InspectAPedia tolerates no conflicts of interest. We have no relationship with advertisers, products, or services discussed at this website.
This article what clues can confirm that a building has actually been connected to a public sewer, or on the contrary, that it is connected to a private septic tank system. In the previous section of this article we explained how to determine whether or not a public sewer is available at a property. Here we continue by discussing how to to find out if a particular building has actually been connected to an available sewer main. A reader asked, "How do I know if the house I am purchasing has a septic tank?" Even if a sewer is installed right in the street in front of a building, that building may never have been connected to the sewer line. Here are some clues that help sort out this question.
Clues Indicating That a Building Has Been or Has Not Been Connected to the Public Sewer
No room for septic systems: If lots in the area are very small there may not be room for private septic systems to have been installed in the first place.
Usually we'll find that a public or a community sewer main has been provided and that the closely-spaced homes or cluster homes are connected to that system.
But be careful. In some communities we find that new cluster housing or town houses on a street are all connected to a municipal sewer line, but on the same street a number of older, pre-existing homes are all served by private septic systems.
Look at the size available on the individual lot surrounding the property you are investigating, and consider when that home or building was constructed.
Depressions or cleanout access covers indicating that a septic tank is present (these may be present even if a building was later connected to a sewer, as we discuss further below). Depressions in the ground surface are caused by settlement of softer dirt following an excavation to install or service a septic system component.
These ground settlement marks may be small and round, just a couple of feet in diameter where someone dug up a septic tank cover, they may be larger and round or rectangular up to 6' x 10' if they mark a septic tank outline.
As our photo at left shows, multiple, long straight parallel depressions in the ground, especially in an area where there are no trees may indicate trenches of a septic drainfield. In winter in areas where snowfall occurs, snow-melt may also mark
a septic tank or drainfield location.
Tax deprtment records and tax bills for a property often indicate a charge for connection to both public water and public sewer lines. But don't count on this data being correct.
Sometimes the tax department thinks the building is connected to a sewer and charges for it but in fact the building was never connected-up to that system.
Tax bills can be confusing to a new homeowner but you may find that the folks at the tax department will be friendly and happy to explain the bill to you. The tax department will show you if your tax bill includes an assessment for sewage services.
Building department records will usually record where sewer lines have been installed and which buildings have been connected to them. Be careful: on occasion we find that those records were mistaken, especially where newer sewer lines and older buildings are involved together.
Drawings and plans: papers describing the building's construction, and even sketches can tell if a septic tank or sewer connection is used for a building.
Often in older properties someone has sketched the distance to a septic tank right on the wall by the exit point of the main drain from the building.
Look there and look overhead among floor joists over a basement or crawl space for a paper that may have been placed there showing the drain destination.
Neighbors and Contractors: neighbors will have a vital interest in and are likely to know if buildings on the street are connected to a sewer system or to private septic tank systems.
Records of plumbers who worked on the building, or even local septic pumping companies may have records of what type of waste disposal system is at the property
No FAQs have been posted for this page. Try the search box below or CONTACT US by email if you cannot find the answer you need at InspectApedia.
Ask a Question or Search InspectApedia
Use the "Click to Show or Hide FAQs" link just above to see recently-posted questions, comments, replies, try the search box just below, or if you prefer, post a question or comment in the Comments box below and we will respond promptly.
Septic Tank/Soil-Absorption Systems: How to Operate & Maintain [ copy on file as /septic/Septic_Operation_USDA.pdf ] - , Equipment Tips, U.S. Department of Agriculture, 8271 1302, 7100 Engineering, 2300 Recreation, September 1982, web search 08/28/2010, original source: http://www.fs.fed.us/t-d/pubs/pdfimage/82711302.pdf.
Pennsylvania State Fact Sheets relating to domestic wastewater treatment systems include
Pennsylvania State Wastewater Treatment Fact Sheet SW-161, Septic System Failure: Diagnosis and Treatment
Pennsylvania State Wastewater Treatment Fact Sheet SW-162, The Soil Media and the Percolation Test
Pennsylvania State Wastewater Treatment Fact Sheet SW-l64, Mound Systems for Wastewater Treatment
Pennsylvania State Wastewater Treatment Fact Sheet SW-165, Septic Tank-Soil Absorption Systems
Document Sources used for this web page include but are not limited to: Agricultural Fact Sheet #SW-161 "Septic Tank Pumping," by Paul D. Robillard and
Kelli S. Martin. Penn State College of Agriculture - Cooperative Extension, edited and annotated by
Dan Friedman (Thanks: to Bob Mackey for proofreading the original source material.)
Books & Articles on Building & Environmental Inspection, Testing, Diagnosis, & Repair
The Home Reference Book - the Encyclopedia of Homes, Carson Dunlop & Associates, Toronto, Ontario, 25th Ed., 2012, is a bound volume of more than 450 illustrated pages that assist home inspectors and home owners in the inspection and detection of problems on buildings. The text is intended as a reference guide to help building owners operate and maintain their home effectively. Field inspection worksheets are included at the back of the volume. Special Offer: For a 10% discount on any number of copies of the Home Reference Book purchased as a single order. Enter INSPECTAHRB in the order payment page "Promo/Redemption" space. InspectAPedia.com editor Daniel Friedman is a contributing author.
Or choose the The Home Reference eBook for PCs, Macs, Kindle, iPad, iPhone, or Android Smart Phones. Special Offer: For a 5% discount on any number of copies of the Home Reference eBook purchased as a single order. Enter INSPECTAEHRB in the order payment page "Promo/Redemption" space.
Advanced Onsite Wastewater Systems Technologies, Anish R. Jantrania, Mark A. Gross. Anish Jantrania, Ph.D., P.E., M.B.A., is a Consulting Engineer, in Mechanicsville VA, 804-550-0389 (2006). Outstanding technical reference especially on alternative septic system design alternatives. Written for designers and engineers, this book is not at all easy going for homeowners but is a text I recommend for professionals--DF.
Builder's Guide to Wells and Septic Systems, Woodson, R. Dodge: $ 24.95; MCGRAW HILL B; TP;
Quoting from Amazon's description: For the homebuilder, one mistake in estimating or installing wells and septic systems can cost thousands of dollars. This comprehensive guide filled with case studies can prevent that. Master plumber R. Dodge Woodson packs this reader-friendly guide with guidance and information, including details on new techniques and materials that can economize and expedite jobs and advice on how to avoid mistakes in both estimating and construction. Chapters cover virtually every aspect of wells and septic systems, including on-site evaluations; site limitations; bidding; soil studies, septic designs, and code-related issues; drilled and dug wells, gravel and pipe, chamber-type, and gravity septic systems; pump stations; common problems with well installation; and remedies for poor septic situations. Woodson also discusses ways to increase profits by avoiding cost overruns.
Country Plumbing: Living with a Septic System, Hartigan, Gerry: $ 9.95; ALAN C HOOD & TP;
Quoting an Amazon reviewer's comment, with which we agree--DF:This book is informative as far as it goes and might be most useful for someone with an older system. But it was written in the early 1980s. A lot has changed since then. In particular, the book doesn't cover any of the newer systems that are used more and more nowadays in some parts of the country -- sand mounds, aeration systems, lagoons, etc.