Many people fear what is unfamiliar and what they do not understand. With houses the biggest unknown in more urban or suburban environments is well and septic systems instead of public water and sewer. Knowledge is power. If you know both the advantages and disadvantages of a well and septic systems in a home, you may decide it is for you.
Many homes for sale in Homer Glen and some homes for sale in Lockport and homes in New Lenox have well and septic with lots of at least half acre in unincorporated areas or formerly unincorporated areas. I personally have had well and septic in two of my own homes for nearly 30 years. I have never had a problem with it and have enjoyed the many benefits. Here are the things both good and bad I would pass on to you as a homeowner and a real estate and construction professional.
The biggest advantage of these systems is cost. While Lake Michigan water averages between $100-200 per month and climbs each year, well and septic systems have no monthly or even annual costs. With this savings, on the purchase side, you could potentially increase your monthly payment if qualification allows. This monthly savings can translate into $20-40k more in purchase price. So, it can go a long way and put you into a different purchase category and get you the things you want in a home. Or just save your monthly expenses or go into a vacation or college fund.
There are maintenance costs involved with well and septic, but they are usually long term. Septic or mechanical septic systems need to be pumped out every few years, depending on your soil, your system and how many baths, people, etc. Average costs (depending on area) are $500 to pump out septic systems. Wells have tanks, pumps, and other systems to use it. Most of these systems should last at least 10-20 years. Tanks can be $1,000-$2,000, pumps and other systems are usually less than that. Considering the savings on a monthly an annual basis, these costs are significantly less than monthly water and sewer bills which often seem to increase.
You will need a water softener and you will need to add salt pellets monthly, depending on use. Water softeners are a few hundred dollars to replace, when necessary, but again last at least 10-20 or more years. Softener salt is sold everyone – grocery stores, home improvement stores, hardware stores, etc. They are around $5 per bag – so total cost is around $10 per month.
The last cost difference is water appliances. Harder water, even softened, puts more wear and tear on your water appliances, your washer and diswasher. So, the washer and dishwasher, depending on use, typically get 10-15 years of use. Often you will need to replace dishwasher and washers after 7 years or so. Again, even these costs compared to the overall monthly costs, you will still come out ahead.
Another advantage is freedom to water when you want. Watering your lawn, plants or even adding to a swimming pool is dictated times and days of the week, etc. by the village or the water company. Many times, the times are very early in the morning, late at night or when most people are at work. With a well, you can water as long and whenever you want. And it will not make your bill skyrocket during the hot summer months. Remember, there is no bill. Using well water in a swimming pool to fill is not always advisable. Sometimes the chemicals in pools don’t work well with it. There are often places that fill pools much faster and easier with less cost. Topping off an inch or so with summer evaporation is fine.
The biggest turn offs for buyers about well and septic systems are the myths, the unknowns. One of the biggest unknowns is the operation of the systems. Contrary to rumor, you don’t have to do anything to maintain these, except the salt for the water softener. And the toliets, faucets, etc. work the same way as in any house. The only difference is the lack of garbage disposals. Most systems don’t work well with garbage disposals.
Another myth is that the septic field will affect your lawn, yard, etc. Unless something is wrong with the system, you will not have any difference from a city sewer system. You will never see anything and will use your lawn and yard as you normally would. If you see or smell anything, there is a problem with the system that needs correction.
The biggest disadvantage is the taste and hardness (iron) in the water. The water is hard due the high iron content. That does not make it thick or chewy, it looks like regular water. And there is no danger with this and that is why you have a water softener to reduce/neutralize the iron content of the water. The water is coming from the water table in the ground. However, it is not brown, murky or chewy as some myths propagate. It may require some filtering, like a reverse osmosis system to filter the taste and clarity. I have a reverse osmosis system on my refrigerator water for ice and drinking water. I drink a lot of water and I would put this up to any bottled water on taste. I do use the water from the tap for cooking and washing, etc. It is very clear and does not smell- again no different than any one else’s tap water.
Also, floride is not added to the well water, as in city water. But, there are plenty of rinses and toothpastes out there now, not to mention normal regular dental treatments, which can supplement that deficiency.
One more smaller and more infrequent disadvantage. During a power outage, the systems work off electricity. For the well, you will have the water that is in the well tank, which could be full, half or practically empty if the outage happens in between cycles. So, all water, include showers, toliets (as they use water to flush), water to drink and cook, all need electricity to pump in and out of the well. If you are in an area with frequent electrical outages, a generator may be a good idea. Otherwise, it is more of an uncommon nuisance than anything else.
When you buy a home on these systems, you have tests done to ensure the systems are properly working. This is usually done at the seller’s cost per contract. If it is not a seller, the buyer may need to have the test done and absorb the cost. Usually $250 or so per test, near the Chicago area. You will get a lab report on both and recommendations for any changes, if necessary. And don’t be afraid to ask the seller for a glass of water if you are interested. Or run the water, flush the toliet. You will do that during a home inspection, of course, but you can certainly also do when you are looking to allay any of your fears.