No one likes to discuss human waste, but when buying Miami Beach real estate, it's a subject that must not be overlooked. From Miami Beach luxury homes to small single-family dwellings, the question about sewers will come up.
Miami Shores homes all have septic systems and when people are not familiar with this, the natural response is to be concerned. There are many other cities within South Florida that also have septic systems; it's a good question to ask when you are purchasing a Miami home.
What is a septic system?
It is simply an on-site wastewater treatment system (Instead of wastewater going to a city or public sewer system, it is broken-down on the property's grounds) There are different types of septic systems, but in South Florida, the septic tank and drain field are the most common.
There are pros and cons to having a septic system and I will explain the main ones with the hopes of eliminating any fears you may have of buying a property that has a septic system. The main misconception is that septic systems are high maintenance and must be pumped every year. The truth is that if simple measures are taken, a septic system will have very little maintenance, a long lifespan and possibly very little pumping required.
Simple preventive measures can include:
- Applying store bought enzymes or bacteria and flushing them down your toilets every few months to help the breakdown of bacteria in your tank.
- Reducing the amount of paper products dumped in the toilets
- Not overusing garbage disposal.
- Not using anti-bacterial soaps and detergents.
Take a look at this article for additional tips: How to Care For Your Septic System.
Contrary to popular belief pumping a septic tank often is not necessary and could actually do more harm than good because it would remove bacteria necessary for break down process. This is a controversial topic, because septic tank companies make the most money from pumping tanks and they encourage it. (but please note that pumping tanks every 4-5 years IS recommended).
A septic system should not have a bad odor, if it does, it's time to call the septic tank company to come take a look. Toilet back-ups are not always due to septic problems, it could be something clogging up a pipe.
One benefit of having a septic system is lower water and sewer bills. In Miami, sewer bills can get costly; having a septic system will save you money in the long run.
Take a look at www.SepticTankInfo.com. This website that is very thorough about explaining details about septic systems. Although my opinion differs from theirs in many instances, it's a good site to read if you want pertinent information.
In my opinion, there's a major problem with septic tank inspections in Miami and although I have found a way around it, it is not a perfect solution.
In our past experience, when hiring a septic company to do an inspection, 4 out of 5 times, the company will find something wrong with the septic system. Yes you read correctly, it is not a typo, 4 out of 5 times!! Those inspections always smell suspicious to me (pun intended).
People that have lived in their home for years, taking precautions and NEVER having had an issue with their septic will be told that the system has major problems! The concern has to do with a conflict of interest.
Most inspectors will not do septic inspections and will recommend you use a septic company directly who will ultimately make money by giving you false information.
So if you are buying a Miami home, how can you get the truth from a septic inspection? Unfortunately it's not easy. In my opinion, you will get a better idea of the condition of a septic system by simply paying for a pumping (costing approximately $200-$300 depending on the size of the tank).
The company should give you their opinion about the condition of the system at the time they do the work. If they find a broken lid or a cracked tank or a collapsed drain field......they will inform you then.
I have to admit that it is not the best solution, but it is better than the alternative. Please understand that not all septic tank companies are this ruthless, but unless you find a reputable and well recommended septic company, be weary.
Inspections are not regulated in the state of Florida - remember "buyer beware".
*originally published on Jan 14, 2008*