Septic System Pitfalls

Although not common in Bergen County, there are areas (Upper Saddle River comes to mind) where septic systems are present. A septic system is a self contained sanitary waste disposal system. Unlike the public sewer system, which takes sanitary waste through underground pipes to a public waste treatment system, a septic system keeps all sanitary waste underground at your property. The two major components of the system are the tank and the drain field, sometimes called the leech field. All sanitary waste enters the septic tank. Afterwards, liquids will pass into the leech field with the solid remaining in the tank.
A properly designed and well maintained septic system can last for a long time. However, even if well maintained, the system may ultimately “fail” requiring a replacement. Buyers of homes with septic systems must be especially careful. When looking at a home, even if it appears obvious, you should inquire if the house is serviced by public sewer or whether a septic system exists. If a septic system is found, an expert should be retained. Only a qualified inspector can give you the proper information you need about the condition of the system. If it is in “failure”, the system will most likely need to be replaced. The cost to replace a septic system ranges from as low as $10,000.00 to as high as $25,000.00 or more.

If you find yourself in a situation, as a buyer, where the septic system has failed, you must satisfy yourself that the new system will be satisfactory. There is a rigorous approval process, requiring an engineer’s plans which must be approved, site inspections and final approval. Although there may be time pressures requiring you to buy your home prior to final approval of the system, you should try to wait. Once the closing has occurred, even if you hold back money in escrow and get assurances from the Seller in writing, you, as the new home owner, will be responsible for making sure the system finally gets approved and works properly.

A properly maintained system should last a very long time. Here are some tips to prolong the life of your system:

(1) Have your system inspected and pumped out regularly (be careful not to pump the system too frequently). A rule of thumb is every 3 – 5 years.

(2) Follow basic water conversation practices to avoid overloading the system.

(3) Repair leaky faucets and toilets;

(4) Divert other sources of water, such as roof drains, away from the septic field;

(5) Be careful what you put down the drain. Certain items such as gasoline or motor oil could easily ruin the system. Other non-biodegradable items, such as cigarettes, could clog the system.

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