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.

septic tank overload


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.

Celts, do you live on septic or sewer?  Do you have any preference for one or the other?  Let me know in the comments below!  And if you’re looking for a Realtor knowledgeable about the septic vs. sewer debate get in contact with me by clicking here!  Be sure to like my blog page on Facebook though by clicking here.

Cash Flow Celt

I'm just a local business and finance nerd looking to help people get educated about small business, marketing, and personal finance! I write about anything and everything that I can tie into those themes. I'm also Central Florida's only Kilted Realtor, so I write about Real Estate too! Check out my About Me page to see the origins of Cash Flow Celt.

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4 Responses

  1. Cathy Colangelo says:

    Good article. As a home owner for decades and through many houses of each type, I cannot stress strongly enough that your cost for septic will likely be as much or more over time compared to city sewer, primarily depending on the age and condition of the septic system when you buy the house. On the positive side, septic really does make for greener grass (apologies to Erma Bombeck!) and many people prefer the “independence” from city systems for reasons I really don’t understand. One of the other annoying aspects of septic (in my opinion) is that sometimes they are built in the front yard and have unsightly mounds. Yuck. Unfortunately, we seldom have a choice which system a house has. However, once you have lived with both, you probably have an opinion which is best. All in all, I think it comes down to personal preference.

    • There have been many studies to show that a well maintained concrete septic tank can actually be incredibly cost-efficient. Pumping every 3-5 years, standard bi-monthly maitenance, and having two tanks (one for greywater the other blackwater) can actually create great conditions for a septic tank to live on ad infinitum. If you’re having to replace your septic every ten years though, then yes, you’ll likely find better cost efficiency with a public sewer.

      You will definitely have greener grass though. The area all around the drain field will be green and lovely! Although, if it gets greener and taller, then you probably have an issue.

      Like all things though, it really is personal preference.

  2. My sister has a septic and we grew up on sewer. She hates the restriction she feels from the amount of toilet paper she puts into the tank to complaining about the smell. I’ve never smelled anything so it might be in her head but she wants to move away. So timely post from your end 🙂

    • Thanks for stopping by MSM! Some people love it, some people hate it. Your sister sounds like one who prefers sewer. Nothing wrong with that, all in the preference. If she is smelling something though, my immediate though would be to check the drain field. If the grass is greener, taller, and more lush, she may soon have a very serious problem.

      The toilet paper restriction isn’t really common in modern septic tanks; however, if she feels it’s an issue there is TP made specifically for quick “digestion” in the tank. The biggest issue a modern tank faces is actually the washing machine. The soaps we use kill the necessary bacteria – that’s why it’s so important to have TWO different tanks.

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