There can be many attractive advantages to selling your city or suburban home and relocating to a house out in the country -- clean air, low crime, the endless wonders of Australia's unique wildlife. Unfortunately, moving to a rural area can also mean forgoing some of the conveiniences found in more urbanised areas, and many homes in more isolated areas rely on septic tanks and other off-grid sewage disposal systems, in lieu of linkages to full-blown sewer systems, to dispose of their sewage and waste.
By no means should you write-off a potential property just because it uses a septic tank system, as a well designed and maintained off-grid sewage system requires very little upkeep, and can save you money that would otherwise go towards your utility bills. However, there are certain precautions you should take to ensure that a property's sewage disposal system is fit for purpose before you invest in your new home:
Determine what type of septic tank system the property uses
There are three main types of off-grid sewage system used by rural and isolated properties, and each comes with its own requirements and limitations:
- Cesspits are all but extinct in modern times, and are generally only found attached to the oldest rural homes. These simple storage systems do not treat or release your waste, and need to be emptied periodically by sewage disposal services.
- Septic tanks are the most common off-grid sewerage option, and consist of a large tank that stored solid waste and breaks it down using natural bacterial processes. Liquid waste products are released into a dedicated patch of nearby ground, called a soakaway, that naturally filters out contaminants before they reach waterways and other environmentally sensitive areas. They must be emptied of solid waste periodically in the same way as cesspits.
- Sewage treatment plants are essentially miniaturised versions of the treatment plants that serve urban sewer systems. They filter and sterilise your waste before releasing it into a soakaway, and rarely (if ever) need to be manually emptied.
As a general rule, homes fitted with sewage treatment plants are the most desirable option, as they require very little upkeep. Since septic tanks and cesspits need to be emptied manually, they can be more expensive to maintain, but they are also simple systems that have less capacity for mechanical failure than sewage treatment plants.
Ask for sewage system maintenance records
Whatever off-grid sewage system your prospective property uses, it will not be an easy thing to live with if it has suffered poor maintenance in the past. You should therefore ask to see detailed records of maintenance work, inspections and repairs conducted on the system. This is particularly important if the property uses a treatment plant, as poorly maintained treatment plants can fail catastrophically and are quite expensive to repair or replace.
Ask for system emptying records
If the property uses a septic tank or cesspit system, you should also seek out information on how recently it has been emptied, and how often it has been emptied in recent months and years. A tank or pit which has been emptied frequently may signify that the system is malfunctioning, or does not have the required capacity, and may be prohibitively expensive to empty and maintain if you decide to purchase the property without redesigning the system.
For more information or assistance, contact a local real estate company.