Septic Systems In Rural Areas
If you own a home with a septic system or you are considering buying a rural property that has a septic system then this is important information that you need to know to protect yourself against a potentially costly disaster. A septic system is typically employed if the home is in a remote location where the city sewer does not or cannot reach. Septic systems are used as a means to dispose of waste in these situations.
In the Russian River area where I live many of the homes are close to a river or creek and there are laws that protect rivers and creeks so getting permits from the county to install or fix a septic system can be a challenge. In this article I will explore how a septic system is structured, what challenges homeowners face if they have a system, what buyers should look at before they buy a home with a septic system and what you can do to keep your system in tip top shape to avoid any potentially costly repairs.
Septic System Structure
Although there are different designs for septic systems they all generally work in the same way. A septic system is composed of two parts the tank and the leech field. The tank is divided into two parts 2/3 solids and sludge and 1/3 liquids. The third that has the liquids is what the leech field is for. The leech lines will filter the liquids from the tank out into the ground to become part of the natural earth around your home.
The 2/3 section of the tank is where everything that goes down the drain or is flushed down the toilet goes. Our bodies have a natural bacteria that enters the tank with the waste and begins to break down the solids in the tank. Once they are broken down they become sludge. When your tank is pumped the sludge is what is pumped out of the tank.
Septic System Challenges
If a septic system is not maintained properly or if it is simply outdated then it may need to be repaired or replaced. The challenge is going to be if you are located on a river or creek. This makes it difficult to get a permit to repair or replace a septic system.
Many of the homes were built so long ago that they have a simple redwood box as the septic tank. These boxes break down faster and are not up to code. Here there are four classes of septic systems. Class one septic systems are typically newer, permitted and built to code. If you have one of these systems then you have less to worry about in terms of maintaining your septic.
A class two and class three systems do not meet current codes for a class one due to set backs or other requirements
Cesspools are a different animal all together. If your home is on a cesspool in the river area then you will not be approved for remodeling or additions until you upgrade your system. Information courtesy of Sonoma County Permit & Resource Department.
Conditional Septic Systems are common here in Sonoma County. These are systems that have been grandfathered in because they were there before the current laws were put into place. The reason for this is that today you could not build a home so close to a river or stream however there were already homes there so they made an exception so to speak. These systems are not up to code but the county allows them to remain in place due to their age. There ar no guarantees that Conditional systems will be allowed in the future.
How To Manage Your Septic System
To get some insider tips I decided to take it to the professionals. Ben Karnes of BDK Septic Services said that a septic tank is like a stomach. The best rule of thumb is that, besides toilet paper, if it doesn't go in your stomach it should not go in the tank! This includes ANYTHING anti-bacterial. Anti-bacterial soaps and detergents will kill off the good bacteria that your body puts off and cause your tank to not have what it needs to break down the solids in the tank. This will make your tank fill up and eventually back up your toilets and sinks causing a nasty odor and a costly repair.
Another good think to note is that garbage disposals can be hard on septic systems. Make sure to be careful with what you are putting down your garbage disposal or refrain from using it altogether. If you do use a garbage disposal then make sure to use it properly. If you took a Kleenex and got it wet it would dissolve breaking down to almost nothing in a few minutes. Now consider a melon rind...if you got it wet it would just be wet. This is where garbage disposals tend to be hard on the septic tank. Some people will try to force larger and harder pieces of food into the disposal to avoid the gruesome task of having to reach into the sink and transfer them to the trash. Unfortunately those pieces end up sitting at the bottom of your septic tank taking longer to decompose filling the tank and causing it to need pumping more often which can get expensive.
So to sum this all up for you, if you have a septic system then you will need to make sure to maintain it. Make sure to get it pumped every three to five years and make sure you are not putting anything in it that should not be there. Read the EPA Homeowner's Guide To Septic Systems and request help from a professional if you have any further questions. If you are buying a home make sure that you get a septic inspection and that the system is functioning properly before you buy the home to avoid any potential disasters on move in day! If you have any other questions about septic systems or real estate call/text me at 707-217-1786 or post your question in the comment section below!