Common Septic System and Well Problems

Septic and well problems are devastating issues to have after purchasing a property. Keep an eye out for common septic system and well problems before making a purchase. It is often best to get an inspector who specializes in septic and well to take a look.

If you do hire an inspector make sure to write down any problems with the well or septic you notice to bring to their attention. Take a picture of any problems like pooling water. A photo will be more accurate than trying to remember exactly what you were planing to point out to them.

Common Sewer System Problems 

City Sewer

First just a few notes on a property connected to the city sewer. This is usually less maintenance than a septic system but there can still be problems. Many of the same warning signs for a septic tank leaking and a sewer line leaking can be similar.

Look at the pipes. If the pipes are cast iron or galvanized steel and old it may be best to replace them. These two materials can rust from the inside out and aren’t typically use in newer construction. ABS is a black plastic pipe that may be present. If in good shape and allowed in the local codes it may be ok to leave it. White PVC pipe is usually what is used now. It is BPA free plastic pipe and won’t rust.

When looking at an old property keep in mind it may cost anywhere from a few hundred dollars to several thousand to replace old sewer pipes. If an old house has PVC pipe in good shape it has probably been updated in recent years and that could be a good selling point.

Rural Septic Systems

The whole septic systems are the responsibility of the owner. That means if something goes bad it can get expensive to fix. Finding issues before buying a property or using the problems to negotiate the price or fixing a problem before it’s a big problem can a ton of money in the end.

Make sure to walk around outside where the septic tank is and drainage field. Also, check inside where the pipes drain into the septic tank. Signs there might be a problem,

  • Foul smell. Bad smells inside by the septic pipes or outside near the septic tank. This can be a sign things are backing up and you may end up with a crappy situation on your hands.
  • Water or sewage backing up. This can also smell or it may just appear as water backing up and not draining.
  • Drains are slow. This may not be as extreme as water backing up but very slow drains can be a sign there is a problem.
  • Toilet won’t flush. When a toilet isn’t plugged but won’t flush the water isn’t draining just like drains that are slow or not draining.
  • Gurgling sound. If there is a loud gurgling sound it could be caused by a couple of things. The drain may be partially clogged or not vented properly.
  • Standing water near the septic system. Puddles of water near the septic system aren’t usually a good sign. If it has rained and water remains puddled around the septic system this can be a sign the drainage field is saturated and not draining well. Heavy rains and flooding can cause issues with the septic system. A properly maintained septic system will be less likely to have problems but unnaturally heavy rain has the potential to cause problems with any system.
  • Green grass. Gorgeous green grass even during a dry spell? This could be a sign of water not draining well. The grass may get a boost and look great in that spot but that isn’t a good thing.
  • Trees near the septic system. If you see someone planted trees and bushes near the septic tank if there isn’t damage yet the plants will probably cause damage eventually. If mature trees are close to the septic system there could be damage from the roots. Trees and plants can also clog up sewer pipes connected to the city sewer. Plan to get rid of any trees too close.
  • Signs something heavy has been on the drainage field. Vehicles or large equipment used over the area can cause damage and the septic system won’t drain properly. If there are signs of large equipment (vehicle or tractor) has been used over the leach field it could have caused damage.

Ask for information from sellers about when the septic system was last pumped. If it is a bank-owned house they may simply not know. Any signs that there could be a problem get a professional out to assess it.

Well Problems

A private well can last 30-50 years or more. If a well was recently drilled by professionals that well is a great selling point. The new owners shouldn’t have to worry about the well going bad for years. Old wells may have years worth of longevity left but if they go bad a new well can cost anywhere from $5,000 to $15,000 or more depending on the depth and where you live.

Knowing if a well is in good shape or not is hard for the average person to assess. There are a few things you can look for but unless it was just put in very recently a professional should really look at the well. A few things to look for with a well are,

  • No water. Unless the power is shut off no water is a pretty big sign there is a problem with the well, pump, or tank.
  • Sputtering water. Any air in the line will cause sputtering and spitting. It can come in from the well or somewhere in the line. It is difficult to tell where water is getting in.
  • Very little water pressure. This could be an issue with the tank, pump, or well.
  • The septic system is to close. The septic system should be at least 100ft away in most places. Check with local codes to see if this differs in your area. As long as professionals put in the septic and well they should know that local codes and place everything appropriately for the area.
  • The water is cloudy or muddy.
  • There is a funny smell to the water. The water may need to be treated, there could be an issue with the pipes. No one wants a house will bad smelling water.
  • Cap is not sealed. There should be a pipe in the yard at least 12″ high with a sealed cap on the top. If the cap is not sealed that is a problem. It could be letting contaminates in.
  • The ground sloped toward the well. The ground should slope gradually away from the well. The well should also not be in an area where runoff drains to.
  • Make sure no one has set up a dog pen or any sort of animal pen near the well.

Paying for a well inspection can seem like an added expense but it could save thousands in the end.


When considering purchasing a property but run into any of these potential problems get a professional involved. No one wants to run into a smelly septic mess or end up with no water. Consider these costs even before making an offer on the property. It is better to spend a few hundred on inspections and decide against buying a property than to be thousands in debt after.

If you have ever run into septic or well problems let me know in the comments what the problem was and what was done to fix it. Feel free to let me know if you know of any other warning signs the septic or well is going bad and I’ll add them to the list.

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