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4 Problem Signs to Look for With Septic Systems

When you decide which home you want to be, you'll want a thorough home inspection for any house and ideally, a professional septic inspection if there's a septic system on the property. However, you first have to do your own evaluations to decide if you're ready to pay for these services.

If you're a homebuyer with little to no septic experience, you may feel some natural nervousness about your ability to analyze that portion of the property and decide whether it's worth hiring inspectors for this house rather than choosing another one. Here are four telltale issues even a layman can look for before any inspectors get involved.

1. Tank or Leach Field Over 20 Years Old

A septic system is considered to have a 25-year lifespan, sometimes up to 30 years. What this means for you is that a system over 20 years old may need to be replaced in short order, even if it's not currently failing and even if the current owner is conscientious and maintains the system well.

Like major foundation repair, a septic replacement is so expensive that you should think twice about buying a house that needs this type of maintenance. Home Advisors says that typical replacement for the leach field alone can cost up to $10,000, with additional costs for replacing the tank.

2. Trees or Bushes Near the System

Trees and bushes may be lovely landscaping features that offer fruits, shade, and other benefits, but plants are bad news for a septic system. Any water-containing pipes or tanks can be infiltrated, blocked, and badly damaged by water-seeking roots. This means trees that are large, have a water-loving nature, or use a particularly aggressive root system are the worst.

As a rule of thumb, any trees or bushes situated a shorter distance from the septic system than their own mature height are a bad sign. Even if the seller tells you the tree has never been a problem, that doesn't mean you won't. Roots can infiltrate quietly, with nobody being the wiser until months or years later when the damage is already done.

3. Lack of Maintenance Records

Although a well-kept septic system should last a few decades, a poorly kept one may fail much earlier. Without an inspection, you may not be able to tell what kind of ongoing damage might be happening. 

If the homeowner can show you maintenance records that prove the system has been inspected and the tank pumped on a regular basis, you can be more at ease. But if the seller can't produce these records, you'll have to assume that the system has been neglected for as the seller has owned the house, which means the septic system could be in bad shape.

4. Odd-Smelling, Marshy, or Wet Ground

A lack of maintenance records means septic problems are more likely, but you have no guarantee. However, if you can detect odd odors (such as a smell of sulfur, sewage, or rot) around the septic system, that's a clear sign that some part of the system is currently failing.

Any squishy, marshy, or wet patches of ground around the tank, leach field, or drain lines can indicate that sewage is escaping to the surface, which is a serious failure.

These are just a few of the possible signs of septic problems that should put up a red flag. If you detect any or multiple signs while looking over the property, you may want to reconsider.

If you look over the septic system and don't see any obvious red flags, get a professional opinion before signing on the dotted line. Choose a reputable septic expert like Speedy Clean Drain & Sewer for any inspections you commission and for maintenance and repairs after you buy the property.