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Water Wells & Septic systems - what should I know

We are probably purchasing a weekend place in the country that has a well and a septic system.

I've never lived someplace with a well before. My parents had one after they retired, but it apparently had fantastic water quality, and my dad passed away years ago, so I don't think I can get much info from my mom about living with a well.

The house that we lived in when I was 3-4 years old in the 70s had a septic system, but that's the last time we lived someplace with a septic system.

Is there regular maintenance?

Are there things to do or not do?

Are there things to watch out for?

We're going to get a water quality test done so we know what we're dealing with, but it'll be weeks before the results are back. I found a site that has test results for other wells in the same quality. All of the results look good for the dangerous stuff, arsenic, lead, etc....

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Old 09-23-2020, 08:26 PM
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Call a septic tank installer in the area...pick his brain a bit. Septic tanks do need to be pumped from time to time, depending on how many people contribute yo yjr system, how big the tank, etc.

Codes vary from area to area...that's why I suggest local knowlege. Perhaps a realtor could help with info on the particular system...when installed, tank material, tank size, etc.

It's pretty $pendy to replace a system, so do your homework before deciding whether of not to buy.
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Old 09-23-2020, 10:19 PM
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County requires us to pump every 5 years at one house. No requirement at the other house...just dependent on usage. Cannot have trees or bushes in drainfield or the root can damage system. Should not put significant kitchen scraps into system via disposal.

Well usually has some at least one large filter that needs changed every six months or so depending on clay/dirt in the water. Well pumps are not designed to run continuously...so a leaky line of water left on a couple days can take it out (overheats). I pull breakers when away for long period.
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Old 09-23-2020, 11:12 PM
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Do not have a septic tank inspection done, if it is found to be out of code (size of tank vs bedrooms in house), you will have to bring the entire system up to date at an absolute minimum of $10,000 before an occupancy permit is approved. Many old tanks work very well, and just need to be pumped about every 5 years.

Having a well is no big deal at all, but most likely will need a salt water softner system to make the water more palatable, and less hard on appliances, and laundry. There will also be a water filter that needs to be changed periodically (5 minute job).
Old 09-24-2020, 02:27 AM
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Ideally your septic system is gravity fed, these days most are not.

Pressurized systems can be 1/4 - 1/2 the size of a gravity fed system so most people go with a pump based system to save money and space on the install. In university, we lived at a place with a pump fed system where the pump was always acting up and could be counted on to cause problems whenever we had a party.

Unable to remember the last time that gravity acted up, I put in a gravity fed system when I built my house and it is 600’ long and 3’ wide which is excessive for a 3 BR house. The size is based on the percolation rate of your soil, the width of your channels, and number of bedrooms. Had I went pressurized, it would have cut the size in half. Had I used chambers, it would have further cut it in half.

In 10 years, I have pumped my tank out once and am probably due for another pump out. The frequency depends on what you put into your system. You can’t put stuff down the toilet that you might in the city. Things such as womanly products, condoms, and even Kleenex are a no-no. They down break down like the normal ‘organics’ and toilet paper do and can plug your system or just collect in your tank.

Older systems may not have a tank and a field. They may consist of an old car that has been filled with sand and buried.

Other possibilities are a septic mound which is a purpose built mound of sand and filter cloth with appropriate side angles (angle of repose) and the right surface area or surface discharge...

Remember that systems are designed so that the sewage flows into a tank where bacteria breaks down the solids, the it flows through a ~1/2” diameter syphen into the 4” septic pipe and into your field where it is spread out evenly. The liquid is supposed to flow up to surface where it waters the grass on top or evaporates. It is NOT supposed to flow down into the ground where it could contaminate your ground water.

As a rule of thumb, the septic field should be at least 150’ from your well which can be difficult to do on a 1-2 acre parcel (see why a pump based system starts to make sense?).

Don’t get too hung up on water well quality if everything else checks out. Our well water is not optimal but we knock out the iron with depressurization at our cistern and subsequently running it through a water softener. Our drinking water goes through a RO system.

There are other more expensive options that can clean up whatever water issues you may have.

Best of luck.
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Old 09-24-2020, 02:50 AM
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Another important thing to check...where does the 'gray water' currently go?
Sinks, showers, washing machine....all should go someplace other than the septic system....if possible.
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Old 09-24-2020, 03:17 AM
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Well: Chlorinate at least once per year
Septic: I add Rid-X once or twice per year.

On the septic, I'd find the lids for the tank and check flow through the system (water in, water out) just to make sure the outlet from the tank is flowing. With a leach field you can typically see the field when it's dry out (grass over the field will be greener) no advice on sand filter bed, don't have any experience with them.

On the well, it would be nice to know how old the pump and pressure tank are and how deep the well is. Open the toilet tanks and see if there's an orange slime in the tank. If there is you have iron and possibly bacterial iron which isn't a big deal but it costs extra money to filter that out.
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Old 09-24-2020, 03:29 AM
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We've done nothing to our septic system in over 20 years in the house. Being well trained in what NOT to put down the toilet may have helped. Gray water goes in but never any kitchen garbage.
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Old 09-24-2020, 04:16 AM
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The house my wife and I have retired in has a well and septic tank . My advice below .

1. Make sure you know exactly where the septic tank and leach field is . If there are no visible covers to the tank it probably hasn't been pumped out . You will need to find the tank and then dig down to find the covers . My sewer guy says pump out every 10 years for us , it is just my wife and I and we have a 1000 gallon tank .

2. A well is easily visible as there usually is a foot of it exposed above ground but it could be hidden under a decorative cover . Having the water tested to get a baseline on quality is a good step . Just keep in mind that quality can change . Also I would have a " well guy " check the recovery rate . That tells you how many gallons per minute the well can support .

In our case we have good water quality but we have grit in the water due to very rocky ground . So I installed a simple inline water filter where the water comes into the house . That way all fixtures in the house are protected . Depending on your water quality you may have to replace fixtures and water heater so keep that in mind .

Good luck with the purchase .
Old 09-24-2020, 04:34 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by on2wheels52 View Post
We've done nothing to our septic system in over 20 years in the house. Being well trained in what NOT to put down the toilet may have helped. Gray water goes in but never any kitchen garbage.
Which is.....????
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Old 09-24-2020, 04:57 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ckelly78z View Post
Do not have a septic tank inspection done, if it is found to be out of code (size of tank vs bedrooms in house), you will have to bring the entire system up to date at an absolute minimum of $10,000 before an occupancy permit is approved. Many old tanks work very well, and just need to be pumped about every 5 years.

Having a well is no big deal at all, but most likely will need a salt water softner system to make the water more palatable, and less hard on appliances, and laundry. There will also be a water filter that needs to be changed periodically (5 minute job).
Interesting, thx.
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Old 09-24-2020, 04:58 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by unclebilly View Post
Ideally your septic system is gravity fed, these days most are not.

Pressurized systems can be 1/4 - 1/2 the size of a gravity fed system so most people go with a pump based system to save money and space on the install. In university, we lived at a place with a pump fed system where the pump was always acting up and could be counted on to cause problems whenever we had a party.

Unable to remember the last time that gravity acted up, I put in a gravity fed system when I built my house and it is 600’ long and 3’ wide which is excessive for a 3 BR house. The size is based on the percolation rate of your soil, the width of your channels, and number of bedrooms. Had I went pressurized, it would have cut the size in half. Had I used chambers, it would have further cut it in half.

In 10 years, I have pumped my tank out once and am probably due for another pump out. The frequency depends on what you put into your system. You can’t put stuff down the toilet that you might in the city. Things such as womanly products, condoms, and even Kleenex are a no-no. They down break down like the normal ‘organics’ and toilet paper do and can plug your system or just collect in your tank.

Older systems may not have a tank and a field. They may consist of an old car that has been filled with sand and buried.

Other possibilities are a septic mound which is a purpose built mound of sand and filter cloth with appropriate side angles (angle of repose) and the right surface area or surface discharge...

Remember that systems are designed so that the sewage flows into a tank where bacteria breaks down the solids, the it flows through a ~1/2” diameter syphen into the 4” septic pipe and into your field where it is spread out evenly. The liquid is supposed to flow up to surface where it waters the grass on top or evaporates. It is NOT supposed to flow down into the ground where it could contaminate your ground water.

As a rule of thumb, the septic field should be at least 150’ from your well which can be difficult to do on a 1-2 acre parcel (see why a pump based system starts to make sense?).

Don’t get too hung up on water well quality if everything else checks out. Our well water is not optimal but we knock out the iron with depressurization at our cistern and subsequently running it through a water softener. Our drinking water goes through a RO system.

There are other more expensive options that can clean up whatever water issues you may have.

Best of luck.
I can't say for sure. I know that the house is ~100 years old. Based on the survey, it looks like the well and septic tanks are 150-200' apart. There is a concrete square behind the house with 2 concrete doors/plugs. I suspect that means there are tanks, not an old car. But that's interesting. Lots of good info, thanks.
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Old 09-24-2020, 05:04 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rfuerst911sc View Post
The house my wife and I have retired in has a well and septic tank . My advice below .

1. Make sure you know exactly where the septic tank and leach field is . If there are no visible covers to the tank it probably hasn't been pumped out . You will need to find the tank and then dig down to find the covers . My sewer guy says pump out every 10 years for us , it is just my wife and I and we have a 1000 gallon tank .

2. A well is easily visible as there usually is a foot of it exposed above ground but it could be hidden under a decorative cover . Having the water tested to get a baseline on quality is a good step . Just keep in mind that quality can change . Also I would have a " well guy " check the recovery rate . That tells you how many gallons per minute the well can support .

In our case we have good water quality but we have grit in the water due to very rocky ground . So I installed a simple inline water filter where the water comes into the house . That way all fixtures in the house are protected . Depending on your water quality you may have to replace fixtures and water heater so keep that in mind .

Good luck with the purchase .
Thanks, yeah, there's a "pump house" for the well, looks like a big dog house. And the septic tank caps are obvious too. I think I remember the realtor saying that the septic was pumped in 2018.
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Old 09-24-2020, 05:10 AM
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We had a house with a well.. There was an electric pump. If the power went out, so did water from the well. Is there back up power in these cases? While I can't speak to your location, are there any county plans afoot where if your well/septic fail, you would have to connect to county sewer/water? That also happened to a house where my folks lived. About $15-20k for either.. county connection or replace septic.

If you do have the septic inspected, and its NOT up to code, it would be up to you or the seller to work out the $$.. but I would bet in some places, its up to the seller to ensure code prior to sale.
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Old 09-24-2020, 06:10 AM
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The records from 2018 might have notes on the condition of the tank, whether any baffles were replaced or should be replaced, etc. Walk the leach field to look for wet spots that would indicate broken tiles or plugged lines. See if there is a distribution box. If there is one you can take the lid off and observe the flow when you turn on all the faucets and flush the toilets. Same with the tank. The fluid level shouldn’t rise much. You can push a long pole straight down into the tank. If solids are less than 1/3 the depth of the tank you are Ok for now.
I would get a flow test on the well. Make sure it can supply all the water you might need.
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Last edited by wdfifteen; 09-24-2020 at 06:15 AM..
Old 09-24-2020, 06:12 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by masraum View Post
Which is.....????
Anything that won't break down, most common items are sanitary napkins, baby wipes, tissue, etc. This might not be an issue with you and your wife but if you have visiting young (city) women they have to be educated. Also you don't want to use bleach cleaners and you have to use septic safe TP etc. We stopped using Costco TP, it says it's septic safe but I can see it doesn't break down well.

Best investment is I installed risers with covers on the tank so I don't need to dig to find the covers. We have two grown kids and their friends so we pump the tank every 3 years.
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Old 09-24-2020, 06:55 AM
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Have not been here in a while and saw this interesting bit....

Well: How deep is the well? Where is it placed in reference to the septic?

I am assuming you are looking at places in Southeast Texas. In the Piney Woods many wells have a high level of sulpher. I would test the water through Texas A&M. You can get some very good, sweet water in that area!

Make sure of the rate of available water. We really, really loved this one place which was EXTREMELY secluded. Felt wonderful and had the perfect topography for cattle and hunting with a small area for growing hay. Available water was estimated at less than 1 GPM at 300+ feet. Not very much water! The previous people were taking off a three acre lake and filtering. We passed but do somewhat regret the decision.


Septic: Most older systems are going to be drop systems. These will have fields for draining. They can work very well and give zero issues when maintained properly. We have had them and liked them. Last one was huge and had not been pumped since the early 1970s. Did not need it.

Check on zoning, some areas MAY require you to upgrade to an aerobic system no matter what you have or have not done or tested. My aerobic system was not that expensive. Check around!

Our current system is similar to what a small city utilizes. It cost barely more than a large drop system with multiple lines. We have a 1500 gallon first stage drop tank. There is a three station "processing plant" behind the unit. It provides further breakdown of components. The final stage pumps water and we have a watering system which waters a huge butterfly garden with lots of permanent plants. The water comes out the same quality as if we were a small cities processing plant. The installer joked it was of good enough quality to drink coming out. There is ZERO odor, system runs well but does require electricity to operate the air pump (does make droning noise) and the water pump to the spray nozzles.


Living with septic:

No processing of kitchen waste down the sink, this means do not even think of using a grinder. Kitchen waste does not breakdown easily in the system. Make a compost pile, much easier to manage. No hygiene products down the toilet. No wet wipes down the toilet.

Remember any chemicals going down the drains and into the septic system WILL end up on your land. No oils, toxins, other things you do not want to see again. You will kill the good microbes!

Run microbes into your system. Change the filters/chemicals as necessary. We do not use any chlorine/chlorox products in our system. All soaps we use are septic safe as is all toilet paper. Most toilet papers today are septic safe and they state as much on the labelling. We have an automatic dishwasher and use septic safe products from Cascade, they are no more expensive and are readily available locally.
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Old 09-24-2020, 07:27 AM
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Oh, and salt water is only an issue nearer the coast if I remember correctly for SE Texas....
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Old 09-24-2020, 07:29 AM
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I agree with Mark Henry on the risers , if you don't have access once you do dig down install risers . I did that on ours and now any time an inspection or pump out needs to be performed remove 8-10 screws from the riser cover and you are there . The principle of a septic tank is pretty basic . Water and solids enter the tank , the solids go to the bottom and the liquids flow out to the leach field . The solids break down due to mold/enzymes in the tank .

Unfortunately most areas do not allow grey water to go into a separate tank so it all goes into the septic . Soapy water from showers/sinks/dishwasher/washing machine along with bleach and other chemicals has a tendency to kill the mold/enzymes needed to break down the solids . That's why there are products like Rid-X and others to add the bacteria back into the system . Old timers just flushed yeast down the crapper to feed the tank . Really anything that will promote mold/enzyme growth in the tank is good . Likewise anything that kills that growth is bad .
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Old 09-24-2020, 07:34 AM
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Talk to local septic pumpers, well service people.

Oils, fats, thinners, paints, parts cleaning stuff - keep them out of the tank.

Our PO had some morons working on the place, if there are faults below the ground, local septic pumpers may have noted them, as well as the location of the tank access hatches. Ask if you can see prior pumping and particularly, repair invoices very illuminating. Getting the history may help you save time and money, locating components.
Our po had a sprinkler system put in and the retard running the ditch *****, cut the top of the septic output elbow off and bandaided it with perforated pipe and a plastic trash bag - gee, wonder why it leaked and the county nailed us.
The po had the sprinkler guys drunk brother run the drain line from the new mother in law so low, below the house main line, he had to depress the main line to intercept the new input, poop does not like to flow uphill. This was noted on a pumping report.
Doing a little digging to investigate our leakage, we found the feckless brothers that had done the above sterling plumbing, brought in their criminally insane cousin to plumb in a downspout drain system, which collected gutter water from 2500 square feet of roof and he ran the perforated pipe system out over the leach field.

As has been pointed out, it is wise, (sorry Wayne), to have a low pressure cut off switch installed, so if the water level in the well is low, drought, or a pipe breaks, emptying the well, the pump does not run continuously and burn up. Don’t ask how I know ;-)

Local well guys usually have a good idea of what might need to be filtered out and what it might cost to have installed.
Ask your realtor, or neighbors who does good work and knows the area.

Do not use Feckless Septic and plumbing

chris

Old 09-24-2020, 08:00 AM
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