Ask McEnearney Jean Beatty 9.22.22

Sept. 19-23 is SepticSmart Week! When my husband and I bought our home in Vienna in 2001, we had never previously considered that we would ever own a home with a septic system. We were a bit apprehensive but took the plunge and have never looked back. 

To some, the idea of purchasing a home with a well or septic system can seem overwhelming, but many attractive Washington-area homes have one or the other, and sometimes both! Wells and septic systems are far more common than you would think in the greater Washington suburbs. 

Ask McEnearney Septic system diagram

What is a septic system? A septic system is a way to dispose of household wastes on an individual level. Over the course of the life of a septic system (about 40 years) the cost can often be far less than paying a monthly or quarterly sewage bill. Replacing a gravity system costs about $10,000, while an alternative system can cost up to $85,000 to replace. If you take certain precautions, you will have few to no issues with your septic system. Here are some quick septic reminders:

  1. Every home’s pumping schedule is different. Usually, a septic tank will need to be pumped every three to five years. However, pumping frequency depends on a variety of factors, including tank size, usage and age of the system. The county will usually send you a reminder when it’s due.
  2. You can’t flush everything. Flushing items that are not biodegradable will lead to big problems in your septic system. This includes dental floss, feminine products and pet waste, as well as baby wipes. These items can interfere with your system’s ability to break down waste.
  3. Your system involves more than toilets. Every sink, tub and pipe in your house will drain into your septic system, including your kitchen sink! Unlike homes on a sewer, food items should not go down the sink. Composting food waste is a great way to help your septic system -- and your garden! Other items that should not go down the drain include oils, grease, chemicals, paint and medications.
  4. Proper maintenance extends its lifespan. Just like any other appliance in your home, your septic system will break down eventually. However, by sticking to a routine pumping and maintenance schedule, you can extend the lifespan of your system. Make sure to maintain plants and vegetation near the system to ensure roots do not block the drains. Keep cars and heavy vehicles parked away from the drain field and tank. Prevent system freezing during cold weather by inspecting and insulating vulnerable system parts.
Ask McEnearney VA Map Wells

I clearly remember drinking a glass of well water from the tap for the first time at the home of a good friend. It tasted amazing -- pure, clean groundwater, not contaminated or chlorinated. 

One-fifth of Virginia’s population depends on wells, or about 1.6 million Virginians. Because Virginia is a buyer-beware state, there are no requirements on the seller’s end to disclose any known problems or defects. Laws concerning wells have been in place only since 1990, so if the house you are looking to purchase was built before then, you might consider having a Private Well and/or Septic Addendum added to your contract. 

Ask McEnenearny Well Diagram

As with anything home related, it's important to take care of your well. Well maintenance is similar to having your annual physical at the doctor. It is recommended by the CDC and Well Owner that your well and well water be inspected annually. Water testing looks for harmful bacteria and hard substances like total coliform bacteria, nitrates, total dissolved solids and pH levels. Any defects that are found can be treated or remediated by an expert.

Now that you know a little more about wells and septic systems, in your next home search don't automatically discount a home for this reason. A home with a well or septic system has a well or septic because they have land and with land comes beauty. A good Realtor can help answer your questions and advise you on the next best steps.

Jean Beatty is a licensed real estate agent in VA, MD, and DC with McEnearney Associates Realtors® in McLean, VA. If you would like more information on selling or buying in today's complex market, contact Jean at 301-641-4149 or visit her website

If you would like a question answered in our weekly column or to set up an appointment with one of our Associates, please email: or call 703.549.9292.

McEnearney Associates Realtors®, 109 S. Pitt Street, Alexandria, VA 22314. Equal Housing Opportunity. #WeAreMcEnearney

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