Septic Systems: Sellers Be Aware and Buyers Beware
In the past twenty years there has been a lot of progress with central sewer systems in the lake area, but most homes are still on private, on-site septic systems. Many of the systems currently in use were installed in the 1980’s and are failing at a pretty rapid pace.
Most private systems in the lake area consist of a tank and lateral lines. Many of the tanks are aerated via an electrical motor. Waste from a home drains into the tank, an aerated system churns the waste helping to break down any solids then liquid effluence exits from the top level of the tank and into the lateral fields. Lateral fields are pipes that extend out and allow the liquid to drain via holes all along the pipe then flow into the ground. The ground area beneath these pipes should be lined with gravel in order to allow the liquid to seep into the ground evenly as opposed to ending up making a puddle in your yard.
During inspection, the tank is opened to assess the condition of the tank, how full the tank is and how much sludge it contains. If it is an aerated system, they check the motor operation. The inspector runs water inside your home to be sure the system is handling the amount of flow the home would reasonably produce based on size. They will check the tank to see if it is filling up and how quickly it drains into the lateral lines. They will also add dye to locate where the water ultimately drains from the lateral lines. This will tell them if the lines are draining and if the drainage is going to the proper location. If the lines are not draining, the most likely issue is that the lateral lines are plugged up.
The best way to keep your existing system from failure is maintenance. Many times, when an aerator motor stops working an owner will have it removed. While the motor is not absolutely necessary for the septic tank to function, it will help to keep your system working well and is required by some homeowner associations and governing bodies. Another way to help your system is by limiting the amount of garbage you wash down your sinks. All solids cause build up in the tank but fatty foods are especially bad for your system. Even if you are on a central sewer system, if you have a lift station that pumps your waste to the sewer connection, fatty foods will cause you major issues in a short amount of time. It is also recommended that you have your tank pumped every three to five years.
In the lake area, each counties’ Department of Health oversees on-site septic systems with less than 3,000 gallons of flow per day. Larger scale systems are governed by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. Septic inspectors, repair services and installers must be certified. When septic system service providers encounter a failing system, they must notify the local Department of Health. The property owner is contacted and informed that they must correct the issue and given a timeframe for completion.
I have encountered two failing systems in just the past two weeks while working with buyers during the inspection process. The seller of one of the homes insisted they did not have a problem and the home has since been put back on the market. Per the state certified septic installer, the septic of that home has failed completely and is not a candidate for repair. Due to new regulations, designed to keep our lake clean, an engineered system is required, and replacement will cost from $50,000 to $75,000 because the lakefront lot is not large enough to handle a traditional system. Any time you are buying a property, be sure to use a qualified inspector to thoroughly check the septic. I also advise you to contact the local Department of Health and inquire whether the system has been reported.
Michael Elliott has been selling real estate at the Lake of the Ozarks since 1981. He is one of the most respected brokers in the area. If you would like to work with Michael in the sale or purchase of property, or have interest in a career in real estate, contact him at 573.365.SOLD or firstname.lastname@example.org or stop by C. Michael Elliott & Associates, 3738 Osage Beach Parkway. View thousands of lake area listings at www.YourLake.com. You can also view each months’ article, ask questions and offer your opinion on Michael’s real estate blog, www.AsTheLakeChurns.com