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While our team doesn’t work on septic systems, we often encounter clients with questions. If you’re ever looking for advice on maintenance or management, reach out to us: we are happy to offer advice or a referral! Most commonly, our clients are confused by the difference between septic and sewer, and how to choose a home accordingly.

Septic systems are on-site waste management for individual properties. While a septic system is typically more affordable than being on a public sewer system, it’s important to know the benefits of each. Plus, by understanding the steps involved in taking care of a septic system, you can save more money long-term.

Septic vs. Sewer System: What’s the difference?

A sewer system is a large, public utility attached to an entire neighborhood, maintained by a public works department. Homeowners on a public sewer system never have to worry about paying out of pocket for sewer system problems, they simply pay a monthly or annual fee for use. Conversely, septic systems are smaller-scale waste management systems for individual homes. If you live in a rural area, it’s more likely that your home has its own septic system. If you’re considering a new home, it’s important that you understand the pros and cons of each.

With sewer systems, the homeowner has no responsibility for the maintenance or unexpected costs associated with upkeep. Instead, the homeowner pays a monthly fee for the utility. Waste is carried in sewer lines to a water treatment facility. If something goes wrong, the homeowner simply needs to call the local municipality public works department.

With septic systems, the homeowner is responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of the septic system. Waste goes into a holding tank on the property, where it’s broken down into liquid. The liquid effluent is then released into a drainfield. If something goes wrong, the homeowner must hire a septic repair company. However, the main pro of a septic system is the lower costs. If maintained well, a septic system is more affordable long-term than the annual cost of paying for the sewer utility.

Inspections and Maintenance

Like most systems in your home, septic systems need regular care. A new septic tank costs anywhere from $4,000 to $7,000, so proactive care will save you time and money. If cared for properly, a septic tank can last for 30+ years! The Environmental Protection Agency suggests that most septic systems need to be pumped every three years, but those with electrical or mechanical components need to be checked more often. We recommend having your septic system inspected annually in order to catch warning signs early.

Whenever you have an inspection or maintenance done on your property, be sure to save all inspection reports. These should include details on potential future leaks, or any existing problems.

Regular Care

There are a couple of steps your family can take to keep your septic system healthy. By limiting the types of waste you dispose of down the garbage disposal, sinks, and toilet, you can prevent clogged pipes in your septic system. Avoid disposing of coffee grounds, cooking grease, paper towels, disposable wipes, or feminine hygiene products down the drain or toilet. Put these in the trash instead. Additionally, chemical drain cleaners or toxic liquids can cause real damage to your septic system. If a drain is clogged, hire a plumber to snake the drain instead.

It’s also best to avoid planting trees or gardens, and parking vehicles on your drainfield.

Plant roots will naturally grow towards the wastewater in search of nutrients, and tree roots can block or damage your septic system.

How do I know if my septic system is failing?

Luckily, septic systems rarely fail overnight. Your septic system will tell you when it’s under duress, so educating yourself on the warning signs can help you prevent damage and rectify the problem early (and more affordably).

The biggest warning sign that something is wrong is a foul odor coming from your drains, or outside near your septic system. This could mean your septic system is clogged, which can quickly lead to failure, resulting in sewage backing up into your home. If you notice muddy water or extra-green, spongy grasses around your septic system, this is another sign that the system is either backing up, or leaking.

Be careful to note how your tubs, showers, and sinks drain. If they drain very slowly, or worse, back up into your home, this is another red flag. Any gurgling sounds coming from drains is also a sign that showers and sinks aren’t draining correctly.