Which is better, Well and Septic or Municipal and Sewer? The importance of clean water and waste removal when buying a home is obvious, but the misconceptions about whether public or private systems are better, persist. Buyers may feel that the private system is less of a financial burden because it is a one-time expense, but that is not necessarily the case, and the quality of a water table is also a factor to be considered. We decided to update our comprehensive guide published in 2015, for 2021 Buyers in our 2021 Buyer Guide to Water and Waste.
Water quality varies dramatically depending on your municipal water table and the age, depth, and health of your well. Since we published our last blog, there has been considerable press coverage of water tables, Flint Michigan most notably, that has given rise to buyers being more aware of water quality. Additionally, filtration systems, in addition to wells, are popular features for health-conscious buyers. Raleigh- Durham has potable water and is some of the best in North Carolina. For your convenience, we have included links to the 2020 Raleigh Water Reports Here and a rate calculation tool here.
Buyers under contract for a home with a well must take a few things into account. As a buyer, you need to get a Well inspected separately from the regular home inspection. In Raleigh Durham/Chapel Hill the well inspection runs from $150-250 and should include pressure of the tank, lab-tested water samples, double-check original well permits, checking the flow rate, and all filters. When having water tested be sure to test for radon, radium and uranium; this is of particular concern for buyers in western Wake and Johnston counties where naturally occuring granite deposits within the ground break down over time. Depending on the health of the well, buyers may need to replace the pressure pump, add or improve filtration systems, drill deeper or have the well hydro-fracked if there is not enough water. In certain instances, the replacement of a well is easily several years' worth of municipal water bills. This doesn't mean well water should be feared as your well may not have any of these issues, just make sure to do your diligence.
Septic systems will also need a separate inspection. In Raleigh Durham a septic inspection will cost upwards of $500 and includes pumping the tank and inspecting the septic field. Homeowners should keep in mind that tanks will need to be pumped every few years at a cost of $200- $300 and annual inspections of the field are not uncommon to remain up to code.
Maintenance of a septic system and inspection should not be forgone. If you are concerned about the $500 inspection price tag, imagine the $5,000-$50,000 replacement fee that can result from improper maintenance. One of the biggest questions that needs to be answered when buying a home with septic, that aren't covered in a standard home inspection, is whether the system is appropriately sized for the number of bedrooms in the house. Many times upgrades are made to homes without accompanying improvements to the septic system, which is illegal, in addition to dangerous. Again, the point here isn't to scare buyers from properties that have septic systems, rather it's to educate homeowners so that they can enjoy their homes with a minimum of problems. When properly designed and cared for these systems can handle the job they were designed for with minimum issues for 25+/- years.
Sewer lines are maintained by the city and most experience few problems, outside of routine blockages that may indicate the necessity to replace lines, etc. There are city forums for addressing issues with the sewers and for most buyers, it is an access issue. If you have access to a sewer, you connect. City Forum for sewer maintenance found here. There are few advantages to maintaining a septic system if you do not have to.
Pros and Cons of Public or Private Waste and Water
The biggest pro of private waste and water is the lack of monthly costs, however, maintenance must not be ignored and if you are buying a home, put aside the extra money for proper inspections of these systems. In the Triangle Area, we have a well-functioning public works department that maintains the sewer lines and the water table is excellent. It is largely a matter if you have access to city water and sewer. Homes located outside a cities limits often do not have access to either municipal water or sewer. The choice is often not so much up to the buyer if a home is already connected to municipal lines, but you need to be prepared for the maintenance and consider water and waste a factor in buying a home that is not.Posted by Martha Greenlee on