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What Home Buyers and Sellers Should Know About Septic Systems in New Hampshire

With proper maintenance, a septic system can work efficiently for as long as you own your home. On average, a system should last approximately 25 years. When it does come time to replace the system, the cost is anywhere from $5,000 to $20,000 or more, so if you’re buying or selling a home in New Hampshire with a septic system here are a few tips you should know:

A passing septic inspection is not usually a requirement in New Hampshire. However, it is required for certain types of financing such as USDA loans or New Hampshire Housing loans. For VA loans and FHA loans, if the appraisal report shows there could be a problem with the septic system then a test is required. It’s up to the buyer to ask the seller specific questions about the septic system, such as finding out the last time it was pumped.  It should be pumped every 2 years and if there are more than 5 people living in the home, it should be pumped every year. It’s also a good idea to know how many people currently live in the house. If more people move into the home than its system was designed for, the increased demand on it may lead to problems.  Septic systems are designed based upon the number of bedrooms within the dwelling.  A home that may have more bedrooms than the system was designed for is a home that may have an early system failure.

If the home being purchased has a septic system and a salt based water treatment system, make sure the water treatment system back washes into a dry well.

Selling a Home with a Septic System

New Hampshire homeowners who are thinking of selling should make sure their septic system is properly maintained. This includes pumping the tank on a regular schedule, keeping the drain field clear of trees or shrubs which can clog drain lines, and limiting water use.  Excessive water use is a major cause of septic system failure. Inspecting your septic system annually is another good way to monitor your system’s health and address minor issues before they become cause for major repairs.

Sellers should have their septic system evaluated prior to listing their home for sale. Depending on the company, septic inspectors in New Hampshire can have different ways of rating septic systems. They may use a number grade to indicate the condition of the septic or they may simply rate it: Good, Fair, Poor, or Failing. (See an example of what a septic system inspection report for New Hampshire might look like.)

Whichever system is used, if it fails for a small, inexpensive reason then it is best if the seller can repair it.  If the seller cannot afford to fix it the seller may want to have an estimate done so a potential buyer will get an idea of what the cost will be. While it may turn some buyers away, having this up front is the best way for buyers to know and plan on what they are dealing with.

As a seller, it is much better to obtain a clean septic inspection PRIOR to listing your home so that buyers feel as if they don’t have to worry about it and will not have any issue obtaining a mortgage.

If you own a condo with a septic system, unless otherwise indicated, the condo association is responsible for the inspection, maintenance and an upgrade of the system for the unit.

Buying a Home with a Septic System

If you’re buying a home in New Hampshire, it’s a good idea to thoroughly review the septic system report to identify any issues with the system. You can also ask the seller how old the septic system is, if the system is up to code, and find out the name of the septic system company the homeowner used. The best way for buyers to protect themselves against buying a home with a septic system that is not working properly is to have an inspection done. If the seller hasn’t done an inspection or had the septic pumped within the past 2 years, buyers should consider having it inspected and also asking the seller to have it pumped.

Remember, a copy of an inspection is not a guarantee that the system will not have problems in the future. It is up to you to take steps to properly maintain the system once you buy he property.

If the home you’re buying has been vacant for a long period of time, consider when the inspection was completed and determine if the system needs to be re-inspected.  Systems that have been dormant for a long period of time may have significant issues that are not easily detected especially related to the effectiveness of the leaching field.

How Much Does Septic System Testing Cost?

The average cost for an inspection is between $400 and $700. Some towns require septic pumping at the time of inspection. Pumping a septic tank usually costs $180 to $250, depending on how many gallons the tank holds.

How Septic Systems Work

Conventional septic systems consist of a septic tank, a distribution box, and a leaching field. Your septic system treats your home’s wastewater by temporarily holding it in the septic tank. In the tank, waste solids separate from the water. The solids are decomposed by bacteria and later removed when you have the tank professionally pumped.

Your septic system treats your home’s wastewater by temporarily holding it in the septic tank.

After the partially treated water (effluent) leaves the tank it flows into the distribution box which distributes this water evenly into the leaching field. Drainage holes allow the water to drain into gravel trenches and then slowly seep into the soil where it is further treated and purified (secondary treatment). Some alternative systems use sand or peat instead of soil. A properly functioning septic system does not pollute the groundwater.

Conventional septic systems consist of a septic tank, a distribution box, and a leaching field

Septic System Maintenance Tips

Caring for your septic system saves you money and extends the life of the system itself. One of the most important steps you and your family can take is limiting your use of water. The more water you conserve, the less water enters the septic system. Efficient water use can improve the operation of the septic system and reduce the risk of failure.

  • Install water saving devices such as low flow shower heads and toilets.
  • Repair leaky faucets and toilets immediately. A leaky toilet can cause a good septic system to fail very quickly.
  • Make sure clothes washer and dishwashers have full loads before running
  • Do not put paint thinners and other chemicals them in your septic system. They destroy naturally occurring microbes in your septic system which are necessary for it to function properly.
  • Keep grease, fat, and food wastes out of your septic system as much as possible.
  • Garbage disposals may not be used with a septic system unless the system has been specifically designed to accommodate a garbage disposal.
  • Don’t allow vehicles or equipment to drive over or park on the drain field. This may compact the soil and crush the piping.
  • Don’t plant anything over the disposal field except grass.
  • Don’t cover the drain field with asphalt or concrete.

Septic System Signs of Trouble

If there is a problem with the home’s septic system, the sinks may drain slower than usual, even after using a plunger. Or you may hear gurgling sounds. One of the most common signs that the septic tank is having problems is a foul odor around the house. A less obvious sign of trouble is a patch of lush green grass in the drainage field of the septic tank. This patch of grass is receiving a larger amount of nutrients and liquid than normal indicating a leak. If you observe any of these signs, it’s time to get a thorough septic system inspection.

What Happens During a Septic System Inspection?

The septic system inspection should include: a discussion with the homeowner to determine the history of the system, a review of the system permit, a tank inspection, a distribution box inspection, a drainfield bed inspection, and a house inspection.

The inspector will compare the size of the tank and the expected water use. He or she will make sure there are no leaks or cracks in the tank by using flashlights, mirrors, and cameras. He’ll check the mesh filter (on new systems) to make sure it is clean, and will check to see if the tank needs to be pumped.

For the drainfield test, the inspector will dig test pits to check for signs of standing water or biomat growth. He or she may dig 2 to 3 feet down and check the color of the rocks and sand and make sure the system is draining properly. He will inspect all mechanical equipment (pumps, aerators, alarms) to ensure they are in good working order.  Inside the home he will flush the toilets, run water in the sinks, run the washing machine through a full cycle to see if the household plumbing is all going to the system and working correctly.

The septic distribution box is a most important component of a septic system. Without even distribution of effluent, the drain field will be used unevenly. As trenches in the drainfield become overloaded, portions of the drain field will fail.

By having your septic system inspected and pumped regularly, you can prevent the high cost of septic system failure, protect the groundwater, and preserve the value of your home.

Where to Find an More Information on Septic Systems

For tips on how to properly care for your septic system, visit the EPA’s SepticSmart website.

For more information visit the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services.

Related: What Home Buyers and Sellers Should Know About Septic Systems in Massachusetts