07/08/2017: "Almost Everything You Want To Know About Septic Systems -And Then Some..."
By Merri Ann Simonson
As a Real Estate Agent, we are constantly learning and then sharing our knowledge with our clients. We must even expand our knowledge into some related industries that are not comfortable to discuss with a client, such as septic systems and their functions. The real estate industry isn’t just cars and contracts; it includes other really interesting stuff as well.
DO-IT-YOURSELF INSPECTIONS. If you want to thoroughly understand how your system functions, you too can become a septic inspector for your own system. Do-it-yourself inspections are not allowed on the fully self-contained units such as the Advantech systems. Those must be inspected by one of the licensed designers on an annual basis due to the high level of technology. However, the Whitewater system may be self-inspected, if the property owner has taken the County class and been approved by the local Whitewater representative.
It is recommended that you do not conduct a self-inspection if you are processing it for the purpose of a sale on your property. That final inspection should be left up to the professionals due to the liability associated with do-it-yourself inspections and purchase contracts. Further, the County will not accept homeowner inspections for those inspections done as part of a real estate transaction.
If you desire to conduct your own inspections, classes are taught regularly at the County. You can contact the Health Department at 378-4474 to reserve your place in the class.
SYSTEM FAILURE. If your system fails, you will typically be granted a repair permit. Failed septic systems cause great damage to our environment so the repair permit process is regularly expedited. Systems fail for a variety of reasons; a few of the most common include surface damage, roots, lack of maintenance, and the worst is toilet paper and grease.
We can’t consider all aspects of a septic system without a riveting discussion about toilet paper. I know that TV ads claim that “Brand X” is great for your bum but it is a major problem for your septic system. Any of the soft cushy brands may fill up your tank. The thin types that break down easier may cause problems for your drain field. One expert was quoted to say “you should select a brand like Goldie Locks, not too thick and not too thin”. One should note that it is less expensive to pump out a tank than it is to repair a drain field.
Other preventive measures include using your garbage disposal sparingly, (if at all) use environmental safe bleach and cleaning products, don’t flush or rinse your paint equipment into the system; even water based paints are a problem. Don’t let a leaky toilet or faucet saturate your system. Protect your drain field from groundwater with a curtain drain that diverts the water. Don’t plant deep rooted shrubs or trees on or near the drain field or tank. Just like a boat, don’t flush anything not eaten first. Don’t pump unless needed.
The goal is to not kill off nature’s bacteria. There are numerous additives marketed for septic systems which according to some experts are a waste of money.
All newer systems that have a pump also have an alarm that lets you know immediately if your system is unhappy 24-7.
REMODEL. If you desire to enlarge the size of your system, it is a fairly easy project as long as the soil conditions support the expansion. Further, if your system is non-conforming due to location or age, it will be possible to repair should the need arise, but you may not be able to grow the size as that will increase the non-conformity, unless a different location on the site is available that will meet current code requirements.
I know that reading an article about septic systems and their functions isn’t the best entertainment but it is important that property owners and buyers understand the importance of the systems. Unless you live in town or at the Roche Harbor Resort; you are served by an on-site sewage system.
(Merri Ann Simonson is the Managing Broker/Sales Manager of Coldwell Banker San Juan Islands Inc
She can be reached at Simonson@sanjuanislands.com, and at: 360 378-2101)