Do All Houses Have Septic Tanks? (How To Find Out)

Buying a home is an exciting time! You probably have a large wishlist of things you want your home to have, but what about a septic tank? Maybe it hasn’t crossed your mind, but if you’re planning on moving to a rural area, you’ll probably have to deal with a septic tank.

Not all houses have septic tanks. Homes in large cities and towns are usually connected to a sewer system, so they don’t have to deal with the maintenance associated with septic systems. However, if you’re living in a rural area, you’ll probably have a septic tank.

If you’ve never dealt with a septic system before, you might be concerned about buying a home in a rural area. However, septic systems aren’t anything to be nervous about! We’ll cover some of the basics about septic tanks and systems so you know what to expect.

Types of Septic Systems You May Have For Your House

There are many types of septic systems available. All types of septic systems can fall under two categories, which are conventional and alternative systems. Conventional systems are the most popular option and are usually less expensive to install and maintain than alternative systems.

The two types of conventional septic systems are called conventional and pump systems. A conventional system uses gravity to drain waste from the home through the main pipe and into the septic tank.

Then, effluent (wastewater) is separated from the solids and flows through perforated pipes into a drainfield. The drainfield is often filled with gravel or sand, which the wastewater filters through before reaching the ground.

Pump systems work almost the same way as conventional systems. The difference is that these systems use a pump instead of gravity to force the waste into the septic tank. A pump then forces the effluent through the perforated pipes into the drain field.

There’s also a chamber system, which works similarly to pump systems but uses gravelless drainfields. These systems use chambers to pretreat the wastewater before releasing it into the native soil.

Alternative systems have the same goal as conventional systems: to take wastewater from the home, break down solids in the septic tank, and treat wastewater in a drainfield before it reaches the native soil or evaporates.

Here’s a list of alternative septic systems you might see:

  • Drip Distribution System
  • Aerobic Treatment Unit
  • Mound System
  • Recirculating Sand Filter System
  • Evapotranspiration System
  • Constructed Wetland System
  • Cluster/Community System
  • Aerated Wastewater Treatment System

The type of septic system your home has will likely depend on the area your home is located in and what the previous owners thought would work best.

Why Are Some Properties Served By A Septic Tank?

Sewage systems serve the majority of the population. Anyone living in a large town or city doesn’t have to deal with managing a septic system, but those living in rural areas with low populations aren’t generally connected to a sewer system.

Some properties are served by a septic tank simply because it’s not reasonable to put a sewer system in their area. Sewer systems cost towns a lot of money to install and maintain.

Rural areas without a large population typically can’t afford to install and maintain sewer systems. The only other reasonable solution is to have homeowners install septic tanks and deal with their waste individually.

This way, the cost of the upkeep doesn’t fall on the town, and homeowners can choose a septic system that works best for their land and the number of people living on their property.

How Do I Know If My House Has A Septic Tank?

Determining whether your property has a septic tank shouldn’t be complicated. You can check several different things to see whether your house has a septic tank or is connected to a sewer system. We’ll walk you through the steps needed to see what system your home has for waste disposal.

Step 1

Some properties show obvious signs of having a septic tank, so inspecting your property carefully is the first step. You’ll want to walk around your property and look for a large cylindrical or rectangular lump of soil. This mound of soil covers the drainfield that effluent flows to from a septic tank. If you spot a big clump of earth near your home, then you likely have a septic tank.

Step 2

The next step is to consider the area your home is located in. Are you in a suburb or a highly populated area? Or, are you in a rural setting without close neighbors? Sewer systems are expensive and only used in areas with a large enough population to support them. Homes in rural areas with several acres will typically have septic tanks.

Step 3

One of the simplest ways to see if you have a septic tank or sewer access is to look at your bills. Sewers are expensive, and you’ll be billed for sewer access either independently or through your garbage or water bill. If you don’t see any charges for sewer access, then you have a septic tank.

Step 4

The final step is to request records for your property from your municipal government. Property records, building permits, and the blueprints for your home will show whether a septic tank was part of the plan for your house.

Septic Tank vs Sewer Cost

Septic tanks and sewer systems both come with a cost. Those looking to buy a home will want to factor these costs into their budget, especially if they’re buying a property that isn’t hooked up to any waste management system yet.

The initial cost for a septic system and its installation will vary pretty widely. The final cost will depend on which type of septic system you choose, the size of your septic tank, and ease of access for installation.

A septic system could cost as little as $5,000 or as much as $20,000. Installation costs can range between $3,000-$10,000 depending on the type of septic system and other factors. Once your septic system is installed, you’ll need to account for frequent maintenance. This includes inspections at least once a year and pumping the septic tank every 2-5 years.

Septic system inspections will cost between $300-$5,000 depending on the type of septic system you have and where you’re located. Pumping your tank will cost you about $250-$600.

Altogether, you’re looking at an initial cost of $8,000 on the low end and $30,000 on the high end to buy and install a septic system. Assuming you inspect and pump your tank once every three years, you’re looking at spending $550-$5,600 every few years on basic upkeep.

Sewer systems come with a very different set of costs. You must pay a hookup fee if your home isn’t already hooked to the sewer system. This will generally cost between $5,000-$20,000.

Aside from the hookup fee, you’re charged a monthly fee for the use of the sewer system. This fee will vary pretty widely by location and can cost anywhere between $20-$120 per month.

Depending on how much your local government charges for monthly sewer fees, you’ll pay about $240-$1,440 per year.

How Much Does A Septic System Cost?

The upfront cost for a septic system will depend on a couple of factors. The size of the septic tank you need and the type of septic system you’re purchasing will determine the cost.

In general, most septic systems range between $5,000-$20,000. We’ll break down the average cost of septic systems, so you know what to expect for each type.

Type of Septic SystemPrice
Conventional (Gravity & Pump) System$2,000-$7,000
Chamber System$4,000-$10,000
Drip Distribution System$4,000-$10,000
Aerobic Treatment Unit$10,000-$20,000
Mound System$10,000-$20,000
Recirculating Sand Filter System$7,000-$18,000
Evapotranspiration System$10,000-$15,000
Constructed Wetland System$4,000-$40,000
Cluster/Community System$5,000-$8,000
Aerated Wastewater Treatment System$4,000-$8,000

As you can see, costs vary pretty widely. Several factors go into determining the final cost. Ease of access for installation will reduce your cost, while harder-to-access areas will be more expensive.

Smaller ones with only one or two bedrooms will need a smaller septic tank, and their costs will be much lower than a six-bedroom home. This is one of the downsides to septic systems- the cost is different for different homes in the same area.

With sewer systems, everyone’s costs are much more similar.

How Much Does A Connection To A Public Sewer Cost?

Connection to a public sewer can be expensive. It’s the contractor’s responsibility to ensure the proper pipes are put in place to connect to the sewer system. The contractor is responsible for handling the materials and construction costs necessary to hook up a home to a public sewer.

The cost to install a new sewer line for a property ranges between $500-$2,000. This is the fee covered by property developers or contractors. As the homeowner, you’re responsible for paying the hookup and monthly sewer access fees.

Municipal governments set the fees for hooking up homes to the public sewer and the monthly fees, so this amount will be entirely dependent on your location. A hookup fee can cost anywhere between $5,000-$20,000, and monthly fees typically range between $20-$120.

One of the benefits of connecting to a public sewer system is that you won’t be responsible for any maintenance fees. It also won’t affect your property’s value, which isn’t always the case with septic systems.

Septic Tank Property Value

It’s been found that septic tanks don’t necessarily have a direct impact on property values. This means your property value won’t increase or decrease just because you have a septic system. However, some variables can affect how likely others are to buy your home when a septic system is involved.

The first factor is the condition of your septic system. Systems that have been well-maintained and cared for will still retain their initial value and be a selling point. However, neglected or failing systems can turn off potential buyers.

Another thing to consider is how recently your tank was pumped. Prospective buyers may be wary about buying a property where the septic tank hasn’t been pumped in the last couple of years. If you’re planning on selling your home and you have a septic system, then you should pump the tank before listing your property.

Is It Worth Buying A House With A Septic Tank?

For those looking to purchase a home in a rural area, your only option might be to purchase a home with septic tanks. Septic systems are a valid and effective way of dealing with waste from the home, and they won’t depreciate the value of your property.

You’ll want to discuss the condition of the septic tank with the owner before making an offer on the property. It would be helpful to see inspection records to ensure the system was properly maintained. You should also ask about their pumping schedule to make sure the tank is in good shape.

Buying A Home With A Septic Tank: Some Pointers

Some people may be wary about purchasing a home with a septic tank if they’ve never had one before. It requires more maintenance, and you must be more cautious about what you allow to go down your drains. Here are some pointers if you’re planning to purchase a home with a septic tank.

1. Know The Laws In Your Area

Septic tanks have to be installed according to local and state laws. Some places have laws regarding how frequently septic tanks need to be inspected and maintained.

There are also some places that require a septic system to undergo an inspection before the title changes hands. You’ll want to look into your local laws to ensure you’re in compliance before purchasing a home with a septic system.

2. Obtain An Inspection Of The System

You should always ask to see the records of previous inspections for homes with septic tanks. These systems should be inspected every three years to check for leaks, clogs, and proper ventilation and ensure everything is in working order.

Make sure you get an inspection of the septic system before you buy a property. This will prove the system is in good condition and working order and also alert you to any potential problems.

3. Know Your Systems’ Specifications

It’s helpful to know the specifications of the system. Knowing the size of the tank will help you understand how frequently it needs to be pumped based on how many people will be living on the property. You should also know when the tank was installed because some septic systems need to be replaced every 20-40 years.

4. Make Provisions For Routine Maintenance

Septic systems need plenty of routine maintenance. They need to be inspected at least once every three years, and your septic tank will need to be pumped once every 2-5 years. This can cost around $500-$5,000+ every three years or so. You’ll want to make sure you have room in your budget for your septic system’s upkeep.

5. What You Flush Down The Drain Should Be Carefully Considered

Septic tanks contain bacteria that break down solid waste and turn it into sludge. This bacteria can be affected by chemicals, additives, and non-biological waste.

The general rule of thumb with septic systems is only to flush human waste and toilet paper down the toilet. Try to avoid letting food particles, chemicals, and non-organic matter go down your drains.

6. Understand What Could Go Wrong

Homeowners can run into some serious problems with septic tanks if they aren’t properly maintained. Your pipes could back up and leak sewage into your home. Your yard could flood with wastewater if the drainfield isn’t properly maintained.

The septic tank could become clogged if it isn’t pumped frequently enough or if non-organic waste is flushed into it. You’ll want to have a solid understanding of the issues septic tanks can have and the warning signs so you can immediately work to resolve the problem.

7. Recognize Warning Signs Of Trouble

It’s helpful to know the warning signs before a problem with your septic tank has the chance to escalate. You want to keep an eye out for sewage smells in the home, backed-up or slow-moving drains, standing water in your yard, and odd plumbing sounds. These can all indicate an issue with your septic tank and signal the need for an immediate inspection.


All homes need a way to deal with waste. Some homes are connected to public sewer systems, while others have a septic system. Both options have a high upfront cost, but septic systems will cost you more in the long run with frequent maintenance.

However, if you’re living in a rural area, then your only option may be a home with a septic system. As long as your septic system is properly maintained and you know the warning signs of trouble, then there’s no reason not to buy a property with a septic tank.

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