Septic system vs hooking up to sewer

Hi, long time lurker, first time poster to this forum…

There’s a petition I’ve been asked to sign to bring sewers to our neighborhood. There are about 100 houses, all on 1/2 acre lots, all on septic fields, and all built about 25 years ago. Some of my neighbors’ septic fields are beginning to fail, prompting this petition.

I can’t decide if the up-front costs, and the 15 year assessment are worth it. My gut says yes, but I can’t find any evidence making this the no-brainer I’d hoped for.

25 years ago, our neighborhood was quite rural, but now, new homes are being built all around. These new homes are being built right on top of each other - five to an acre, and are fetching quite a bit more than what my wife and I paid when we moved into our older neighborhood a year ago :). My thought is that bringing modern sewers to my mature 1/2 acre lot, surrounded by these new more-expensive postage-stamp-sized lots, will pay for itself and then some in terms of equity and resale value.

But a $5k up-front lump sum, and $15k assessment is a lot harder to swallow if it’s unneccessary and doesn’t help the resale an equal amount. Especially since our septic system was inspected when we moved in, and deemed worthy.

So my question is, does anyone have an opinion or first hand experience whether this is worth it?


  1. You might as well do it now while you have some control over the costs, rather than wait until it’s totally built up all around you, and more and more of your neighbors’ systems are failing, and the city makes you do it. Then it’ll be totally out of your hands.

  2. It’s called “bowing to the inevitable”. No way the suburbanites of the year 2020 are gonna want to have to deal with septic systems, even if there were room for all of them, which it doesn’t sound like. These people in the houses with beige vinyl siding on the postage stamp lots don’t have the background to deal with septic systems. Where they come from, you flush and it’s gone forever. And the people who DO buy these houses are going to have problems reselling THEM, if there’s no city sewer. They won’t like that.

  3. Go for it. Besides, it’s marvelous to be able to flush the toilet without having to worry about what’s going on out there in the side yard, not to mention never having to call the pumpout guy again. Are you familiar with the term “an S.E.P. field”? It’s from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and stands for “Somebody Else’s Problem”. You can put a great big S.E.P. field around your solid waste problem forever, with city sewer.

  4. How could it NOT add resale value to your home? Trust me, prospective home buyers don’t want to have to fool around with [ick] “septic tanks”.

  5. It’ll help the resale if the choice is between “house with septic tank–not interested” and “house with city sewer–hmmm”.

  6. And when one septic system starts to fail, it usually means they’re all gonna fail. (I’m such a cynic…) But seriously, it has to do with soil conditions, and subsidence, and stuff like that, and if heavy construction is interfering with the normal water percolation, you could suddenly find that everybody’s septic is no longer functioning properly.

See the bumper sticker? “Shit Happens”. :smiley:

And when “shit happens” in your neighborhood, that used to be oh-so-cozy and rural, but now is inhabited by cranky white collar strangers who are totally paranoid about shit, and if the “shit” that’s happening is YOUR septic, then baby, look out. You may find yourself paying through the nose for emergency city sewer hookup, and you may find yourself heartily wishing you’d signed the petition back in 2001. :wink:

Around here, the water table is normally pretty high, especially in the rainy season. We had a whole lot of septic systems as the town grew, with only the city proper incorporating a sewer system.

Now, with the explosive boom in homes, the ground has become saturated in areas with waste water from septic tanks. Bacteria is showing up in drinking wells, flowing into canals, rivers, lakes and streams. When it rains, it gets worse. So, after several freshwater rivers became heavily contaminated year after year with human bacteria, the city started expanding the sewer systems into the county. Naturally, the hookup was expensive and wanted up front, but when people complained, they were allowed to pay the stiff charge off over years with their taxes. Because of the amount of ground wells, which started not only lowering the fresh ground water levels in some areas but started drawing in tainted septic water from local tanks, they had to run city water out there also.

I mean, you have a block of houses, equal to 2 city blocks, containing 24 homes, each with a septic tank and drain field and a freshwater well and something is going to happen eventually.

A friend of mine has lived in a rural area for 40 years with a well and septic tank. His home was one of 3 on the wooded block and one of about 12 in a 8 block area. Now, his house is one of 22 on the block and 1 of around 60 in the area. The first problem was his well going dry because of everyone else sucking up the water so he had it drilled deeper. The second problem was minor flooding in the rainy season because newer building codes required new homes built higher on filled lots, so water drains off of them and into his original, lower lot. Then his fresh water started getting tainted with sulfured water as others drove their wells deeper and sucked down the water level. Then, well tests in some areas and local ditches started showing bacteria pollution from all of the septic field seepage.

If he had his way, he’d have burned everyone else out, but the law frowns on that, so he hooked up to the water and sewer when it came around. Due to the monthly charge on water, he keeps his well for watering his grass, garden and so on.

I think the voices of reason have spoken here, meara. We had a septic tank too (and our own well) when I was a kid, but that was in a rural area near a big wildlife refuge. When population density gets beyond a certain point, it’s no longer convenient or sanitary for everybody to be in charge of their own water and wastes. Either resign yourself to assimilating to the Pipe Borg or put on your Daniel Boone cap and head out to find some more elbow room. :slight_smile:

I’m really in favor of sewers. The district will be having a public hearing soon for our neighborhood, and I’m sure there’ll be some original inhabitants there who are dead set against. I’d like to be able to argue in favor, and back it up with some data.

However, I’ll definitely use the “shit happens” line (Too perfect, thanks DDG :smiley: )

Question…do people in the area have private wells too? Do they want more septic systems hovering over the same aquifer that they get their drinking water from?

Another concern…historically, people flushed nasty solvents (trichloroethylene) in order to clean out their septic systems. These chemicals make it into drinking water and can increase the risk of cancer. This practice has probably been stopped, but I’ll bet you can still find people still flushing nasty stuff (besides the normal nasty stuff that is supposed to be there :slight_smile: ).

IMHO, septic systems are good for isolated residences. Towns in full swing need a municipal sewer system in order to protect human health and the environment. It’s expensive to hook up a sewer system, but what price do you put on health?

This is an excellent point. I live in a very rural area; we are on a well & septic. Our well is polluted from somebody’s cows, outhouse or septic tank (possibly our own). We solved the problem with a UV treatment system, which kills the nasties but does not change the delicious taste of our water. If you are on a well, eventually you will be drinking water that has percolated down from your drainfield, even if you have a properly functioning system. In certain soils, this is not a problem, but for many it is.

Fact is people don’t know how to live with a septic tank. It must be pumped every four or five years. You must not overload it by doing three or four loads of laundry in one day. Even a properly maintained system will need to be replaced every 30-40 years ($$$$). Don’t bother with the flushable stuff you buy in a can to promote healthy septic systems: If you crap in your toilet, that’s all the bacteria the tank needs to digest incoming solids.

I say go for it. It will increase the resale value of your home, and if you and your neighbors are on wells, you’ll be the healthier for it.

Some data on septic tanks, including “where to put a septic tank”. (Answer–not right next door to your neighbor’s house.)

The tank itself must be 15 feet from a dwelling, 5 feet from a property line or easements, 500 feet from a public water supply, 50 feet from a well or suction water supply line, 10 feet from a pressure water supply line, and 50 feet from any surface waters (ponds, etc.)

The absorption field must be 30 feet from a dwelling, 5 feet from a property line or easements, 500 feet from a public water supply, 100 feet from a well or suction line, 25 feet from a pressure water supply line, and 50 feet from any surface waters.

So I would assume that your field is probably far enough away from them, technically. However, it’s not unknown for contractors to just go ahead and build anyway, no matter how inconveniently close to a septic system their little subdivision project happens to be. (It’s also not unknown for contractors to just not be aware that that big field over there is a septic system.) You might go out there and do some measuring, lest you find out the hard way that all your new neighbors have discovered that their houses were actually built much too close to your absorption field, and they want you to dismantle it RIGHT NOW! Because obviously they can’t move their houses five feet to the left… :smiley:

And there’s one more thing to think about–runoff from all those patios and driveways.

Your water flow patterns are bound to change.

Also, your new neighbors may not realize that that nice big “vacant lot” down the street is really your absorption field. I see kids with ATVs and snowmobiles in your future.

This is because it compacts the soil and thus interferes with percolation. You’ll turn into the “Get Outta My Yard!” neighbor. :smiley: