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SEPTIC SYSTEMS, HOME BUYERS GUIDE to
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SINKHOLES, WARNING SIGNS
SOAKAWAY BED FAILURE DIAGNOSIS
SULPHUR & SEWER GAS SMELL SOURCES
TOILETS, INSPECT, INSTALL, REPAIR
TRAPS on PLUMBING FIXTURES
TREATMENTS & CHEMICALS, SEPTIC
VIDEO GUIDES: Septic Videos
WATER CONSERVATION MEASURES
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WATER, WELLS, WATER TANKS: TESTING GUIDE
WASHING MACHINES & SEPTIC SYSTEMS
WASTEWATER TREATMENT BASICS
WINTERIZE A BUILDING
Special inspection and investigation are needed for buildings which are older than the public sewer to which they are connected. This article discusses what a property buyer or home inspector should do when examining a home or other older building which is reported connected to a public sewer.
In our photo above this mid 19th century home was built before the local sewer system was installed. In fact it has been connected to the village public sewer. But in older communities, especially if the age of a building is greater than the age of the community sewer system, even if a sewer is installed right in the street in front of a building, on occasion the building may never have been connected to the public sewer main. Or possibly only some of the building's plumbing fixtures and drains have been connected to the sewer while others remain connected to an old drywell, cesspool or septic tank..
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Action guide when buying a building where a public sewer system is present but the building is older than the sewer system
Failure to connect an older building to a sewer line can lead to some ugly surprises, including unanticipated expense to repair an old septic system, expense to connect the building to the new sewer line, and even serious life safety hazards if an old septic tank is at risk of collapse.
Our friend Steve Vermilye, an inspector and contractor in New Paltz, New York, discovered that an office building that everyone thought had been connected to the New Paltz sewer system for decades was in fact connected to an old cesspool in the back yard of the property.
That condition was discovered during new construction, happily before someone fell into the cesspool.
Find out if the building is really connected to the sewer system.
If the home or building is newer than the sewer system
Certainly if the building is newer than the date of the sewer main that you’ve established as present in the neighborhood, it would be unusual for it not to have been connected to the sewer line.
If a building pre-dates the installation of a community sewer line, then at one time it was connected to a private septic system – and it might still be.
In our photo at left, the stone foundation tells us that even if a sewer line is available for this building, the building almost certainly pre-dates the installation of the sewer.
The view of two kinds of modern plastic drain piping tell us that the main drain line has been replaced and that there is no house trap - at least none indoors (sometimes they're just outside the foundation wall - a stupid location since you have to dig them up to service the trap).
We conclude that the building where this photo was taken was probably connected to a private septic system at some time in its life. It might now be connected to a sewer, but further investigation is certainly needed to confirm that and to find out out if old abandoned septic components remain at the site.
A septic system may be abandoned because a home was later connected to a sewer main or perhaps because a new septic system was installed elsewhere; but usually even if a new septic system is installed the house will continue to use its previously-existing main drain line.
So a cut off capped main waste line at a building wall suggests that an old system was abandoned. Septic tank abandonment involves some sanitation and safety concerns, so if you think there may be an abandoned septic system, see Septic Tank Abandonment Guide
Why would someone do this? After all, more excavating means more cost to connect to the sewer. In some cases an owner may find it is less disruptive to a home to dig outside than to reroute drain lines inside, especially if the home has a costly finished basement or lower level that would have to be torn up to reroute indoor drain piping.
If there is no sewer system present the home cannot be attached to one and a local septic system is or should be present.
See SEPTIC SYSTEM, HOME BUYERS GUIDE which discusses the inspections and tests that should be performed, introduces the need for septic system maintenance, and describes how to find septic tanks, distribution boxes, and drainfields.
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