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Thread: First Time Home Buyer w/ Septic Question

  1. #1
    DIY Junior Member rpowell's Avatar
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    Default First Time Home Buyer w/ Septic Question

    hello guys/girls,
    My wife and I are first time home buyers. We have found a property we are going to purchase. During the septic inspection, I was told that the results were "Satisfactory with concerns". In NJ, there needs to be a minimum of 12" of clearance. When the inspector had the top off and did the camera inspection, he measured three different times that it had 15" of clearance. He told me that by NJ State standards, it is a passing system. He did however say that 15" of space does not give the system much life left.
    The system is for a 3 bedroom, however my wife and I will be the only ones living there. Is there any way to predict the life expectancy of the septic? We would like to ask our attorney to see if the sellers would take some money off of the house to go toward repairs. Now the sellers have every right to decline since the system did indeed pass. Now we need to figure out approx. how long it will last us because buying a house we will have little expendable income for the next few years and a 20-30K septic system is a lot to bite off for a young couple only a short time into their new home.
    Thank you in advance for your time and advice. I look forward to becoming an active member in this forum as we are going to be a little *cough* house poor*cough* and if any work can be done myself, I'm going to try to take that avenue.
    Last edited by rpowell; 08-21-2008 at 04:46 PM. Reason: spelling errors

  2. #2
    DIY Member littlebrook's Avatar
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    Hi,

    I understand your concerns entirely since we went through the same thing. Our septic was inspected just prior to closing and "passed" although I think in our locality, the inspection consists of running some water and checking the level in the tank before pumping, i.e. the very basics. All was well until one snowy winter day 6 months after we moved in when the septic backed up into our basement bathroom. The plumber came, opened up the cleanout (which is inside our house!) and out poured gallons and gallons of septic water! He tried to snake the line but it was still backed up. Managed to find a septic guy to come out on a sunday to pump. He could not find any thing wrong with the septic and though perhaps some toilet paper had blocked the outlet. Four more months passed before our 2nd back up, followed 2 weeks later by our third. Called in the experts again and this time they discovered that the leach lines had collapsed and somehow we had survived almost a year on about 6 feet of leach line (should have been 200 feet). Long story short, we had to shell out $4300 for a new leach field (thank god for my generous parents who helped us out).

    The septic guys told me that leach fields last between 20-40 yrs depending on how well the system is maintained and construction. Our house is 43 yrds old and I believe that it was the original system and was therefore at the end of its natural life. Wish I had known all this when I was buying the house. I'm not sure if anyone can really tell you how much longer you have, it will depend a lot on how you maintain it and how much water you use.

    Hope this helps

  3. #3
    In the Trades Master Plumber 101's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by rpowell View Post
    hello guys/girls,
    will have little expendable income for the next few years and a 20-30K septic system is a lot to bite off for a young couple only a short time into their new home.
    If a septic system cost's you 20-30k your gonna get ripped off. They should cost roughly $3000-$5000 for a conventional depending on your site and $10,000- 15,000 for a mound. If the inspector said it's ok just let it be. You will spend time and money in something you may not win. Good luck.

  4. #4
    Radon Contractor and Water Treatment 99k's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by rpowell View Post
    hello guys/girls,
    My wife and I are first time home buyers. We have found a property we are going to purchase. During the septic inspection, I was told that the results were "Satisfactory with concerns". In NJ, there needs to be a minimum of 12" of clearance. When the inspector had the top off and did the camera inspection, he measured three different times that it had 15" of clearance. He told me that by NJ State standards, it is a passing system. He did however say that 15" of space does not give the system much life left.
    The system is for a 3 bedroom, however my wife and I will be the only ones living there. Is there any way to predict the life expectancy of the septic? We would like to ask our attorney to see if the sellers would take some money off of the house to go toward repairs. Now the sellers have every right to decline since the system did indeed pass. Now we need to figure out approx. how long it will last us because buying a house we will have little expendable income for the next few years and a 20-30K septic system is a lot to bite off for a young couple only a short time into their new home.
    Thank you in advance for your time and advice. I look forward to becoming an active member in this forum as we are going to be a little *cough* house poor*cough* and if any work can be done myself, I'm going to try to take that avenue.
    What is the ideal distance? I'm not sure this tells you much at all. I'm not a septic guy but this is what they do in Connecticut.

    Take the cover of the distribution box to the leach fields, install a garden hose at full volume, and let it run for 1/2 hour. This is approx 2-300 gallons of water and should reveal a problem if the field have collasped/saturated/filled with goop, etc.

  5. #5
    DIY Member littlebrook's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Master Plumber 101 View Post
    If a septic system cost's you 20-30k your gonna get ripped off. They should cost roughly $3000-$5000 for a conventional depending on your site and $10,000- 15,000 for a mound. If the inspector said it's ok just let it be. You will spend time and money in something you may not win. Good luck.
    I think the cost is going to be very much dependent on geopgraphic location, the type of soil you have, what sort of system you need to have installed, and how much of your system needs repair. In my case, the tanks were good so they "repaired" my system by adding effluent filters, new distribution box, and 200 ft of "Infiltrator" lines for $4300. They mentioned that to replace the tanks too would have added around another $2000-3000 (I have two 750 gallon tanks).

    Do you know what exactly they inspected? Did they check the d-box and leach lines? From what I understand, and I'm not an expert, most problems with septics occur after the tanks, i.e. in the d-box and leach lines. If these are in decent shape, you might be good for a while.

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    Master Plumber Redwood's Avatar
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    Okay, I'd like to know what this 15" of clearance is that the inspector is talking about?
    Is it the air space in the tank?
    Is it the remaining space for sludge to accumilate before the tank is full?
    Or, is it just some nonsense that a home inspector writes on his report to fill up the paper?
    Some clarification on what he is saying would go a long way in getting correct answers.

    Here is a pretty good link with a lot of information on septic tanks.
    http://www.inspect-ny.com/septbook.htm



    It's comforting to know that Master Plumber 101 is willing to come and install a system that inexpensivly.
    I have seen home systems costing in excess of $20K.
    It really depends a lot on your site and what is needed to have the system approved.
    The skinny is if the system fails you have to install what they tell you to install.
    And that system costs what it costs!
    There is no way someone sitting in Wisconsin can tell you what a system would cost to install in New Jersey!
    All he could offer is a WAG!
    Last edited by Redwood; 08-21-2008 at 10:53 PM.

  7. #7

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    First what you really need to find out is when was the last time the tank was pumped out. If maintained correctly meening the tank was pumped every three to five years the leach fields or drain fields will last a long time.

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    DIY Junior Member rpowell's Avatar
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    Thank you for the responces. the tank was last pumped out a year ago. the 15" of clearence is from the end of the inlet pipe to the sludge below the water. Basically in NJ you have to have more then 12" before the camera goes through the water and hits the sludge. Ours is 15". The way he told me was that this is passing but there are worrie that it is near full and will need to be replaced shortly. The house is a lakefronts and it will be a challenge to get machinery in and we will probably have to use prt of the neighbors yard as well. I'm factoring in the cost of the system itself, an engineer, other fees that may pop-up as well as landscaping for the neighbor yard to make it the way it was before the macinery came down(i try to be a good neighbor).

    Thank you for your help, trying to determine if I can use anything as "weight" to see if the seller will drop the price little knowing this is in the near future or not.

  9. #9
    DIY Member littlebrook's Avatar
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    [QUOTE=rpowell;152809]Thank you for the responces. the tank was last pumped out a year ago. the 15" of clearence is from the end of the inlet pipe to the sludge below the water. Basically in NJ you have to have more then 12" before the camera goes through the water and hits the sludge. Ours is 15". The way he told me was that this is passing but there are worrie that it is near full and will need to be replaced shortly. QUOTE]

    Hi,

    If the 15" refers to the distance between the inlet and the sludge layer, wouldn't this just mean that you would need to get the tank pumped? Why would you need to replace the whole system if it is just a matter of the sludge layer building up? If you have a conventional system, regular pumping will be required to get rid of the sludge and scum layers. There is a guide to how frequently you need to do this here:

    http://www.inspect-ny.com/septic/tankpump.htm

    Perhaps you could ask the sellers to pump out the tanks before you close? In NY, this is a requirement. In my area, this costs about $200 (depends on the size and number of tanks).

    If you are still concerned, ask a reputable company to give you a rough estimate on a system replacement.

  10. #10
    DIY Junior Member rpowell's Avatar
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    Here is the inspection report. The 15" refers to room left in the seepage pit(towards end)

    On the date of the inspection, Monday, August 18th, the weather was sunny and warm. During the immediate antecedent days similar weather was found throughout the area. While the function of septic systems is not generally impacted by the weather, severe conditions may inhibit the access to the individual system elements.

    At the time of inspection our representative was informed that there was one person living in the house.

    While at the site we inspected an 11-year old combined septic system that serves a three-bedroom home. It is important that the number of bedrooms permitted at this address be confirmed with the local public health official. Although there may appear to be three bedrooms in the dwelling, the size of the septic system is a function of the number of permitted bedrooms. Additional rooms may have been added without the knowledge or approval of the local administrative authority.

    A 1,000-gallon concrete anaerobic septic tank was exposed, opened and inspected. The cover, inlet and outlet baffles, and the integrity of the tank appear to be satisfactory. If when the date of the last pumping is determined, it is more than two to three years ago, the septic tank should be pumped without delay. Going forward, this tank must be pumped at regular intervals, usually every two to three years, to properly maintain the system. Although the guidelines state that “no NJDEP inspection is complete until every tank is pumped and its condition evaluated”, CSI does not require pumping at every inspection unless the inspector has reason to believe that pumping will expose defects that can not be identified through other means. Under no condition will the tanks be pumped during an inspection if the disposal area is determined to be unsatisfactory.

    A flow test was conducted whereby approximately five (5) gallons of water per minute were discharged into the system for a period of fifteen (15) minutes. The effluent level remained unchanged for the duration; this would be considered the operating level of this septic tank.

    The aerobic portion of the system consists of a seepage pit, which was located and inspected with a fiber optic camera. By using the camera, our representative was able to determine that there is only 15 inches of room left in the seepage pit.


    Conclusions

    This septic system is operating as designed and therefore receives an inspection certification of SATISFACTORY.

    1. As noted above, if the tank has not been pumped in the last two to three years, it should be pumped at this time.
    2. There is very little room (15 inches) left in the drainage area.

    This does not guarantee future operation, which depends, in large part on proper use and maintenance.

  11. #11
    Master Plumber Dunbar Plumbing's Avatar
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    As many years I've had to deal with the issues of these when in fail mode, I really don't see how anyone can put a finger on these and say to what degree they are functioning.


    It's like looking at a car from a block away and stating that it's a car.


    So much of that system is covered up and has very little inspection points to really see if anything beyond the distribution box is working.


    You'll never be able to gauge a user's habits of how they used that system, even if they pumped the tank or not.


    I gotta kick out of that inspection report, CYA all the way.


    The one thing that needs to be made sure of, DO NOT allow that system to go inactive for any reason. That'll cause more problems than you can imagine.
    Read what the end of this sentence means.

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