Are you buying a house with a Septic Tank?

Kim Thurston, Conveyancing Executive in our Residential Conveyancing team

So, you have found your “dream” home, set deep in rural countryside.  However, is it a dream or a (potential) nightmare?

As you may, or may not, be aware, the rules governing Septic Tanks and Sewage Packet Treatment Plants change on 1 January 2020.

From 1 January, 2020, all Septic Tanks and Sewage Packet Treatment Plants must be made to comply with the Environment Agency’s General Binding Rules within a reasonable time.  It is suggested that 12 months may be reasonable.  However, if a system is already causing pollution a much shorter time would be appropriate.

Sellers and Buyers need to deal with this issue early to avoid delays in transactions.

Septic tanks are designed to settle the waste matter and to subsequently discharge this into a correctly designed drainage field.  Discharge must not flow to a tunnel or soakaway or in the case of a septic tank directly to surface water.

A drainage field can best be described as an infiltration system made up of a series of rigid pipes with holes or slots, placed in trenches, over drainage stone and arranged in a closed loop design so that the effluent can trickle through the ground to be treated by bacteria in the underlying soil.

The septic tank itself is an underground settlement tank which allows the solids to sink to the bottom, forming a sludge and the floating solids and dead bacteria float to the top thereby forming a crust leaving the resulting septic liquid to flow out to a drainage field.

The new or  upgraded septic tank or sewage packet treatment plant must be of the correct size and installed by a professional. The system must, of course, be of a size suitable to the number of persons residing in the subject property and is not a hit and miss affair.

Of course, it is a sensible idea to regularly  have the tank emptied – usually annually dependent upon its size and the amount of people using it.  There are various “warning signs” that a septic tank is failing and these can include:-

  • Foul smells around the area where the tank is sited.,
  • “Greener” grass growing in the vicinity of the tank.,
  • “Gurgling” noises emanating from the plumbing, to name but a few

Possible causes are the tank “backing up” which will require it to be emptied more frequently, tree/shrub roots growing through the walls of the tank or a “collapsed baffle,” which is, in essence, a very serious issue where could allow solids to flow into the soakaway system which is only designed to deal with liquid waste.  Ultimately, if this happens, then waste and waste water may well back up into the property itself!

A lot of the smaller tanks, i.e. serving just one family home, are granted an Exemption Certificate by the Environment Agency, and you would be wise to enquire as to one does already exist.

If you are considering selling or purchasing a property with such apparatus, then you are strongly advised to obtain specialist advice as to whether the system is working properly and as to suitability of the system to ensure no action be rendered against you by the Environment Agency and to avoid any delays in the transaction.

If you require any advice on the above topic please don’t hesitate to contact Kim Thurston or any member of the team on 01793 848900.

November 2019