with type and size, but also with location - just like houses).

If you are not able to install a fairly basic system or you have a more complicated system with problems, I strongly suggest getting input from more than one engineer with experience in designing these things (just like multiple opinions from different physicians).

An engineer that is experienced in on-site wastewater system can ascertain a lot using the property address - pulling up aerial imagery, topography, and soils data. Send the engineer the site plan/sketch showing system layout (if existing) and ask for half-hour to discuss options. They will not be able to give definitive answers on layout type and cost, but can give you likely paths that are best to take and associated cost ranges. Do this with 2-4 different engineers. Billing rates for most PE’s doing this type of work would likely be from $75/hr to $150/hr. Speaking with 3 different ones might cost you about $150-$175 and will be money very well spent. Such engineers are not common, but well worth the time spent finding them.

The engineer you hire for the design/repair will probably - but not always - work with a soil scientist (or sometimes a geologist) to develop options.

A good nontechnical information source for homeowners/investors is from the EPA - "".

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