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Septic Systems-A Topic North of Boston Buyers And Sellers Need To Understand


Septic Systems:

A Topic North of Boston Buyer's And Seller's Need To Understand

A Septic System is defined as an on-site wastewater disposal system that treats wastewater - usually under 10,000 gallons per day.  Think of it as your own mini wastewater treatment facility.  By wastewater I mean what comes out of your household plumbing fixtures like your toilet, sink, shower, and laundry.  These are common when a community doesn't have a public sewer system like North Reading for instance.  Roughly 1 in 5 homes in the US have septic systems with the New England states having the highest proportion of homes served by septic system led by VT@ (55%).  The major components of a septic system are the tank, the distribution box (or D-Box) and the leaching field. 

In real general terms here’s how it works.... The wastewater leaves the house and enters a tank where the solids separate from the water and are decomposed there by bacteria.  Bacteria are good.  Bacteria are your friend.  The wastewater then leaves the tank, entering the D-Box which distributes it into a network of lines in a trench (or leaching field) where drainage holes in these lines allow the water to eventually seep into the ground after again being treated by a layer of gravels & soils. 

Mass adopted a regulation in 1975 known as Title V which was most recently revised in 2006.  This regulation is used to determine as to whether the on-site wastewater disposal system is adequate to protect public health and the environment.

From a seller’s perspective, the first thing you should consider doing once the decision has been made that you are selling your home is to get your septic system inspected.  If your system passes, you can move forward and concentrate on all the other aspects of getting your home market ready.  You’ll be issued a Title V certificate which is good for 2 years (or 3 if you have record of pumping every year).  Residential transactions between the following parties are exempt from Title V:  spouses, parents, children, siblings, or a trust.  Title transfer under any of these scenarios DO NOT require Title V.  Refinances are also exempt.  Weather conditions may prevent an inspection from taking place prior to sale.  If that’s the case, it must be completed within 6 months. 

If your system fails, you’ll now begin working with an engineer, a licensed installer, the local board of health and be required to pull a construction permit.  Anyone at Farrelly Realty can provide you with a list of preferred contractors to get the job done.  Installation of a new system could run upwards of 50K with the entire process realistically taking 3-4 months.  Therefore, it is critical to get this done immediately.  If you fail, this does not necessarily mean you cannot sell your home until its replaced.  The buyer’s lender may approve a holdback which means putting 1.5X the cost of the project into escrow for work to be done post close.  That money will cover the cost of installation with the remainder returned to the seller.  A holdback can also be used if you are selling in the winter months and perhaps your system failed, and installations have stopped for the season.  A cash transaction will also not require Title V, but the system will still need to be replaced within 2 years. 

Some of the more common reasons for failing are: too much water (which dilutes the bacteria which is needed to digest the waste), backup sewage, discharge to ground surface, system requires pumping more than 4 times per year, leaching field is not draining properly or within a certain distance from various water sources. 

You may also “conditionally” pass which means you only have to repair part of the system rather than replace the entire system.  Some of the more common repairs may be replacing the D-Box or a cracked tank. 

Not only is this an extremely pricey project but it may also be an unexpected one.  Homeowners looking for financial assistance to repair or replace their system can always apply for financial aid through the Mass Home Septic Loan Program found on the Mass Housing website. 

From a buyer’s perspective, there really isn’t too much you need to do.  You’ll want to review the Title V report.  Be sure the local board of health is on board and has also approved the passing inspection.  Both need to happen - passed by a licensed inspector & approved by the Board of Health.  This is typically handled by a buyer’s agent. 

In order to get the maximum life expectancy out of your system of roughly 30 years, here are some tips: don’t dispose of any hazardous chemicals into the system, don’t dispose of grease, gas, paint, paint thinner, pesticides, antifreeze, etc., practice water conservation by installing low flow toilets & shower heads, turn water off when not needed (i.e., brushing teeth), avoid using drain cleaners that might dilute the valuable bacteria, divert roof drains & surface water from over the system, don’t park or drive over it, and ONLY flush toilet paper down your toilet. 

A few of the biggest myths regarding septic systems include: 

I can’t have a Garage Disposal - Not true.  You may have one but if you do, you should pump annually rather than once every 3 years.  It should also be used as if it’s not there just allowing tiny pieces in the drain to go down.

I shouldn’t use Bleach - Not true.  Yes, bleach breaks down bacteria which is needed to successfully break down waste in the system, but the ordinary household amounts of bleach used for laundry for instance is not going to be enough to wreak havoc on your system.

I should regularly treat my system with Rid-X- Not true.  Or maybe better stated, not necessary.  The human body itself uses many enzymes to breakdown food in our bodies which in turn end up in our septic systems.  Get it?


Any specific questions, please call or text me directly at 617-285-7117 or via email at