Thursday, November 14, 2013

Replacing an Old Septic System - Should I?


Should you spend money replacing an old septic system when you renovate?    

If you find yourself asking this question, you will benefit from reading about our experience.

 
Hey!  The toilet flushes fine.  If it's not broke, don't fix it.

Flush the toilet.  Our old septic worked just fine.  It was installed in the 1960's and the system was grandfathered, which meant we were not required to abide or upgrade to the current regulations.  As long as we kept the same number of bedrooms and only increased square footage minimally (defined by county code) we were not required to install a new system.  Yippy!  Why spend the money when it was not a requirement?  What woman wouldn't prefer to put the money toward hard wood floors and pretty cabinets vs. a septic system?  No-brainer.

But.......not so fast!

 
 What kind of system do you have?  How to Find an Old Septic System?

We did not have a mound system.  We had a holding tank, which by the way, was never pumped.  Newer systems typically have access lids that are visible from ground level.  My ancestors put an old cooking pot (without handle) over the access pipe and covered it with dirt.  Grass grew over it and you would never know half the back yard had a tank underground.  Had I not remembered this information as a little girl, there would be no evidence of where it was located.  Additionally, there were no county records of installing the system.  No site maps.  No permit issued.  Since there were no county records, there were also no requirements for pumping or inspection.  Not good.  This is not uncommon in rural areas where vintage farm homes still exist.  If you are looking at buying an old house, I warn you that ignoring these issues will cost you LOTS of money eventually.  Be informed and get the facts so you can make a good decision.

You will want to know:

§        where is the underground tank:  backyard, floodplain, overlapping the neighbor's lot line, underneath a shed

§        what is the size or capacity of the underground tank

§        how old is the system - does the county have a record of installation

§        are there records of the last time the tank was pumped or inspected

§        where is the access pipe located

§        where do the agriculture drain tiles drain into - ditch or creek

§        are there odors or spongy, wet areas

§        does it comply with current county code


If it's not broke, don't fix it?  Why we decided to install a new system anyway.

Landscaping.  We planned on re-landscaping the backyard.  Our plan was to install a concrete patio, a fire pit, install a concrete approach pad to the garage, move our propane gas line, and reconfigure our driveway and parking.  All of this re-landscaping went over and around the existing buried old septic tank.  Should the tank "give out" and fail with the added stress of more bathrooms and more people, all of the landscaping would have to be destroyed and replaced.  Why?  You cannot abandon an old septic tank "as is".  The cover must be removed with a backhoe, pumped clean, and it must be crushed, filled, and inspected before it is covered.  Did we want to gamble?  Did we want to face an emergency install in the middle of a Wisconsin winter?. Did we want to pay for landscaping twice?   No.


Re-Sale.  Since we owned the property for many years our septic was grandfathered. That would not be the case if we wanted or needed to sell the house in the open market.  Have you watched the HGTV channel programs on buying homes?  No one wants a home with a septic that does not meet code requirements.  Banks would not lend with code violations.  Additionally, the new owners may not be able to take occupancy until a new septic was installed.  This would be a huge obstacle in selling the house.  Not good.


The message of this story.

           Think ahead.

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