Community Sewer Line vs. Private Septic: What to Know When Buying a Home

sewer line vs private septic

Although it’s easy to overlook, one of the fundamental questions you should ask when buying a home is whether it has sewer or septic.

While it’s true, the way waste materials leave a home is rarely key in the decision to buy one – it’s still something that’s important to take into consideration. Both community sewer lines and private septic systems are highly effective, when in working order, but both have their pros and cons.


Whether sewer or septic, it is absolutely imperative to have professional inspections performed before making the decision to buy. Laws stating who has to pay for such an inspection vary from state to state, so be sure to check your statutes.

Many potential homeowners don’t realize that sewer line inspections are a must, since most municipalities are responsible only for the parts of the sewer that are off-property. This means that the cost of replacing broken, clogged or bellied sewer lines (as well as digging up part of the property to do so) lies with the homeowner.

Septic system inspections (which should include tanks, lines, drainage fields, etc.) are necessary because the upkeep of the entire system is the responsibility of the homeowner. It’s customary to proceed with a purchase only after all needed repairs have been completed or paid for by the seller, the entire system passes inspection and, if necessary, the tank has been pumped (at the seller’s expense).

Running Costs

Many homeowners enjoy the convenience associated with community sewer lines, since the community is responsible for what happens to the waste once it leaves the property. However, most cities or townships charge a monthly fee for the privilege, so in the long run, it can end up costing more for sewer access.

While using a private septic system involves no monthly fee, the homeowner is not only responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of the system, but also for paying for and adhering to a pumping schedule that’s appropriate to the size of the household (typically every 2-3 years). Smart septic owners have their systems checked and maintained periodically too, because an ounce of prevention rarely goes so far as in the case of avoiding potential septic failure.


Depending on whether you have a clogged, broken or damaged sewer lines or septic systems, there several different are ways your house will warn you. The most common signs of trouble are:

  • Water backing up in toilet or sinks
  • Gurgling toilets (especially during washing cycles)
  • Poor flushing or draining action
  • Water bubbles as it’s flushed or draining
  • Sewage odors inside or outside
  • Standing wastewater near pipes or septic system
  • Must or mildew odors
  • Visible mildew
  • Increase in vermin (rodents and insects)

Worst Case Scenarios

Though both sewer line backups and complete septic system failures are the stuff of nightmares, we have the give the “most ghastly” prize to the sewer line backup.

If all warnings go unheeded and a sewer line is neglected, a home can literally become a sewer, itself. Raw waste can come back up through your pipes, into your sinks, toilets, tubs and showers and, if there’s overflow, can do thousands of dollars worth of damage to your home.

The mess from a septic system failure usually confines itself to the outdoors, but still, your property (and possibly your beautiful lawn), will be devastated by raw waste and odor.

Associated Costs of Worst Case Scenarios

The cost of a sewer line backup depends completely upon its severity and how much property it comes into contact with. Because of the amount of dangerous bacteria and other pathogens found in sewage, almost anything it has contact with for more than a few minutes will be unusable, especially flooring, mattresses, paper products, leather, stuffed toys, etc.

Both the household plumbing and electrical systems will need to be checked and anything that can be salvaged will need to be deep cleaned and disinfected (ideally by professionals). Then there’s the matter of fixing/replacing the broken/clogged sewer pipe.

Once again, cost will depend upon the issue, pipe accessibility and the area in which you live. You can count on having your yard torn up, but if you’re lucky it will only be a modest section and won’t involve sidewalks or other structures.

A septic failure can be a financial disaster, as well, even though the damage usually stays outside (though the odor doesn’t). With several more “points-of-failure” possibilities to choose from, your system could have one, two or more issues.

Since septic systems typically rely on pipes to not only carry waste to the tank, but to disperse wastewater into drainfield, there could be several breaks, cracks or clogs in a neglected system (which can lead to a fair amount of torn-up property).

Then there’s the matter of the tank and/or the drainfield. If either or both of them have been compromised beyond repair, one or both of them may need to be completely replaced, which are both large and pricey undertakings.

The Good News

For homes with community sewer lines, simply taking prompt action when you begin to notice any of the warning signs we mentioned should be enough to avert disaster.

And for homes with septic systems, almost all the scary stuff we just covered can be completely avoided through regular, reasonably priced maintenance and pumping plans.

If you have questions about sewer line or septic tank inspections, maintenance plans, pumping costs, etc., please don’t hesitate to reach out any time.


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