Septic or Sewer

Posted November 29, 2021 in Real Estate Trends

tracie demars, Clark County WA real estate agent

This week let’s talk about something many people don’t like to think about in their homes, which is the septic and sewer. Many areas in Clark County are still on septic systems, and not hooked up to the public sewer lines. This makes sense in rural areas, but some places in Vancouver are still on septic because the sewer lines are not available there. However, sometimes the sewer line is there, but the home is still on a private septic system. I grew up on a septic system so for me, septic isn’t a big deal. It just has to be maintained, and as a homeowner, you have to be careful what you flush. Also, homes on septic shouldn’t have a garbage disposal as they aren’t equipped to handle it.

A typical septic system contains two major components: a septic tank and a soil drainfield. The septic tank removes solids, which helps protect the soil drainfield from clogging that can result in premature failure of the onsite system. The septic tank digests a portion of the solids and stores the remaining portion. Up to 50% of the solids that remain in the tank decompose. The remaining 50% accumulates in the bottom of the tank as sludge. When the level of sludge exceeds the tank’s holding capacity, the sewage has less time to settle before leaving the tank. Eventually, the sludge level increases enough to allow solids to enter into the drainfield, resulting in damage to the field and the need for extensive repairs. The soil drainfield is located underground in an unsaturated soil area on the property. The field consists of a series of underground perforated pipes installed in a one-foot deep layer of washed gravel, or a series of plastic chamber units. Here, the effluent is distributed, stored, and ultimately applied to the soil for treatment. After filtering through the soil, the treated effluent enters the groundwater level for final disposal.

The lack of septic tank maintenance can cause sewage to back up into your house or solids to overflow to the drainfield. Once solids overflow and leave through the tank outlet, they can quickly clog a drain field to the point that a new one is required. Most septic tanks need to be pumped every three to five years, depending on the tank size and the amount and type of solids entering the tank. The inspection of the sludge and scum levels is the only way to determine when a tank needs to be pumped. This is not necessarily a pleasant task but can be done relatively easily. Septic tank pumping firms are available to perform the inspection. Your septic needs to be inspected every two years and that inspection put on file with the Clark County Health Department. An average septic system needs to be pumped every 3-5 years.

A sewer system is a city/county-maintained sewage disposal system. The city/county is responsible for the care and maintenance of the sewage lines until it hits your property lines. Once all pipes hit the property line, the maintenance and repair responsibility is the homeowner’s.

So what if you have a home that is on septic and the sewer line comes to your area/street? Do you have to hook up to it? Actually you don’t. If your septic system is in good working order you can decline to hook up to the sewer. If your septic system fails then you will need to hook up to the sewer line. The cost to hook up to the sewer is around $7,000-$15,000. The cost of a new septic system is also around $7,000-$15,000. That is a lot of money, but there is help. Vancouver’s Sewer Connection Incentive Program (SCIP) extends public wastewater main lines to areas where septic systems were initially installed because sewer wasn’t available then, typically areas that were later annexed into the city. SCIP works with homeowners to provide an easy and affordable solution to change from septic systems to safe, reliable public sewer.