Failed septic tank on home inspection

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  #1  
Old 12-12-18, 01:04 PM
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Failed septic tank on home inspection

I am purchasing a house- but it failed septic inspection. I have asked the sellers to replace the septic. The sellers hired another company to do a second opinion (which also failed). The septic tank, distribution box, distribution box lid, and drain field were all “unsatisfactory” on the second opinion report. The septic system is 30 years old and the house is vacant. The sellers had the septic pumped after they moved out. The initial inspection was done about 4 days after heavy rainfall and the tank was noted to have ground water above the outlet pipe and in the bore holes over the drainage field there was not the recommended 12in before hitting water. The second opinion dug up the distribution box which was metal (automatic fail) and corrosion on lid. The flow test showed water rose above the outlet pipe in the septic tank but drained about 1 inch after 20 minutes. The camera in the drain pipes showed debris and tree roots as well as too much water in the drain field (but not saturating the ground. The second opinion company said expensive repairs would only provide limited benefit and still possibly not make the system in “satisfactory” condition so they would recommend a flow test after any repairs. Also by the age of the system and condition observed, they recommended “budgeting for replacement of the septic system despite outcomes of repairs.” The sellers are trying to have a company hydro-jet the drain pipes to remove the debris and fix the problem, although this seems like a short cut/temporary solution-leaving me with the cost of replacement. My questions are 1) how does hydro-jetting work? 2) how effective is it? 3) what are there chances the system will still fail? 4) will this take care of the problem of not having deep enough dry soil- it seems the system is failing from both ends? 5) what damage may occur during the hydro-jetting?

Thank you for taking the time to read and address my questions and concerns!
 
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  #2  
Old 12-12-18, 01:48 PM
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Sounds like the leach field has failed and hydro-jetting will not correct the issues. I agree the seller should have the entire system replaced, if not, walk away from that purchase unless you want to foot the entire bill later.
 
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Old 12-12-18, 01:54 PM
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My questions are 1) how does hydro-jetting work?
2) how effective is it?
3) what are there chances the system will still fail?
4) will this take care of the problem of not having deep enough dry soil- it seems the system is failing from both ends?
5) what damage may occur during the hydro-jetting?
Those are all interesting, but ultimately unimportant questions -

Q1 What does your agreement of sale say about a "working septic system"?
Who determines whether the septic system is working or not?

Q2 What does the agreement say happens is the Seller can't fix this? Who keeps the down money?

Q3 How much will it cost, and how long will it take, to install a working system if the septic fails 30 days after you move in?

What does your Realtor say about all this?
 

Last edited by Hal_S; 12-12-18 at 02:30 PM.
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Old 12-12-18, 02:14 PM
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I’m no expert so I can’t offer anything on the jetting possibility. There are some people on the forums that are actually real estate pros so maybe they will weigh in, and their opinion would probably be very valuable.

But IMHO, as uniformed as it may be, your first instinct to have the septic replaced before you finalized the deal seems to me to be the right thing to do. It seems to me you would be taking a big risk if you just accepted an opinion from some company who tried to fix the septic and then declared the septic working properly. I doubt if any company would give anyone guarantees anyway.

If you really like the house maybe you could ask your inspector whether or not he saw anything that would say a new septic system could NOT be developed on the property. If the property can take a new septic system maybe you then could tell the seller to replace the septic system or give you credit in the sales price for a new septic system – or else you are walking away. Maybe one of the real estate pros here would say that’s a bad idea. But I don’t think any reasonable seller should expect you to take that risk.

Well I’ll be darned -while I was typing this I see one of the pros just posted. (but I’ll post this anyway)
 
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Old 12-12-18, 03:44 PM
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My contract states the sale is contingent on inspections and repairs that were requested within 15 days of the initiation of contract- so I have every right to walk away if the sellers don’t replace the septic (Which is what I will do if they don’t replace it). I’m already paying near the top of the house value and am not interested in having to fork out money on a new house (at least new to me) for a new septic when there are obvious signs of problems and recommendations to replace due to system age and condition. I don’t think many buyers would agree to a temporary fix.

My questions are more targeted towards what are the sellers chances of the hydro jetting “working” or how likely is it that the drain field is shot and hydro jetting will not help and the system will still fail- they would basically be forced into replacing it then or taking a huge cut on the sale price. I feel like I should be more educated about hydro jetting as I am completely unfamiliar with it. My understanding is if there are roots in the drain pipes than there are roots around it that will still obstruct absorption and the solids that have gotten in the lines would clog the soil too so it wouldn’t really work anyways. Also, I feel like blasting water through the non draining pipe will cause more absorption problems of ground water is already an issue.
 
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Old 12-12-18, 04:01 PM
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Septic systems don't live forever and system design has changed a good deal in 30 years. What was considered good back then is not approvable now. Starting off with a system obviously in bad shape is risky. If proceeding with the house I would want to be involved in the new system's design and installation. I would negotiate for the cost of a new system. At a minimum I might agree to their installation of a new system.

Jetting can clear the laterals... for now. Jetting powerful enough to break up the roots can also damage the pipe. Then there's the question of where all the stuff that got jetted apart goes. I would not consider it a viable option for a home purchase unless I was well compensated for plan B.
 
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Old 12-12-18, 04:05 PM
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hydro jetting “working”
Buddy just had his sump pump line jetted as it was full of crud and it appears to have worked saving a line replacement.

The process is similar to a pressure washer with a round cone shape tip. Would it cut through small hair roots, probably but the larger the roots the more I would be concerned that about it's ability to cut.

Also, the roots would still be live and would return!

Septic systems can last a long time if conditions are right, tree roots are going to take their toll!
 
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Old 12-12-18, 08:46 PM
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You should void the agreement and, if the seller agrees to do more work, write a new agreement.

Included in the new agreement would be that you would not have to apply for the mortgage loan until after the septic work is complete. You don't want to find out that the septic work including any added backandforth (negotiation) halfway through takes longer than expected and your rate lock expires.

Also, if not already, the agreement should say (stipulate) that the financing contingency depends on the mortage loan actually closing as opposed to just getting a commitment. This puts a little uncertainty on the seller but that cannot be prevented without placing a little uncertainty on yourself.

The agreement should also specify that financing contingency is not met if it is necessary or desirable to apply for a loan that may be regarded as "subprime".
 
  #9  
Old 12-13-18, 04:44 AM
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What State is this property located in ?

The part I don't understand is how the level of the groundwater can now be above the outlet of the Septic Tank . . . . has something changed in the local drainage pattern to alter the local topography ?

Even 30 years ago, when I had my conventional Septic System installed for this old farmhouse here in Vermont; the excavator doing the work had a rudimentary understanding of hydrology and basic biology and took the workings of these natural factors into account when choosing a site and installing a system, Even before Regulations, all installers were so equipped . . . . IF they had an interest in the system working for a lengthy period of time. And I suspect that the same was true in the OP's jurisdiction.

Arranged the was the described tank is located, that system could never have worked properly, so I think there has been some alteration of the local environment which has caused the water table to rise: a Clogged Culvert that is impeding drainage; a newly paved parking lot which is directing surface water to this area (anytime in the past 30 years; new development in the are which may have altered the elevations and drainage pattern . . . . something has changed !

If the property is still of interest, then it is worthwhile doing the research to discover what the underlying problem is that has rendered the current system dysfunctional, and whether there is some alternative location on the site that may allow for a properly functioning system to be installed.

As a Real Estate Broker, I was once involved with a questionable and sluggish system where the tank had been replaced on a lakefront property. We tracked down the original Contractor who did the installation (near the shoreline) and he acknowledged doing the work and remembering it well "Darndest thing about that tank, we had to drill holes in the bottom of the concrete tank in order to get it to sink" ! There wasn't a Leach Field; the effluent was directed right into the Lake. My Buyers passed on that property.

Do your own research to see if the lot can be resuscitated . . . . some are beyond help.
 
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Old 12-13-18, 05:14 AM
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The property is located in Maryland. We have experienced more flooding in the past 2-3 years than ever before. We surpassed our average yearly rain fall in July this year- so I am assuming the water table has changed significantly due to environmental changes (more precipitation, compaction of soil, erosion, etc.). Also, both properties adjacent to this one has mound systems so I doubt this house would be able to have traditional septic system. I don’t think the water table would be that different between the properties.
 
  #11  
Old 12-13-18, 05:45 AM
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Thanks for that clarification.

And yes, Waste Water disposal systems have to be designed to work even during times of high rainfall, so that it's transparent to the occupants.

It sounds like the surrounding properties (which required the Mound Systems) were developed after the Subject, Since you're in an area with On-Site Waste Water disposal systems, do you also have an On-Site Water Supply (Well) or is that supplied by the municipality.

If it's an On-Site Well, then you may be facing regulations requiring a large Isolation Distance between your future Leach Field AND that of your Neighbors . . . . and also be required to take into account the position of your Neighbor's water supply. Sometimes, drawing the radii (often 100' or more) of these competing on-site systems can render the possibility of installing any system (including a Mound) virtually nil.

How much land ii included in the Lot of the Subject, and does a cursory examination reveal any high and dry areas which are obviously at a distance from your Neighbors' Mound Systems AND all of the Wells in the area . . . . including your own ?

A Case in Point is my own system where I have a Shallow Well (which now requires an Isolation Distance of 500'). IF my Septic System's Leach Field were ever to fail. I might be prohibited from replacing it until I had a New Drilled Well installed (which would require only a 100' Isolation Distance). Otherwise, I'd have a pretty much worthless property here . . . . and I don't even have Neighboring systems to contend with; just my own.

Look before you leap !
 
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Old 12-13-18, 06:37 AM
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The property does have a well which has to be 100 ft from the septic system. The lot is about 0.6 acres- there appears to be room but there are a few trees that would most likely need to come down. I definitely wouldn’t purchase the home under ANY condition without knowing 100% that a new system could be installed with verification on system type and location from the health department.

I just dont don’t see how hydro-jetting would repair a drain field if there is already water above the recommended depth in the drain field. I know hydro jetting is a band aid “fix” in hopes to remove the debris/roots from the lines but if the system was “unclogged” wouldn’t that just add more water to the already “too wet” ground? The only thing I can think is that it might allow for less back up in the distribution box and septic tank so only the drain field would need to be replaced?
 
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Old 12-13-18, 07:13 AM
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0.6 acres sure doesn't leave a lot of wiggle room. If it were square, that would be only 160ft x 160ft. I wouldn't accept hydro-jetting as a solution. The underlying issue needs to be addressed. I would be absolutely certain that it can be fixed or replaced to acceptable standards, then perhaps ask the sellers to cover at least half the cost. It seems to be that there should be some law in place restricting the sale of a home without a fully functioning septic system.
 
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Old 12-13-18, 07:58 AM
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I know that the outlet is below the current local Water Table . . . . does that also hold true for the entire length of the current Leach Field ?

If so, then hydro-jetting a "submerged" Leach Field would still leave you with a submerged Leach Field, right ?

Your research into the Subject Lot might be simplified by going to your County CourtHouse (or where ever your local Land Records are housed) and see if there was a Site Plan filed for the most recent of the Neighboring Mound Systems that you know to exist. It may be that such Site Plans are filed with the Health Department, or some Environmental or Conservation Agency in Maryland. The Town Clerk, Zoning Administrator, or the Health Department may be able to identify where such Records are lodged so you don't go off on the proverbial Goose Chase.

A Site Plan will reveal the location of the Wells and Leach Fields in the immediate area of the Neighbor's proposed Mound System and it will show the calculated minimum Isolation Distance that was used at the time that Mound was approved. Recognize too that the Isolation Distances are measured from the Leach Field extremity; NOT the Septic Tank. You'll probably need the Name of the LandOwner who had the Original Permit approved for the Mound System, or the 911 Address of that property.

This is all work that you could pay to have performed by a Surveyor, Site Technician, or a Civil Engineer; but well within the skill level of the average "motivated" citizen . . . . and it will yield useful information for you to use on the next property IF this one falls by the wayside; which it very well may because 0.6 Acre Lot (only about 26,000 SqFt) doesn't give you much space to work with.

Sometimes, desperate people faced with such issues will purchase an Easement for the Septic Leach Field from a Neighbor . . . . and pay a Premium.

Good Luck.
 
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Old 12-13-18, 08:27 AM
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the house is vacant. The sellers had the septic pumped after they moved out.
Why is the level in the tank above the outlet pipe? Shouldn’t the tank be empty?
 
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Old 12-13-18, 08:50 AM
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Originally Posted by zoesdad
". . . Why is the level in the tank above the outlet pipe? Shouldn’t the tank be empty? . . ,"
No, the only time a Septic Tank should be empty is when it has just been installed or just pumped. The Outlet Pipe afterall, is located just a few inches from the "top", so that organisms can digest the incoming solids before they are released into the drain field.

As a matter of fact, I had an Excavator who was told by a Fiberglass Septic Tank Manufacturer that he should fill the tank with water BEFORE backfilling or risk the Liability of the tank collapsing while empty due to the side and overhead pressures of the backfill.

This was AFTER he learned that lesson the Hard Way (after having to pay for a collapsed tank (I guess those instructions are printed in the Installation Instructions or in the Warranty) !
 
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Old 12-13-18, 08:58 AM
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What I meant was the tank was pumped and thus the level should have been empty or close to empty after the pumping - and then the house was left vacant. So how did the tank fill back up? Maybe i'm missing something - I guess LOL!
 
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Old 12-13-18, 10:29 AM
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Zoesdad- you aren’t missing anything. It was pumped recently after the sellers moved out and was “empty”- we had a heavy rainfall and the entire septic tank filled to the lid (over the outlet pipe that had already been raised) with water. The inspection was done 4-5 days AFTER the rainfall. That is why it failed the inspection initially. The first inspector checked the drain field and found only 4-5 inches of soil before finding standing water- it should be at least 12 inches. So they said there was a problem with the drain field causing the septic to be flooded with ground water. The septic must be operational in all weather conditions. The sellers did not agree with the inspection and hired a second opinion. At this point it had been over a week with dry weather and the water in the septic was just below the outlet pipe so they did a flow test- which raised the water 4 inches above the already raised outlet pipe (the water went down 1 inch after 20 min so they believe there is some drainage occurring). They also saw the distribution box was metal with lid corrosion (metal d box is not allowed anymore in MD) and that the pipes in the drain field had roots and debris. The holes in the drain field were still full of water before the recommended 12 inches.

The sellers want to just hydro-jet the drain pipes to avoid replacement (only a temporary fix). The inspector they hired wrote replacement needs to be budgeted for regardless of any outcomes from repairs due to age and condition of the system. I personally feel the sellers are trying to cut corners and not fix the problem.

I’m questioning if or how this would work as if the drain field already has too much water, how would releasing the “clog” allow for more absorption? Wouldn’t it flood the drain field more? Luckily we are expecting more rain for the next 4 days!

The only thing I can think of is that it would possibly allow the sellers to only have to replace the drain field and d-box and not the actual septic tank. This is a 30+ year system.
 
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Old 12-13-18, 11:15 AM
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The sellers want to just hydro-jet the drain pipes to avoid replacement (only a temporary fix). The inspector they hired wrote replacement needs to be budgeted for regardless of any outcomes from repairs due to age and condition of the system. I personally feel the sellers are trying to cut corners and not fix the problem.
Of course they are. They want to sell the house as quickly as possible and maximize their return!

I’m questioning if or how this would work as if the drain field already has too much water, how would releasing the “clog” allow for more absorption? Wouldn’t it flood the drain field more? Luckily we are expecting more rain for the next 4 days!
It wouldn't. You're right, it would allow even more water to enter the tank. Have the second guy come back out to reassess after the rain.
 
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Old 12-13-18, 11:46 AM
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Originally Posted by zoesdad
". . . What I meant was the tank was pumped and thus the level should have been empty or close to empty after the pumping - and then the house was left vacant. So how did the tank fill back up? Maybe i'm missing something . . ."
No, you're not; I just mis-understood your question.

My read is that because the Septic Tank's Outlet is below the local water table, they pumped it only to see it being immediately re-filled with backflow from the surrounding groundwater . . . . which was already higher.

I'm trying to picture that scenario because their pump would have to be pumping faster to remove the Tank's contents than gravity was pulling effluent (and whatever) back into the Tank from the "D" Box and the Disposal Field . . . . if not, how would they ever know when they were even finished ?

In my Mind's Eye, I'm picturing quite a circus before these poor souls gave up (because Pumping trucks have a limited capacity) a fun time must have been had by all !

Was he there, or better yet, did the OP have an opportunity to read the report of the Pumpers ?
 
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Old 12-13-18, 12:10 PM
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I do not know if the sellers were present during the pumping of the septic or if they got the report. On the sellers disclosure form they denied any problems with the septic (hard to believe considering there has been a riser installed on the outlet within the tank-but maybe the owners before them did that). I do know they have received 2 reports saying that it needs replacement.
 
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Old 12-13-18, 12:13 PM
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hyro jetting the lines will work. It gets the biomat out. They do it with a pump truck on site.

1. How is the septic tank? Intact? If so that would not need replacing. If so this is another discussion.

2. The dist box will need to be replaced. If they are doing it ok. Once the lines are jetted you should be good for a while.. They usually treat with a chemical. Peroxide normally.

3.The issue with the neighbors is the mound system. You must find out if you ever had to replace the system if a mound system is required by the health department. If so find the cost. This is what you will get stuck with if so. I have seen them cost 30k or so.

4. The septic apparently is not condemned and there is capacity left. I believe they can continues to do repairs grandfathered until the septic fails completely and the health dept gets involve. But don't quote me.

And the mortgage company is not around to lend money to someone purchasing a home with a failed septic. That's why they are requiring it. Its a normal process.

5. If you like the home you'll have to do your homework here. Normally if its desirable someone with more money then you will buy it and not care about the septic. They will just move in as is and replace it.

What I would want, and recommend.

I'm only assuming by the quick read I did is accurate.

1. Have dist box replaced.
2. Have lines jetted and treated
3. If it can be done under add on or grandfathered in, have an identical field put next to the one already there. It will have a separate d box.

Then have a bull run valve put in. Run the new field for 3-4 years. Then switch to the old field, and switch back and forth every year.

This is how all septics should be done. And it will last many lifetimes.

Fields will restore themselves if left dry for several years..

The rain thing is a myth. No ground water will penetrate through into the field. Or shouldn't. The paper/cloth they put over it prevents this.

If a mound system is needed then all bets are off. Require that cost off the price of the house. But like I said someone may buy the house anyway...

http://www.americanonsite.com/american/catalog/brv.html
 
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Old 12-13-18, 12:25 PM
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Originally Posted by mc0913 View Post
I do not know if the sellers were present during the pumping of the septic or if they got the report. On the sellers disclosure form they denied any problems with the septic (hard to believe considering there has been a riser installed on the outlet within the tank-but maybe the owners before them did that). I do know they have received 2 reports saying that it needs replacement.
You cannot condemn a septic. You have to state in the report what capacity is left. There is always capacity even when the inlet level matches the outlet level..

But what capacity?

100 gals a day? 250 gals 500 gals, ect ect.

I can find the documents but cant locate now.

I have been on septics all my life...
 
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Old 12-13-18, 12:48 PM
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Originally Posted by mc0913
My questions are more targeted towards what are the sellers chances of the hydro jetting “working”
or how likely is it that the drain field is shot and hydro jetting will not help and the system will still fail-
Hydro-jetting won't work. It will clear the lines, but won't fix the water table issue.

The sellers may have to lose a deal or two before the truth sinks in.

Where's the mortgage company in all of this?
I don't think any mortgage company will lend funds with a non-functioning septic, that usually precludes the local municipality from issuing a certificate of occupancy (can't sell, can't rent).

-Disclosure, I'm a Realtor and Attorney, but I'm not your Realtor or Attorney.
 
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Old 12-13-18, 05:54 PM
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Originally Posted by Hal_S View Post
Hydro-jetting won't work. It will clear the lines, but won't fix the water table issue.

The sellers may have to lose a deal or two before the truth sinks in.

Where's the mortgage company in all of this?
I don't think any mortgage company will lend funds with a non-functioning septic, that usually precludes the local municipality from issuing a certificate of occupancy (can't sell, can't rent).

-Disclosure, I'm a Realtor and Attorney, but I'm not your Realtor or Attorney.
IDK hal.. The original septic was fine all these years and was put in with the water table as it is.

My water table was 12 ft and I had seepage pits. My septic was designed with perc test from health department. Its a misnomer the whole high water table thing.

Just my opinion though
 
  #26  
Old 12-14-18, 05:54 AM
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Originally Posted by Hal_S
Hydro-jetting won't work. It will clear the lines, but won't fix the water table issue.
The sellers may have to lose a deal or two before the truth sinks in.
Where's the mortgage company in all of this?
I don't think any mortgage company will lend funds with a non-functioning septic, that usually precludes the local municipality from issuing a certificate of occupancy (can't sell, can't rent).
-Disclosure, I'm a Realtor and Attorney, but I'm not your Realtor or Attorney.
Originally Posted by lawrosa
IDK hal.. The original septic was fine all these years and was put in with the water table as it is.

My water table was 12 ft and I had seepage pits. My septic was designed with perc test from health department. Its a misnomer the whole high water table thing.
Really depends on which part of Maryland you're in - tidewater areas can have TOO much drainage (sewage runs straight through the sandy soil into the groundwater, while the areas in the foothills, above the "fall line" are mostly shale and clay, which often don't drain enough.

To understand this, it helps to think like a farmer. Plow, harrow till.
For hundreds of years, Maryland farmers spend huge amounts of time and effort, plowing creating rows of soil, then harrowing (ripping out roots and rocks) and then tilling (mixing all the crumbled dirt up). Also include adding limestone, hay and chaff - all of that was done to break up the clay soil so that it breathes and holds water.

For most of the east coast, if your in a development that was built on a former agricultural field, the land development company scraped off the top soil which took farmers 100 years to make, and sold it off, or used for landscaping at their prior development.

Even if your lot kept that "good" top soil, once you stop plowing, harrowing and tilling, the soil returns to dense clay in, oh, about 20 years.

Next is the way septic systems were made- they're basically stone in trenches with a pipe.
Ask anybody with a stone driveway, does the stone break down? Answer is usually "Yes".

East coast, you'll generally have four types of stone, each local quarry will usually only have 1 type of stone.
In terms of desirability, they are red-shale, sandstone, blue shale, diabase "aka gray granite".

If a trench septic system is constructed with granite gravel, it cost 2x as much, but will last effectively forever, because granite doesn't really decompose due to water and frost.
A septic system made with soft red shale is cheap, but can fail in under 10 years.

Finally, if a local road or highway changed their drainage, or the drain pipe under a neighbors driveway collapsed, you can have a change in the water table.


Any, or all of these, is enough to kill a traditional trench septic system. If the adjacent 2 homes have sandmounds, the Sellers need to budget for installing a sandmound.
 

Last edited by Hal_S; 12-14-18 at 06:21 AM.
  #27  
Old 12-14-18, 07:01 AM
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A lot of moving parts here....my gut feeling is for you to walk away from this property.
 
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