If you are evaluating a home for purchase – or building a new home – some factors are more glamorous than others. While it’s not exactly the first element that comes to mind when evaluating a new home, how your home handles wastewater is a key function of your living space. Here’s an honest comparison of pros and cons of the public sewer and private septic systems.
Essentially, there are two available types to choose from
- Public Sewer
- Anaerobic Septic Systems
Naturally, each one has some benefits as well as downsides to consider. Let’s look at each one.
Let’s Start With Public Sewer Systems
Depending on where you are, you may have the option to use public sewer — or it may be required. Sewer systems are often the only option for densely populated areas like cities that just don’t have the space for septic systems. However if you have the space for a septic system, you have the opportunity to weigh the upsides and downsides.
The Benefits of Public Sewer Systems
- Easy maintenance
- No pumping schedule
- Less worry about what to flush
- No digging up the yard
The primary benefit of using a public sewer system is the maintenance factor. Because the wastewater pipes drain the entire contents of your household waste out of the home into the main wastewater facility immediately upon going down the drain, you never have to worry about pumping out a tank or performing occasional maintenance.
Residents need to be mindful of what they flush so that they don’t clog the internal pipes in their home, but they don’t need to worry about several substances such as household chemicals, food waste, and other items that can damage a septic system.
And lastly, aside from the initial excavation to lay a pipe to bring the wastewater from your building to the main sewer pipe in the stress, there is no digging up the yard for pumping, or changing the landscape because of a septic tank or a drainfield.
The Downsides of Public Sewer Systems
- Costly annual bills
- Rates are subject to change by your municipality
- Hooking up to public sewer system can be expensive
However, the tradeoff is that connecting to and using a public sewer system can be costly. There are high annual fees that can range from $600-$800 per year – which is well over the cost of pumping your septic tank, even if you pumped annually.
In addition, municipal wastewater bills are subject to the rates set by the municipality you live in. Recent studies have tracked the upward trends in the average municipal water and sewer rates in the U.S.
The process of hooking into the town sewer for both new and existing construction can be costly. In addition to excavation and labor, there are often permits and fees to access the sewer system for the first time. During times of any utility switch, you may see a short disruption in service.
Property owners should know that hooking your home up to the local system does not make your home immune to backups. If there is a clog in the pipe or issues with the town sewer, there is a small chance that the community wastewater can back up into your home as well.
In addition, wastewater treatment plants are not exactly environmentally friendly. There are high levels of bacteria, pathogens, and viruses to be removed before the wastewater can safely be returned back into the local environment, and the treatment plants rely heavily on strong chemicals for the cleaning process.
What’s the Alternative? Private Septic Systems
If you don’t want to connect to a town sewer system, you have two different types of private residential septic systems to choose from.
The Benefits to Private Septic Systems
- No large annual fees
- Annual pumping maintenance is usually less than sewer fees
- Environmentally friendly because water is filtered naturally
- No chemical use
Private septic systems can be an attractive choice because there are no annual fees dictated by your city or town.
And for those who are looking for more environmentally friendly options, the private septic systems don’t use the harsh chemicals that waste water treatment plants do. Instead, the wastewater is filtered naturally.
The Downsides of Private Septic Systems
- Routing pumping is imperative to the health of the system
- Not everything can be flushed down the drain
- Subject to physical damage
However, there is some maintenance involved on the part of the homeowner. Routine septic pumping is imperative to the health of the septic system. Most homeowners are under the impression that septic systems need to be pumped every year – but that’s not always the case! Most private residential septic systems can be pumped every 2-5 years, depending on your home and your usage.
To maximize the health of your septic system but minimize your annual costs, we can inspect and evaluate your specific home and septic system to calculate your personalized septic pumping schedule.
Homeowners also need to be careful of what they dispose of down the drain. Those who are new to septic systems may not know that items such as flushable wipes, grease, paint and coffee grounds can wreak havoc on their system and cause them to fail.
In fact, there are several reasons why a septic system may fail, including heavy water usage and physical damage. In addition to watching water usage, taking care not to flush or drain certain items, and schedule the proper septic tank pumping, homeowners should be on alert for the signs of a failed septic system to catch any issues before the failed system backs up waste water into the home.
If you suspect an issue with your septic system or detect possible signs of failure, contact Grant’s Septic Techs for an inspection right away. Wastewater backups in your home can be dangerous and expensive to clean up – but the small upside is that backups from septic systems tend to be smaller in volume than backups from sewer systems.
Unlike a sewer system, a residential septic system is a localized system and the homeowner is responsible to fix or replace as needed. On average, newer septic systems can last between 20-40 years on average, although the life span can depend on usage, maintenance, and the physical condition of the septic tank, landscape, and drainfield.
Replacing a septic system can be costly – to the tune of $30,000 – $40,000, including the excavation of your yard. Fortunately, we have newer technology that can save your system.
What If I Live Near Water – Can I Still Have a Septic System?
Areas around lakes and other bodies of water are not good candidates for regular septic system drain fields because there is insufficient drainage for the wasteware in the drainfield – unless you use a “tight tank” which means the entire contents of the wastewater are sealed into the septic tank.
When a tight tank is used, the only way to get rid of wastewater is to pump it out through septic system pumping services – and it’s imperative to pump a tight tank before it gets too full. An overflowing tight tank can mean bacteria-filled wastewater backed up into the household – and nobody wants that.
Aerobic Septic Systems vs. Anaerobic Septic Systems
Not all residential septic systems are the same… in fact, most people just refer to their residential wastewater treatment as their “septic system” and may not know which kind they have! Even within those two types, there are variations: aerobic and anaerobic systems.
What is an Anaerobic Septic System?
An anaerobic system is a septic system that relies on bacteria that does not need a lot of oxygen to break down the waste materials.
These anaerobic septic systems are what most traditional septic systems have been in the U.S. Like all septic systems, the entire system consists of two main destinations for the wastewater of your home.
The first stop is the septic system tank, where water separates itself from the heavy solids, the floating grease, and the watery wastewater “effluent” in the middle. The second stop is the effluent flows out into the drain field in your yard to be further filtered in the ground, while the remainder in the septic tank needs to be pumped occasionally.
Benefits of an Anaerobic Septic Systems
The installation of an anaerobic septic system is somewhat simpler than its aerobic counterpart because it does not need an aerator (or electricity to run that aerator).
Also, anaerobic septic systems may not require annual maintenance. Many times, they only need to be pumped every 2-5 years, depending on the particular setup and usage for that household.
Downsides of Anaerobic Septic Systems
These systems are subject to failure at some point in their life due to simple buildup of biomat over time. That’s why most anaerobic septic systems really only last between 20-40 years before they fail.
Replacing an anaerobic system comes at a significant financial cost and disruption to your yard and landscaping. The entire system must be dug and replaced – requiring excavation and often new changes to your landscape. Unfortunately, the cost of replacement can be anywhere from $20,000- $40,000.
However, many anaerobic systems can be converted to aerobic systems instead of being replaced entirely.
What is an Aerobic Septic System?
An anaerobic system is a septic system that relies on a type of bacteria that requires a lot of oxygen to break down the waste materials.
The aerobic septic system uses the same type of two step destination (the septic tank and the drain field in the yard) but operates slightly differently. In these systems, “aerobic” bacteria uses oxygen for the breakdown process (while the “anaerobic” bacteria does not.)
Benefits of Aerobic Septic Systems
Aerobic systems are a great option for homeowners who are looking to extend the life of their septic systems dramatically. These systems are also attractive because they are easy and quick to install, with very little disruption to your landscape or yard.
Using this system, the aerobic bacteria can clean out waste almost 10x faster than an anaerobic system – which means way less work for your existing drainfield.
Because of this, the aerobic septic systems are considered the most environmentally friendly of all wastewater treatments. If most of the bacteria is broken down quickly inside the tank, there is less for the drainfield and local environment to filter out. Essentially – the wastewater is cleaner when it exits the septic tank into the drainfield.
Converting a septic tank from an anaerobic system to an aerobic system can cost only a few thousand dollars and be done in a day, without ripping up large sections of your yard. It is a great alternative to replacing the entire system at the end of its life to the tune of $30,000-$40,000 and a large excavation job tearing up your yard and landscaping.
While it’s best to convert your existing system proactively while your system is still functioning normally, it can be used to save a failed septic system and clogged drainfield. However, it can take that failed system up to a year to be back to normal usage again.
Downsides of Aerobic Septic Systems
Most aerobic septic systems do require annual maintenance, although the cost is generally only around $200 per year, which can be less than a routine septic tank pumping and also less than an annual sewer bill.
The initial installation of the anaerobic system is slightly more involved than the anaerobic septic system because an aerator is also installed. This keeps a constant flow of oxygen moving in the tank.
The conversion to an aerobic system does require an initial investment of anywhere between $5,000 – $9,000 depending on several factors. It can cost even more if the existing septic system has already failed.
And while most septic systems can be converted, not all systems will qualify. For example, these cannot be installed in a yard with a high water table, or in areas with clay and silt soils because the water will cause these materials to harden significantly over time.
Not All Aerobic Systems are Created Equal
Homeowners should be careful when evaluating their options. There are several low end options that many appeal to the homeowners wallet but don’t actually bring enough benefit to justify the cost …or to save the system from ultimately failing beyond repair.
Grant’s Septic Techs has saved our customers thousands of dollars with a conversion to an effective aerobic system if they are on the brink of septic system failure. This is a welcome service for those who have an older system facing the prospect of an unexpected (and immediate) repair upwards of $40,000.
Choose Your System and Your Installer Wisely
When evaluating a new home purchase with an existing system — or you are planning on building a new home — take a moment to review all of the options.
Take into consideration:
- What are your initial costs (if new installation)
- What are your anticipated annual costs?
- How often will you need to perform maintenance?
- Is being environmentally friendly important to you and your family?
- How long will you live in this home?
When evaluating a home with a new or existing anaerobic septic system, consider how long you plan on living in the home and how long you want that septic system to last before replacing it.
If you would like to extend the life of the septic system, consider a proven aerobic system that is known to provide the biggest impact on the life of your septic system like our Everlasting Septic System. We’ll show you how we have saved our customers thousands of dollars and doubled the life of their septic system.
Either way, if you decide to use a septic system instead of using a public sewer system, be sure to find a reputable septic service provider, like Grant’s Septic Techs to maintain or convert your septic system. We’ve been in business since 1961 and we’ve seen it all. Check out our service area and schedule your septic pumping maintenance or septic system inspection today.