DON’T BUY A HOUSE WITH A SEPTIC IN MICHIGAN!
DON’T BUY A HOUSE WITH A SEPTIC IN MICHIGAN! - Michigan is the only state in the nation without uniform standards about how sewage treatment systems are designed, built, installed and maintained (It's left to the cities and townships). It’s safe to say that’s pretty crappy if you ask me (pun definitely intended), so be sure to stick around to hear about the risks of purchasing a home with a septic system in Michigan, what to keep in mind to maintenance your system, and why this video IS NOT MEANT TO SCARE YOU AWAY FROM PURCHASING A MICHIGAN HOME WITH A SEPTIC SYSTEM, let’s get to it.
COVID-19 pushed back the priority of the septic issues in Michigan, so as of late, there is current legislation in Lansing that would not implement statewide inspection regulations. Instead, it would contemplate using some American Rescue Plan money to help fix the immediate problem: those septic systems that are failing right now.
If you take a second and search up Michigan septic systems, you’ll see an endless amount of headlines talking about the lack of regulations, the inhumane number of failing systems, and the problems that come with it.
In a state full of thousands of beautiful bodies of water from the great lakes to nearby rivers, Michigan estimates that nearly half of the rivers and streams far exceed the safety standard for concentrations such as E. Coli. This bacteria is found in animal and human intestinal tracts so a higher sample of that would indicate the presence of fecal pollution. According to The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes & Energy there’s over 1.3 million homes and businesses in the state of Michigan that depend on septic systems, and they estimate there to be over 130,000 failing systems statewide. This department also estimates septic systems release upwards of 31 million gallons of raw sewage every day into our groundwater.
The sad part is, many homeowners know their systems are failing and they do nothing about it, and that is simply due to the price tag that follows. A new septic system can cost about $6,000-$12,000 , but if you need an engineered septic because your property conditions aren’t ideal for a conventional one, you could add another 10, or even 15k to that price tag, and on top of that, the labor cost to do it all is 50-70% of the overall cost.
This is a HUGE problem for lake owners and unfortunately, it’s something I am seeing first hand in my home. A lot of the homes on lakes in Michigan and I’m sure even in other states that were built between the 1930’s and 1960’s were built as little cottages to visit on the weekends, and as the years rolled on, people renovated, built them up and lived in these homes full time. Well, what a lot of these homes are neglecting is the correct septic tank size to cater to the amount of people in the home. For example, These 2 bedroom, 1 bathroom cottages made for people who visit infrequently, most likely have 500-750 gallon tanks, but then the owners tack on 2 more bedrooms and a bathroom and should have a 1250-1500 gallon tank, living there full time. So when you go about purchasing a home, it’s good to have it pumped during the inspection period to not only make sure it flows correctly, but you’re aware of the size tank you have so you know how frequently it should be pumped.
My septic system is a prime example of how unregulated these systems actually are in Michigan. When I was getting my house, I asked for the tank to be pumped, but I ended up coming over when they were doing it, because my inspector had a suspicion that there was another tank even though the homeowners said they had no knowledge of it, so I started digging while the company was pumping and found another lid. It turns out, they had the original 500 gallon tank for this 2 bedroom 1 bathroom home, but then they did a DIY job to connect another 500 gallon plastic septic tank. So this tank had never been pumped in who knows how many years, but fortunately enough, it was flowing fine and the septic field was in good shape after further inspection.
I later learned that I wasn’t the only one with a make-shift septic system. I went to a homeowners association meeting, and several lakefront owners had failing septic systems and some have even spent the money to switch to a sewer, which cost this particular person $80,000 based on how far away the nearest connection was. So with that in mind, there’s conversation about switching the whole lake to sewer and tacking on a special assessment for everyone to pay for it, because what it’s doing is hurting our lake in the long haul and people purchase homes on a lake to enjoy everything it has to offer and if it’s just so overly polluted that no one can do anything in it, then the property values aren’t going to look very good.
It adds muck and weeds to lakes and that’s why lakes are having to hire harvesters to come in and cut up the weeds so boats don’t just get their propellers tangled going one time around the lake. Lake property owners aren't the only ones feeling the septic failure, they just can see the damage it’s doing whereas other homeowners find out the hard way. There was a situation in Midland county. I'm not sure how long ago someone was moving their lawn on a riding lawn mower and it was just swallowed by a pit that was caused by a failed septic field.
According to Bridge Michigan, The Legislature has considered six proposals since 2004 to establish a statewide code for septic systems, but none made it out of committee. A new proposal is reportedly in the works and several key organizations are already lining up to support it. Several counties across Michigan have “Time of Sale” Inspections that were heavily encouraged by the Michigan association of Realtors to allow an approved inspector to make sure the septic and water systems were in working order and up to a certain standard before a transfer of ownership took place, and this alone has detected several failed septic system and over 300 homes with no septic system at all.
Completely off topic, but with inspections in mind, if you are interested in a home with a sewer, be sure to always get a sewer scope done, where they snake a camera from the home drain down to the road to see if it’s cleaned out and clear of roots, because if you didn’t notice, in cities with sewers, they tend to have trees planted along the roadside and those roots grow and go right through the sewer lines, and that fix can cost a lot of money so pay some extra money to get it done, so you don’t have to deal with that later. I just had a buyer go through this and we found roots with a sewer scope and the sellers had to pay over $1,000 to essentially hydroblast water in there to break up all the roots.
So with all this in mind, what is causing the abundance of septic failures in Michigan?
The biggest issue that causes septic failure is due to lack of maintenance. It’s not complicated, and it doesn’t have to be extremely expensive, it’s just a matter of doing it frequently. According to the EPA, there’s four elements when it comes to upkeep: inspecting and pumping frequently, using water efficiently, properly disposing of waste, and maintaining your drain field. Depending on how many people you have in your household and the size of your septic tank will determine how often you need to get it pumped. Septic tanks should be pumped every 3-5 years and should be inspected by a septic professional every 3 years to ensure the functionality is still without worry.
Using water efficiently is anything from using high efficiency toilets, faucets and showerheads to washing smaller loads of laundry and not using more water than you need. For example, if you have a tiny load to wash, don’t put it on a large load setting, it just wastes a ton of water over time. Properly disposing of waste is not flushing anything down the toilet except for toilet paper, and that goes for your sink as well, don’t just pour grease from your 6 pounds of bacon you just cooked down the drain. That goes for the use of a garbage disposal as well, limit your usage because this is known to cause clogs in the drain field.
One of the BIGGEST misconceptions about disposing waste is the use of chemical drain openers such as drain-o. You can talk to any septic professional and they will tell you how bad it actually is for your tank and field. Just like using Listerine mouthwash, it kills all the natural bacteria that helps break down or fight infection. The chemicals are also toxic and can deteriorate your pipes over time. So instead, use boiling water or a drain snake if it becomes a big issue. The last point is maintaining the drain field, this is as simple as not driving or parking on it, planting trees an appropriate distance away, building anything on it, and placing other drainage systems such as: roof drains and sump pumps somewhere else, because this excess water will slow down or stop the wastewater treatment process. I’ll be sure to link a few resources in the description if you’re wanting to find more ways to better maintain your system.
If you’re interested in buying a home in Michigan with a septic system, don’t let all this push you away from doing so, because there are a lot of homes on septic systems that thrive and you don’t have to pay the monthly or quarterly fees that you would on a sewer, aside from having to get it pumped every 3-5 years. Be weary, ask questions, and whatever you do, DO NOT SKIP INSPECTIONS, because that $150-$250 septic inspection will save you from potentially having to pay $10-$20,000 to get it completely redone.
Have you ever had septic issues over your years of ownership or have a crazy story involving a septic system? Drop it in the comments below!
MENTIONED LINKS 🔗
→Michigan Septic System Ordinances; https://bit.ly/3Efix4q
→Onsite Wastewater Management: https://bit.ly/3X8HgQD
→EPA Septic Care: https://bit.ly/3Oc7xti
Andrew McManamon is a Michigan REALTOR® with Signature Sotheby’s International Realty and provides real estate services to Buyers, Sellers and Investors throughout SE Michigan including Livingston County, Oakland County, Washtenaw County, Genesee County & beyond. Andrew has become one of the rising stars of Michigan real estate agents. Prior to his real estate career Andrew was responsible for managing a senior living facility in Brighton, Michigan as a dining supervisor and an activities assistant. Andrew’s passion to help people is unlike any other, and he continues to strive to be best resource he can be. Andrew graduated from Cleary University in Howell, Michigan with a double major and currently resides in White Lake, Michigan.