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Recent Septic System Issues

October 1, 2012

There has been a dramatic increase recently in the number of septic system problems in home sales in Western New York. I believe this is occurring due to the aging of the systems, as well as changes over the years in technology and building department requirements. The houses too, have changed over the years and, for example, a homeowner may have converted a basement or den into a bedroom, or installed a shower in the basement or elsewhere. This may not have been done in connection with a building permit and an inspection from the Town. The septic system may not have been enlarged to accommodate these changes.

As years go by these changes are forgotten, and you may learn, shortly before your closing, that your three bedroom home is serviced by a septic system rated for only two bedrooms. The purchaser will be justly concerned, and the seller may be unprepared to address this issue.

So, if you are selling or listing for a client, a home with a septic system, check with the town, health department, and contractor records to make sure the system you have is sufficient to service the home as it is described. For better or worse, systems are rated according to the number of bedrooms, not the amount of occupants, or the number of baths and showers. A three bedroom home must have a three bedroom septic system. Doing this ahead of time may save thousands of dollars and much disappointment later. The County Health Department would be happy to let you know in advance what their records reflect, but I have been told by them that sometimes they do not have any information on a particular system. In such case they will still perform the dye test, but the system description will be listed as “unknown.” And of course, their records may not always reflect the actual system.