city water sewer vs well septic

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Calhoon
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city water sewer vs well septic

Post by Calhoon » Sun Sep 30, 2018 9:51 am

Looking at homes in an area where half the houses we look are well and septic and half aren't.

Guessing that in town it would be about a thousand per year with city water and sewer. Family of four. Two daughters.

A few blocks over it'd be well and septic at about 100 per year. Community makes you pump every other year, which is about two hundred.

So, it would look like all things being equal having your own well and septic would be a winner.

But of course you run the risk of potential issues with your own private well and septic. Right now my cousin needs to replace his septic drain field and his feeling is that with your own well and septic you might not have quarterly bills but you pay it in the end. Like anything else, these things have a life and when they fail it's quite expensive.

What's the consensus on this? Is one less expensive than the other, or is it generally a wash?

Scrapr
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Re: city water sewer vs well septic

Post by Scrapr » Sun Sep 30, 2018 10:03 am

any chance that the City will force hookups to City water/sewer? Going through that now in our city. Annexed 20 years ago but no money set aside from the HO payments. Now worries about groundwater from septic as the area is set for major growth. $25k plus a bunch of other fees

mrc
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Re: city water sewer vs well septic

Post by mrc » Sun Sep 30, 2018 10:08 am

Unless you are choosing between two nearly identical homes, one with septic, one on muni, does it matter? Chose the house you like best. I don't know which of the two has the higher costs overall, but in our experience living in both types, septic costs are more sporadic compared to the more regular monthly utility bills. If my septic system fails (and it shouldn't because I take good care of it), I might long for a sewer hookup. But I wouldn't trade houses with someone who lives down the road in a subdivision cluster. I like the extra acreage we have too much.
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Teague
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Re: city water sewer vs well septic

Post by Teague » Sun Sep 30, 2018 10:12 am

On average city water and sewer are typically cheaper in the long run, due to economies of scale and the inevitability of eventual need for expensive repairs to or replacement of the well. A properly maintained septic system should not need replacement for a very long time. Remember you pay for the electricity to run that well. Depending on depth, amount pumped, and electricity cost, that can be pretty expensive.

But we do well and septic, and that works fine for us.
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bertilak
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Re: city water sewer vs well septic

Post by bertilak » Sun Sep 30, 2018 10:27 am

I think the standard risk vs. reward thing applies.
  • Town water and septic: Lower risk but higher regular expenses.
    Private well and septic: Lower regular expenses but greater risk of occasional high expenses.
That's a tough comparison to make because the risk side is difficult to quantify. (So this is a case of real life being just like real life!)

I think I would say don't let this consideration drive your decision, but do have well and septic inspected (along with the rest of the house) before signing away any money.
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leonidas
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Re: city water sewer vs well septic

Post by leonidas » Sun Sep 30, 2018 10:30 am

My house is 14 years old and two weeks ago my submersible well pump died.
The replacement cost 2200 (with storage tank).
I pay about 150 a year to in service costs.

The septic is the real killer if it needs replacement. We clean out our tank every three years at about 280 each pump. If the system needs replacement then that could cost 10-20k. This is my second house with well and septic, 10 years for the first and 14 for this one and never had an issue with the septic. I am thinking that the system should last 25-30 years if properly cared for.

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Re: city water sewer vs well septic

Post by jbuzolich » Sun Sep 30, 2018 10:34 am

Definitely positives and negatives with both. I agree with the earlier comment about with well and septic you pay it in the end anyway but likely much less on a monthly basis. When we were looking at cabins, first place we were on contract with was contingent on inspections. Paid quite a bit out of pocket but the well inspection was operational yet positive with e.coli. Concerned me, freaked my wife out, but real estate agent that lived there said totally no big deal just dump a little bleach in there. Maybe it's common, I don't know, but the thought of dealing with that and having to test ended the sale. Couple years later we did buy a cabin in a neighborhood where it was about half city connections and half well and septic. Our place had the location we wanted, which was why we bought it, but having the city water and sewer was a big bonus point for us. Pay a lot monthly but never really worried about repairs or water quality.

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Re: city water sewer vs well septic

Post by mmmodem » Sun Sep 30, 2018 10:38 am

mrc wrote:
Sun Sep 30, 2018 10:08 am
Unless you are choosing between two nearly identical homes, one with septic, one on muni, does it matter? Chose the house you like best. I don't know which of the two has the higher costs overall, but in our experience living in both types, septic costs are more sporadic compared to the more regular monthly utility bills. If my septic system fails (and it shouldn't because I take good care of it), I might long for a sewer hookup. But I wouldn't trade houses with someone who lives down the road in a subdivision cluster. I like the extra acreage we have too much.
+1
Lived with city water my whole life. The current home we moved into for the last 6 months is a well. I have not been able to figure out which way costs less. In the end, assuming no difference in water quality, I considered the costs to be so similar that it didn't matter or the costs of a well so variable as it could be substantially less or substantially more depending on who installed the septic system and leach field, how well it was maintained and how old it is. I just looked at a well as a characteristic property of the home that cannot be changed.

chw
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Re: city water sewer vs well septic

Post by chw » Sun Sep 30, 2018 10:46 am

Calhoon wrote:
Sun Sep 30, 2018 9:51 am
Looking at homes in an area where half the houses we look are well and septic and half aren't.

Guessing that in town it would be about a thousand per year with city water and sewer. Family of four. Two daughters.

A few blocks over it'd be well and septic at about 100 per year. Community makes you pump every other year, which is about two hundred.

So, it would look like all things being equal having your own well and septic would be a winner.

But of course you run the risk of potential issues with your own private well and septic. Right now my cousin needs to replace his septic drain field and his feeling is that with your own well and septic you might not have quarterly bills but you pay it in the end. Like anything else, these things have a life and when they fail it's quite expensive.

What's the consensus on this? Is one less expensive than the other, or is it generally a wash?
Personally, if choosing between 2 identical homes except the city water/sewer vs. septic/well, I would choose the city water and sewer.

I bought a home 30 years ago with septic/well- both were tested to be in good working order at the time of purchase. 3 years after I bought the house, new septic regs were passed by the state, which basically made most older septic systems obsolete, and made replacement mandatory when the home was sold (even if it was maintained and working to our needs). We did sell our home recently, and incurred a 35K charge to replace the septic.

Regarding the well, I personally would not buy a home with a well again. Even if it's working and tested properly at time of purpose, new testing parameters can also be implemented which can may make your water seem to be at risk to a buyer. In our case, the new testing parameter was for radon, which did come back elevated. The state "recommends" mitigation above a certain reading level, but does not mandate it. The cost of mitigating the radon was another added expense at the time of sale in order to remove this potential risk factor to a buyer. We were fortunate that the water tested fine except for elevated sodium (due to road salting in the winter).

It was nice not to have water or sewer bills over the past 30 years, but I'm guessing the cost of the updates mentioned above, pretty muich wiped out the water and sewer costs we may have seen over 30 years.

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Re: city water sewer vs well septic

Post by bertilak » Sun Sep 30, 2018 10:49 am

leonidas wrote:
Sun Sep 30, 2018 10:30 am
The septic is the real killer if it needs replacement. We clean out our tank every three years at about 280 each pump. If the system needs replacement then that could cost 10-20k. This is my second house with well and septic, 10 years for the first and 14 for this one and never had an issue with the septic. I am thinking that the system should last 25-30 years if properly cared for.
I had o replace my 7 year old septic system due to its poor design finally failing to do the job. It cost me $20K plus $5K for ineffective repair paid to people who didn't know what they were doing (except they knew how to rip me off).

My hard-earned advice: Ask the county for a list of approved septic system designers and contractors (you need both). The county will issue permits to a) construct the system and b) operate the system after construction and a county inspection. Don't go by word of mouth nor look for online listings and recommendations.
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dm200
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Re: city water sewer vs well septic

Post by dm200 » Sun Sep 30, 2018 10:51 am

I would be MOST concerned about the water issue and the risks that a well could have all kinds of problems in the future.

BUT the costs of septic (and future risks) can be an issue as well. I would go with city water and sewer.

likegarden
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Re: city water sewer vs well septic

Post by likegarden » Sun Sep 30, 2018 11:32 am

We lived in 3 houses with city water, would not go to well.
In those 3 houses, first had septic, house was built on sand, never had a real problem.
The second house was built on shale; was also a long single story with little slope in drain pipes inside house - we had to pump the septic every half year, never again. Washers drained into an outside pit in which I had to pour 5 gal acid every half year.
The third house has city water and sewage, over 31 years we never had a problem with water and sewage. That's the way to go - who needs trouble with a house?.

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Re: city water sewer vs well septic

Post by JGoneRiding » Sun Sep 30, 2018 11:51 am

I have both. I think cost is about the same in the long run.

Cost to pump everywhere I have been is about $450. Divide this by 3 years it's no cheaper then monthly sewer at about $30/mos and the sewer is less likely to need 25k replacement but I have had both sewer and septic drains replaced both about 5k.

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dm200
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Re: city water sewer vs well septic

Post by dm200 » Sun Sep 30, 2018 11:54 am

Grew up in the country - with well and septic. Lots change over time - wells get contaminated and septic systems (more complicated now) have increased risk and cost. Some are due to increased (and costly) regulations and some are just plain health risks.

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Re: city water sewer vs well septic

Post by chevca » Sun Sep 30, 2018 12:09 pm

mrc wrote:
Sun Sep 30, 2018 10:08 am
Unless you are choosing between two nearly identical homes, one with septic, one on muni, does it matter? Chose the house you like best.
This ^^

The cost difference between the two over the long run is likely to be very little. Pick the house you like best without concern over city water or well and septic.

I had never lived anywhere that didn't have city water until we bought our new house a year ago. The cities definitely take better care of the water, or run a much more routine system. Our well now is a community well and water can get stinky when the folks get behind on filters or whatever. Never had that in the city. We love our house though, so it's a very minor inconvenience. My FIL has an individual well and also an individual filtration system. That filtration system is costly, but also at his own choosing to own.

I think in the long run the costs about equal out. There is a convenience bonus to having the city run the water system. But, I'd say let that and water costs play a very small part in which house to buy.

WillRetire
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Re: city water sewer vs well septic

Post by WillRetire » Sun Sep 30, 2018 12:29 pm

How often should well water be tested to verify it is (still) safe for drinking? Out in the wilderness, no big deal. Elsewhere, who knows what has seeped into the water from nearby properties.

jehovasfitness
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Re: city water sewer vs well septic

Post by jehovasfitness » Sun Sep 30, 2018 12:31 pm

I would go with city utility 10/10 times.

We have well and septic now and I know in another decade or 2 something costly will happen


We still pay for water delivery since I dont trust the well and needing periodic testing

retired recently
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Re: city water sewer vs well septic

Post by retired recently » Sun Sep 30, 2018 1:17 pm

All else being equal, I would choose city water and sewer. With all of the chemicals folks like to spray on their lawns and flowers, wells run the risk of contamination. At least with the city water, they run tests on it regularly.

We currently have well and a septic tank and have had no issues with them.

gretah
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Re: city water sewer vs well septic

Post by gretah » Sun Sep 30, 2018 1:29 pm

Pay careful attention to the numbers in Leonidas' post.

I used to live in a septic-only island town.

Never again.

mrc
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Re: city water sewer vs well septic

Post by mrc » Sun Sep 30, 2018 1:32 pm

retired recently wrote:
Sun Sep 30, 2018 1:17 pm
All else being equal, I would choose city water and sewer. With all of the chemicals folks like to spray on their lawns and flowers, wells run the risk of contamination. At least with the city water, they run tests on it regularly.

We currently have well and a septic tank and have had no issues with them.
That's what my friends thought when they bought a house in Michigan. Flint if I recall correctly. :annoyed

Our well is deep: ~400 feet. I used to test every couple years, now not so much.

Every situation is different.
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suemarkp
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Re: city water sewer vs well septic

Post by suemarkp » Sun Sep 30, 2018 4:30 pm

Like everything else, if you have systems on your property that need maintenance/repair, are you handy enough to do it yourself or must you pay someone? Maintenance/repair can be 1/2 to 1/3 the cost if you can do it yourself.

Most of the well and septic costs are up front. A gravity septic system should last about 50 years (so if you're buying a 40 year old house you know its probably going to fail on you so I hope you'll be there a while to recoup the cost).

I've never had a house with a well, but changing a well pump or bladder tank is not that difficult. I think my preference would be for city water though as it doesn't tend to cost much. If you irrigate a lot, then maybe you'd want a well for that if the well existed already.

Septic systems run the risk of rule change. I've had to replace 2 septic systems in different houses. The last needed an additional tank, more drainfield length than before, and the setbacks from creeks and wetlands was increased. Fortunately, there was one place on my lot where all requirements could be met (including not using the dirt area of the old drainfield). I should be good for 50 years again, with a $400 pump every 3-4 years and an $800 pump every 6-8 years.

Septic systems with pumps are more problematic. And the biggest risk is when the city decides to make you connect to sewers. That can be quite costly. I hope that doesn't happen to me since I just sunk about $12K into the septic replacement a few years ago.

Finally, city sewer is not a panacea either. There was an article about how many of the old homes in Seattle highly recommend a drain pipe scoping before you buy. Seems like the 50 to 100 year old pipes are deteriorating, and running new ones can be pricey (you're responsible for the pipe from your house to the sewer in the middle of the street). I think they can horizontal bore a 4" pipe though, so even if there is now a bunch of concrete or pavement on top you can just bore under. But we're talking $10K+ magnitude costs here too.
Mark | Kent, WA

Teague
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Re: city water sewer vs well septic

Post by Teague » Sun Sep 30, 2018 4:41 pm

suemarkp wrote:
Sun Sep 30, 2018 4:30 pm
I've never had a house with a well, but changing a well pump or bladder tank is not that difficult.
Agree on the tank being pretty easy. But about the pump, you must have really, really shallow wells where you are.

Here, and common elsewhere, the pump is hundreds of feet straight down at the end of a water-filled 2-3 inch steel pipe. That's a whole bunch of weight. When they have to pull one a special hoist truck and experienced riggers show up to do the job. I can't fathom how one could even start to go about this as a DIY project.
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suemarkp
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Re: city water sewer vs well septic

Post by suemarkp » Sun Sep 30, 2018 7:19 pm

I'm in the Seattle area. You dig 5 feet and there is water... Not sure how deep the typical well is here, but I've seen people either just pull/drop the new pump and cable or use a big wheel spool.
Mark | Kent, WA

Teague
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Re: city water sewer vs well septic

Post by Teague » Sun Sep 30, 2018 8:05 pm

suemarkp wrote:
Sun Sep 30, 2018 7:19 pm
I'm in the Seattle area. You dig 5 feet and there is water... Not sure how deep the typical well is here, but I've seen people either just pull/drop the new pump and cable or use a big wheel spool.
I'm jealous! :happy
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Re: city water sewer vs well septic

Post by Sandtrap » Sun Sep 30, 2018 10:14 pm

City water and sewer: it always works. Anything off your property line is fixed at city expense.
Well and septic: depends. . . .

1. Friend's well went dry. Drilled 2 holes and finally found water at 1200 feet. Cost. 80k (ouch)
2. DW and I live in a 4500 sf home with 4 baths. Septic system is huge. Likely will last forever. Never needs to be pumped. Well is only 150 feet deep and has unlimited water as we live over a very large aquifer. Unlike with city water, if our power goes out, so does the water.
3. We have horses. They drink a lot (water), get regular showers, stable gets washed down. So if we were on city water it would cost a fortune.

So. . . it depends.
j

Scrapr
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Re: city water sewer vs well septic

Post by Scrapr » Sun Sep 30, 2018 11:04 pm

Sandtrap wrote:
Sun Sep 30, 2018 10:14 pm

3. We have horses. They drink a lot (water), get regular showers, stable gets washed down. So if we were on city water it would cost a fortune.
I thought horses got beer :D :beer

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Re: city water sewer vs well septic

Post by WageSlave » Mon Oct 01, 2018 4:15 pm

I grew up in the country, always on well and septic. Not sure of the costs, because my parents took care of that. But in our first house, the well was about 400 feet deep. There's a very, very low chance of it going dry. But the pump did need to be replaced once, and I remember my folks complaining about the costs. But, I remember that water: it fizzed a little bit when a cup was filled from the tap (similar to carbonated water); also, it had a distinct sulfur taste/smell to it. My family was used to it, but several people (friends, relatives) didn't like it. Point is, depending on a number of factors, well water quality varies greatly, being anywhere from delicious, could-bottle-and-sell-it; to safe but smells or tastes awful; to unfit for human consumption. My parents live out in the middle of nowhere, so their water "should" be safe. But these days, I'd be increasingly concerned about polluted wells, even very deep ones out in the middle of nowhere. Industrial pollution, runoff due to urbanization, agricultural chemicals, fracking, etc. Granted, municipal water can be unsafe too.

In their current house, my parents' well water actually tastes pretty good, and has no smell or bubbles. But the problem now is one of their two wells goes dry. If they had only one well, they'd be forced to buy water and have it delivered, as the one well does go dry fairly often. They've never had the second well go dry. But they are also extremely conservative with their water usage: they don't water their lawn (they do capture rain water to water their garden); they take super-fast "sailor-style" showers; all their appliances are highly water-efficient; and it's just the two of them. I remember one time when I lived with them, my dad and I had to go to his work to shower so we could save some water. If offered a city water option, they wouldn't think twice about it. It's a huge factor for them.

I don't remember them talking about the septic system too much. I know they completely re-did it in the current house (the one with the well that goes dry). I don't know how much it costs. I do know it has an aerator to help the enzymes or bacteria or whatever work their magic. So that costs electricity to run. But it also drains "grey water" that, when they are really motivated, they can use for watering plants.

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Re: city water sewer vs well septic

Post by iamlucky13 » Mon Oct 01, 2018 8:02 pm

Don't decide on sewer vs. septic first.

Find a house you like, then evaluate the expected cost to decide if it affects what you're willing to pay.

If it's well and septic system, it would be advisable to have them inspected by a qualified driller and a septic installer as part of your inspection contingency. They can identify potential problems and give you a general idea if there is a risk of major issues in the near to medium term.

If there are major concerns, then you can walk away, or you can consider options like getting a rough order of magnitude estimate for a proper long term fix to the problem and adjusting your offer downward accordingly. Alternately, it may be prudent to plan on a cost equivalent to a drainfield replacement recurring on something like a 20 year basis even for a good system.

For what it's worth, our septic system was 29 years old when we bought our house. We had an inspection done at the time that found no significant concerns. It's now over 35 years old. I suppose it would be wise to think about having it inspected again next time it is pumped.
Sandtrap wrote:
Sun Sep 30, 2018 10:14 pm
City water and sewer: it always works. Anything off your property line is fixed at city expense.
That's the theory any way. These systems are not without their problems, especially if the system is older. There are occasional issues in the city I live near related to an old combined stormwater and sewer lines cause sewage backflow into homes houses. It seems like every 5-10 years, a different neighborhood is affected, a few dozen homes at a time. Most of them do not have backflow preventers, but a couple of them reportedly did have backflow preventers that failed.

Any ways, having a backflow preventer installed can reduce the risks of things not going right. Municipal sewer should be a low risk of major issues, but not entirely without risk, and if problems do occur, the worst case scenario is worse than for a septic system.

Calhoon
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Re: city water sewer vs well septic

Post by Calhoon » Mon Oct 01, 2018 8:57 pm

Thanks everybody.

Sounds like it depends upon the situation, but generally it's a wash between the two. Or that city water/sewer is not always but generally an insurance policy of sorts where you pay a quarterly bill to avoid a much larger bill.

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Re: city water sewer vs well septic

Post by LadyGeek » Mon Oct 01, 2018 9:30 pm

This thread is now in the Personal Consumer Issues forum (sewer).
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Re: city water sewer vs well septic

Post by freebeer » Mon Oct 01, 2018 9:37 pm

No one has discussed what I think is the big issue, at least in my suburban area that has a mix of well/public water and septic/sewer: marketability of the home. Generally speaking people fear risk, and well and septic both represent risks. They also both encumber use of the property to varying degrees. Lots of incoming buyers from the Big City have no idea about septic systems and even fewer about wells, so RE agents have to handhold them. So on average a house that's got public water and sewer connection is going to appeal more readily to some people that may be turned off by the potential risks and the encumbrances of well/septic . Larger market = higher price, all other things being equal. Of course all other things are not necessarily equal - if septic+well is concomitant with having acreage and that acreage is valued by buyers, that may more than make up for it. On the other hand, in my area homes on sewer are generally in or closer to town which means shorter commutes and more walkability, which also equals higher prices. But apples to apples: same size lot, same size house, same location - in my area well+septic is probably going to be $10K less than if public water+sewer or if at same price, take another month or two to sell.

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Re: city water sewer vs well septic

Post by squirm » Mon Oct 01, 2018 9:46 pm

We have a well and septic. That's my preference too. I like very long hot showers, zero water cost.

TheAccountant
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Re: city water sewer vs well septic

Post by TheAccountant » Mon Oct 01, 2018 10:35 pm

Current home lived in for last 3 years. Problems with well. Pressure sucks.

Prior home lived in since 94. City water and sewer. Not a single issue. Great psi.

Septic is 20k to replace. Well is 8k to drill. Don’t dump any grease down the drain and pump it every few years and it’ll probably be fine.

With muni you just have the pipe underground to worry about. Those last quite a long time though.

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Re: city water sewer vs well septic

Post by tim1999 » Mon Oct 01, 2018 10:54 pm

A family member is currently in the middle of a project to install a new septic system for a house in an east coast HCOL suburb to the tune of $40,000. The old system dates to the 1960s when the house was constructed. They could not find an area on the lot that would perc for a standard in-ground system, so now there is going to be a monster sand mound in the front yard that can have no landscaping other than grass on it per the town regs. The municipality requires a septic inspection whenever a house is sold now, and if it fails, it must be replaced. Word on the street is that they are basically failing most systems installed before the 1990s. The system has probably been malfunctioning for many years as the lawn grows unusually green and vigorously in the exact area of the drainfield compared to the rest of the lawn. The cost of pumping it out every few years (which she did) was less than having to pay for public sewer fees, but she probably lost in the end with the replacement cost. And, if I were the buyer, I don't think I'd buy a house with a giant sand mound in front when a similar house can be had in the next town over with public sewer for a similar price.

Public water is very very hard in my area. Well water in many homes, nowhere near as much.

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Re: city water sewer vs well septic

Post by iamlucky13 » Tue Oct 02, 2018 7:25 am

freebeer wrote:
Mon Oct 01, 2018 9:37 pm
No one has discussed what I think is the big issue, at least in my suburban area that has a mix of well/public water and septic/sewer: marketability of the home...But apples to apples: same size lot, same size house, same location - in my area well+septic is probably going to be $10K less than if public water+sewer or if at same price, take another month or two to sell.
It cuts both ways though, because the buyer should be able to pay less themselves if buyers in his area have the same average sentiment.

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Re: city water sewer vs well septic

Post by dm200 » Tue Oct 02, 2018 10:39 am

squirm wrote:
Mon Oct 01, 2018 9:46 pm
We have a well and septic. That's my preference too. I like very long hot showers, zero water cost.
I grew up in the country - and, back then, everyone needed a well. For various reasons, sometimes the wells went dry for a period in the summer. Then you have a "problem".

I would also tend to believe that city water is likely to be safer. Others may disagree, but fluoridation of drinking water is something I see as a benefit also.

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Re: city water sewer vs well septic

Post by mouses » Tue Oct 02, 2018 11:06 am

I haven't had time to read all the replies.

My community tried to get the town sewer system extended to us, and failed due to political shenanigans. The cost of installing a septic system varies here from $10K to $35K depending on how close to the water the lot is and how small it is. Then there's the possibility that in twenty five years or so the leach field will need replacing.

If the costs were equal, I would prefer the city sewer situation, as you are not going to get big bills appearing out of nowhere, and part of your yard is not off limits to most planting due to the root problem. Also I think a city sewage treatment plant will do a better job than even a very advanced septic system.

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