Septic Tank vs. Sewer: Fight of the Century
Here it is ladies and gents, the battle of the century. A colossal and magnificent foray between two heavyweight contenders. A battle that has raged on for decades and will continue for many more to come! What will the Fates decide at the end of this story? Only time will tell who is the victor in the Battle of the Bacterium. . .
In the Red Corner, we have Septic Tanks! These lean, mean, underground fightin’ machines are localized on a property and filled with bacteria. Whether you go number one or number two, the tanks turn it all into goo! The technology hasn’t changed much since the days of cesspits, but if it ain’t broke don’t fix it!
Aaaaand in the Blue Corner, we have a modern-day Sewer System! Sleek, heavy, and all-around movers and shakers, these systems are expansive. Each home is hooked up to a central line and all of the refuse is taken to a central location. A one stop shop for your slop! These waste facilities are state of the art.
In the tale of the tape, the septic tank has age and experience on their side while the sewer system has a centralized knowledge and funding to support it. We’re ready to move now to the Octagon. Septic vs. Sewer. It’s Garbage Time! LET’S GET IT ON!
The Septic Tank
The septic tank is a pretty simple concept. All of your water is pushed into a giant underground container. This container has got live bacterium inside of it to break down some of the contaminants in the tank. The septic tank then pushes the water out through a pipe called the header and into the lateral pipes. These lateral pipes are perforated tubes in the soil. The perforations allow the wastewater to exit the pipes into the ground. The ground then does what it does.
So, what are the advantages of a septic system? For starters, you won’t pay a monthly service fee to the city. That’s a sweet deal. That isn’t to say septic tanks have no cost, but over a 10-year span – even with the necessary monthly and every few year maintenance – it’s still cheaper than sewer systems. I can also say, as I close a deal in just a week or so, that they can last a long time. The house I’m closing is from 1984 and the tank was in beautiful, like-new shape.
There is also some heated debate about the ecological friendliness of septic vs. sewer. Should a septic tank fail, it only ruins the day of one homeowner. It should be reinforced here though, it WILL ruin your day if it fails. Compare that to a sewer failure though and an entire block of homeowners have a new chocolate fountain. The bright side is that septic tank failure can usually be spotted before it gets really bad; especially if it’s a drain field issue.
The Sewer System
The sewer system is a centralized system that you have no control over. But not like Communism, so fret not! A block of homes all have feeder lines into a central sewer line that transports the waste to a water treatment plant. This central line is generally quite large and so isn’t as susceptible to overflows or heavy rains like a septic tank might. The water treatment plant works like a giant septic tank in that it uses bacteria and other tools to break down the waste and turn the water from not so pleasant and into usable water.
The sewer system shines because it’s a set it and forget mentality. There is no monthly or yearly upkeep from the homeowner. They just pay a usage fee each month and, for that, the toilet will always flush. Another really, really large importance of a central sewer system is in highly populated areas. A septic system works by diluting the biomaterial in the septic tank and then diffusing that into the ground. Can you imagine what that would look like in a place like San Francisco? That’s a lot to ask of the groundwater to neutralize the biomaterial. I’m not a city engineer, so I don’t know what the per capita density threshold is, however, you can certainly see that a central waste management system would have its advantage there as far as ecology goes.
As someone who also studies the psychology of money habits, I would venture to say this is an easier system for people to stomach – money is fungible in an account and people have a hard time budgeting over long periods (like 10 years!). Thus, most people would probably be blindsided by needing to replace a septic tank.
Personally, I could very happily live on either sewer or septic. Right this instant I live on sewer. Fortunately, this isn’t a question for most people before they make that offer price. You’re either hooked up to sewer or you’re not. However, it’s important to know going in to the sale what your’e getting. The county to the north and west of me is almost exclusively septic. The county I live in is mostly sewer as is the one to the south of me. To the east, it’s an odd mix depending on the populations.
Know what you’re getting though. I can’t reiterate that enough. If you do get septic though, keep in mind just because it isn’t a monthly fee you pay to someone there is still money that should be socked away for a rainy day.