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    • hawaza
    • By hawaza 9th Aug 18, 8:52 AM
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    hawaza
    Septic tank / cesspit confusion in potential house purchase
    • #1
    • 9th Aug 18, 8:52 AM
    Septic tank / cesspit confusion in potential house purchase 9th Aug 18 at 8:52 AM
    I am looking at purchasing a house for the first time and have finally found a house which I like. However on top of the fact it's in an absolute state (needs heating system installed as doesn't have one, new kitchen, bathroom, windows - some of which are sash, rewire among other things) it has now emerged that there is an issue with the sewerage.

    It's not on mains sewage and the long and short of it is that they believe there is a Septic tank / cesspit but no-one knows what state it's in or even where it is (so hasn't ever been emptied). Ive been told it's been investigated previously but no one could deduce anything but were strongly advised to install a modern system due to possible environmental issues. It's the same situation for next-door (they're semi detached) as they're on the same system. I'm told there is an indemnity insurance policy to cover it.

    The questions I guess are:
    How much would it cost to investigate the current system?
    How much would it cost to install a new system / remove the old one if required?
    How problematic is it likely to be given the neighbouring house uses the same unidentifiable system?
    Am I mad to be considering such a problematic property, especially as a first time buyer and should I simply turn tail and run?


    Any advice or opinions are welcomed.
Page 1
    • Alter ego
    • By Alter ego 9th Aug 18, 8:54 AM
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    Alter ego
    • #2
    • 9th Aug 18, 8:54 AM
    • #2
    • 9th Aug 18, 8:54 AM
    If it's never been emptied it must be working well - why disturb it?
    Ignore me if you like, it's not the real me anyway.
    • Davesnave
    • By Davesnave 9th Aug 18, 9:11 AM
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    Davesnave
    • #3
    • 9th Aug 18, 9:11 AM
    • #3
    • 9th Aug 18, 9:11 AM
    If it's a septic tank and no one knows where it is with most areas currently parched, then 'no one' is very unobservant! Our septic tank drainage field has never been so identifiable.

    It isn't a cess pit at any rate, because people would soon know if that wasn't emptied. If you can't smell it, that's also good news.

    Surely, whatever it is and wherever it goes, if it ain't broke you won't need to fix it immediately, but if you want to know more, a drainage survey should provide some answers.


    Just a thought: would you be you legally tied to the neighbours sewerage-wise if you purchase? Our property was like that, but our solicitor was having none of it and insisted both properties deeds were altered to allow independence in this respect; something the neighbours wanted too. Worth enquiring.
    Last edited by Davesnave; 09-08-2018 at 9:51 AM.
    I might be old, but I got to see a lot of good bands...
    • paddy's mum
    • By paddy's mum 9th Aug 18, 9:13 AM
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    paddy's mum
    • #4
    • 9th Aug 18, 9:13 AM
    • #4
    • 9th Aug 18, 9:13 AM
    Ours was built in the 1960's and has only been emptied once. Even that one occasion turned out to be unnecessary in reality when the tankman discovered a bit of sock or dishcloth partially blocking the outlet pipe.

    If it ain't broke, don't fix it perhaps applies here
    • hawaza
    • By hawaza 9th Aug 18, 10:24 AM
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    hawaza
    • #5
    • 9th Aug 18, 10:24 AM
    • #5
    • 9th Aug 18, 10:24 AM
    Thank you all for your advice/thoughts so far, didn't expect so many so quickly


    I'm happy to work with the if it ain't broke don't fix it approach, but the neighbours suggested the last investigation showed some environmental contamination due to it and suspect they may not be lenient enough to let it go this time around if it gets flagged at any point during the purchasing process. Can you be forced to install a new system if it's deemed unsatisfactory or environmentally problematic?



    In terms of not being able to notice it, the garden is an impenetrable green jungle, expansive and terraced. Somehow it seems to have shrugged off this unprecedented hot and dry spell. Truth be told I'm slightly concerned as to whether something invasive may be growing somewhere in there, somewhere....



    I'll have to check / get the solicitor to check about the legal aspect of the sewerage. It's a very a good point davesnave and one I'd not thought of!
    • tonyh66
    • By tonyh66 9th Aug 18, 12:10 PM
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    tonyh66
    • #6
    • 9th Aug 18, 12:10 PM
    • #6
    • 9th Aug 18, 12:10 PM
    "Can you be forced to install a new system if it's deemed unsatisfactory or environmentally problematic"

    Yes, I had SEPA on my back when we moved into a house with a shared septic tank, it was not maintained and leaking all over the garden it was in (not our house).
    Septic tanks are not 100% efficient at breaking down all the solids, if you do not have it emptied periodically (depending on how many people use it) then it will fill to capacity and then start discharging raw sewage into the drainage field, the drainage field will fill with solids and then not be able to discharge the effulent properly. This is when the septic tank then starts to spill sewage.
    @ davesnave: if you have separated the responsiblity on the deeds, who is responsible for the maintenance of your septic tank? its best to keep it shared so if any big bills come in you have a legal crowbar to get shared costs.
    If it ain't broke don't fix it is foolish regarding septic tanks, if you follow this, when it breaks, it will be un-fixable i.e you will need a new drainage field. Proper maintenance is needed.

    My background, qualified civil engineer 30 years specializing in waste water treatment and surface water drainage.
    • teneighty
    • By teneighty 9th Aug 18, 1:03 PM
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    teneighty
    • #7
    • 9th Aug 18, 1:03 PM
    • #7
    • 9th Aug 18, 1:03 PM
    Ours was built in the 1960's and has only been emptied once. Even that one occasion turned out to be unnecessary in reality when the tankman discovered a bit of sock or dishcloth partially blocking the outlet pipe.

    If it ain't broke, don't fix it perhaps applies here
    Originally posted by paddy's mum
    So you've been discharging raw sewage on to your land for the best part of 50 years. Nice.
    • paddy's mum
    • By paddy's mum 9th Aug 18, 2:49 PM
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    paddy's mum
    • #8
    • 9th Aug 18, 2:49 PM
    • #8
    • 9th Aug 18, 2:49 PM
    So you've been discharging raw sewage on to your land for the best part of 50 years. Nice.
    Originally posted by teneighty
    Not on your life! What the blue blazes do you take me for - some sort of rural slut with a deathwish for myself and my neighbours?

    I don't understand how you can possibly reach a conclusion like that. Doesn't everybody's toilet have an outlet pipe, either to the main sewer or to a tank of some sort?

    Without an outlet pipe, you yourself must be discharging raw sewage over the floor of your home, if we continue your train of thought...
    • teneighty
    • By teneighty 9th Aug 18, 3:14 PM
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    teneighty
    • #9
    • 9th Aug 18, 3:14 PM
    • #9
    • 9th Aug 18, 3:14 PM
    Not on your life! What the blue blazes do you take me for - some sort of rural slut with a deathwish for myself and my neighbours?

    I don't understand how you can possibly reach a conclusion like that. Doesn't everybody's toilet have an outlet pipe, either to the main sewer or to a tank of some sort?

    Without an outlet pipe, you yourself must be discharging raw sewage over the floor of your home, if we continue your train of thought...
    Originally posted by paddy's mum
    If it has only been emptied once in 50 years where do you think all the sewage has been going? A septic tank is only designed to deal with the liquid effluent with the solids settling in the bottom of the tank to be pumped out every 6 to 12 months.

    Unless you have a serious constipation issue that is a lot of poo that should have been pumped out that must have gone somewhere. I bet your vegetable patch is very productive, although probably best not to eat any root crops.
    • the_lunatic_is_in_my_head
    • By the_lunatic_is_in_my_head 9th Aug 18, 3:41 PM
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    the_lunatic_is_in_my_head
    www.gov.uk/guidance/general-binding-rules-small-sewage-discharge-to-the-ground

    You sell your property: tell the new owner about the sewage treatment system
    If you sell your property, you must tell the new operator (the owner or person responsible for the septic tank or small sewage treatment plant) in writing that a small sewage discharge is in place.

    Include:

    a description of the treatment system and drainage system
    the location of the main parts of the treatment system, drainage system and discharge point
    details of any changes made to the treatment system and drainage system
    details of how the treatment system and drainage system should be maintained, and the maintenance manual if you have one
    maintenance records if you have them
    • hawaza
    • By hawaza 9th Aug 18, 3:49 PM
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    hawaza
    Tonyh66 thanks for your input.



    As far as I and any of the owners know this hasn't been emptied, at least not for at least 10-20 years if not more. The 2 houses must be at least 100 years old. About 10 years ago when the house was last purchased there was apparently a strong push by the council/environment agency (I think) to get them all using a new system but they never followed through and instead they got indemnity insurance to cover in case something happened with it.



    Would a good indemnity insurance cover the cost of cleanup and installation of a new system should one be required? How much would one cost as assume it can't be transferred from the current owners to the new one?
    • the_lunatic_is_in_my_head
    • By the_lunatic_is_in_my_head 9th Aug 18, 3:56 PM
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    the_lunatic_is_in_my_head
    My understanding is there are new rules for septic tanks that have to be met either by 2020 or when the house is sold.

    You'd be best off asking your solicitor to find out the full details about these requirements and what the current owner needs to do.
    • hawaza
    • By hawaza 9th Aug 18, 3:59 PM
    • 5 Posts
    • 0 Thanks
    hawaza

    You sell your property: tell the new owner about the sewage treatment system
    If you sell your property, you must tell the new operator (the owner or person responsible for the septic tank or small sewage treatment plant) in writing that a small sewage discharge is in place.

    Include:

    a description of the treatment system and drainage system
    the location of the main parts of the treatment system, drainage system and discharge point
    details of any changes made to the treatment system and drainage system
    details of how the treatment system and drainage system should be maintained, and the maintenance manual if you have one
    maintenance records if you have them
    Originally posted by the_lunatic_is_in_my_head
    Thanks Lunatic,

    The thing seems to be that the location and details of the system were lost many decades and owners ago. open cases with the council and i believe environment agency weren't able to identify it or its location either Given they appear to have been too cheap to actually act on the recommendations of a new system they purchased an indemnity insurance policy regarding it instead. Whether that makes up for the shocking lack of information i dont know.
    • Owain Moneysaver
    • By Owain Moneysaver 9th Aug 18, 4:25 PM
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    Owain Moneysaver
    You (your solicitor) needs to be very clear what the indemnity insurance covers, and what it doesn't. I don't think any indemnity insurance can protect you against criminal prosection for illegal discharge, if that occurs.

    To start investigating the existing system you'd get a drains surveyor to put a camera and/or radiosonde down the manholes and trace the pipes.

    Also if it is a septic tank then you need to check the discharge arrangements and get the easements if you discharge over someone else's land. You can't do that until you find out where it actually does discharge, and you'd need to get expert advise whether the discharge arrangements would be adequate for a new system to current regulations.

    Is there any hope of getting connected to mains drainage? That is likely to be the best long-term option if you're anywhere near an existing sewer.

    Some costs here

    I'm pretty adventurous with property, but I wouldn't consider a house with unknown sewage arrangements. There's something comforting knowing that when you pull the chain the effluent is hurtling off down the pipe and not gurgling around the delphiniums.

    (And some old houses had the cess pit in the cellar ... )
    A kind word lasts a minute, a skelped erse is sair for a day.
    • Davesnave
    • By Davesnave 9th Aug 18, 5:16 PM
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    Davesnave
    @ davesnave: if you have separated the responsiblity on the deeds, who is responsible for the maintenance of your septic tank? its best to keep it shared so if any big bills come in you have a legal crowbar to get shared costs.
    If it ain't broke don't fix it is foolish regarding septic tanks, if you follow this, when it breaks, it will be un-fixable i.e you will need a new drainage field. Proper maintenance is needed.

    My background, qualified civil engineer 30 years specializing in waste water treatment and surface water drainage.
    Originally posted by tonyh66
    In our case, there are 2 tanks side by side, sharing one drainage field, and it's all on land we own. So, the other lot are responsible for their tank and we're responsible for ours, though we now share emptying costs bi-annually. We also share costs arising from repairs to the drainage field. An 'incident' attributable to the others some years ago, reinforced this.

    In simple terms, they've been told if there's any repeat incident, we'll go independent treatment plant to our stream and they'll have to work out their own destiny! We think having the potential to be totally independent if we wish is very worthwhile.

    Our neighbours were of the "if it ain't broke...." persuasion, but we have modified their behaviour.

    That's why I added the caveat "immediately" and suggested a drainage survey in my original post, since no one should buy a pig in a poke with rural drainage.

    In reply to another poster, even if there is no paperwork, perhaps a prescriptive easement will be in place if someone drains onto another's property for 20 years? This what I understand with regard to another neighbour, who has had their drainage field on our property since the 1980s.
    I might be old, but I got to see a lot of good bands...
    • that
    • By that 9th Aug 18, 7:47 PM
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    that
    Yes, I had SEPA on my back when we moved into a house with a shared septic tank, it was not maintained and leaking all over the garden it was in (not our house).
    Septic tanks are not 100% efficient at breaking down all the solids, if you do not have it emptied periodically (depending on how many people use it) then it will fill to capacity and then start discharging raw sewage into the drainage field, the drainage field will fill with solids and then not be able to discharge the effulent properly. This is when the septic tank then starts to spill sewage.
    Originally posted by tonyh66
    Yes, my friend had something similar, but was not raw sewage in the drainage field. Apparently it is anaerobic bacteria that blocks the pipes and field, and you end up flooding the field.

    Many will suggest a new field.

    the fix apparently is a small aquarium air pump that blows bubbles into the non solids side (output). This apparently puts oxygen into the water, killing the anaerobic bacteria and you notice a distinct difference often within 5 weeks, and it will eventually transform your soggy drainage field to normal in around 6 months.
    Last edited by that; 09-08-2018 at 7:50 PM.
    • hawaza
    • By hawaza 9th Aug 18, 8:49 PM
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    hawaza

    To start investigating the existing system you'd get a drains surveyor to put a camera and/or radiosonde down the manholes and trace the pipes.

    Also if it is a septic tank then you need to check the discharge arrangements and get the easements if you discharge over someone else's land. You can't do that until you find out where it actually does discharge, and you'd need to get expert advise whether the discharge arrangements would be adequate for a new system to current regulations.

    Is there any hope of getting connected to mains drainage? That is likely to be the best long-term option if you're anywhere near an existing sewer.
    Originally posted by Owain Moneysaver

    They allegedly had a drainage surveyor run cameras and still weren't able to locate or diagnose anything about it. However i have checked and it shows up on the Natural Resources Wales website as a registered septic tank with a Grid location for a Water discharge and groundwater activities exemption. As part of registering with them you agree to abide by their guidance on operating it along with adhering to manufacturers specification and keeping 5 years worth of records.


    So either the current owner has lied to Natural Resources Wales regarding the location of the septic tank and is flaunting its guidelines on operations and maintenance OR they are lying to myself, their neighbours and the estate agent in regards to not knowing where it is and shirking their maintenance responsibilities. I would guess that either way there are legal ramifications (and thus financial ones) and they would, presumably, pass over to whoever purchases that house???
    • Owain Moneysaver
    • By Owain Moneysaver 9th Aug 18, 9:48 PM
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    Owain Moneysaver
    Interesting point which your solicitor will no doubt raise with the seller's solicitor.

    Yes, most of the legal ramifications of a defective septic tank fall to whoever is the current owner.
    A kind word lasts a minute, a skelped erse is sair for a day.
    • J B
    • By J B 10th Aug 18, 6:19 PM
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    J B
    A septic tank is only designed to deal with the liquid effluent with the solids settling in the bottom of the tank to be pumped out every 6 to 12 months.
    Originally posted by teneighty
    As a 'country bumpkin' I've lived in houses with septic tanks for all of my 60+ years and never heard that one before.
    Surely the 'system' is meant to bio-degrade the effluent.


    My understanding is there are new rules for septic tanks that have to be met either by 2020 or when the house is sold.
    Originally posted by the_lunatic_is_in_my_head
    Any evidence of this 'understanding'?
    • usefulmale
    • By usefulmale 10th Aug 18, 7:18 PM
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    usefulmale
    As a 'country bumpkin' I've lived in houses with septic tanks for all of my 60+ years and never heard that one before.
    Surely the 'system' is meant to bio-degrade the effluent.
    Originally posted by J B

    I agree. A septic tank should biodegrade everything that comes out of a human plus the water needed to flush. Once a decade emptying of a septic tank should be ample if you stick to the rules. However, once people start flushing wipes, cotton buds, tampons etc thats when problems start.


    Any evidence of this 'understanding'?
    Originally posted by J B

    http://www.ukdpsolutions.co.uk/its-all-change-in-2020-what-do-the-new-regulations-mean-for-you/


    Basically it means your septic tank cannot discharge directly into a watercourse.
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