Onsite Well and Septic Systems - Things You Don't Need To Know....until you need to know about it!

Posted by Dan Wolf on Friday, September 21st, 2012 at 3:41pm.

Homes for sale in Anchorage AlaskaMost home buyers never give a second thought to their well and septic systems - and why should they?  When they work which is nearly always, you don't even know they are underground. On-site wells and septics are generally invisible and made to be fool proof.

This blog article is for the folks who want to live out of town and away from the lots with city water and sewer on them.  In Anchorage, that is the peripheral areas, far west Anchorage towards Kincaid Park or southeast "hillside" areas where city services haven't made it to, and may not ever get there.

On-site systems are strictly regulated by the State of Alaska (Department of Environmental Conservation) outside of the Anchorage area and by the Municipality in the Anchorage area. Protecting the water keeps some very talented engineers employed and busy.

in order to transfer title, close a sale between a buyer and seller, on a property served by well and septic in Anchorage a Certificate of On-Site System Approval (COSA) must be issued by the Municipality of Anchorage.  The Municipality requires an engineer perform adequacy tests on the well and septic.  An adequacy test consists of pumping a measured quantity of clean water into the absorption field while the liquid levels in the septic tank, drain-field and the well are monitored.  If the well and septic system for a 3 bedroom residence can produce and dispose of 450 gallons of water in 24 hours and no other issues exist, then the Municipal Onsite Water and Wastewater Department will issue an approved COSA to the seller for the benefit of the lender and the buyer.

There are a lot of things that can happen.  The operational life of all septic systems depend on the siol conditions on the lot.  Ground water leels may fluctuate from year to year and the time of the year, and the water and septic uses of the family, for instance a snowbird gone half of the time barely uses a system while a family of 5 might punish a similar system.

There is no way to say in advance how long a septic system will run satisfactorily into the future.  When I was a young man in the Matanuska Valley, it was common to use log cribs as a septic system.  Older homes occasionally have sink-holes where those cribs have failed and have to be replaced with modern steel or fiberglass septic tanks.  All septic systems ultimately fail.  Some systems will last 15 -20 years and other might fail in 5 depending on the soils available and the use of the system.

Water is drawn from the well and tested for quality and flow rate.  The municipality requires 150 gals per bedroom, per day, so a 3 bedroom home must produce 450 gals per day.  A water sample is tested for nitrates, e. Coli and Coliform at a minimum and can be tested for the presence of other substances and minerals as well.  

It is considered a misdameaner to transfer a property without obtainijng the tests and an approved COSA.  This is one good reason to hire a professional real estate agent who is familier with the process and the time involved to get these tests completed.  The engineering work on a septic is good for 2 years,  The COSA certificate is good for 6 months; it's a good idea to get the engineering done early and then not turn the work into the municipality until you have a known sale date.  

I know this is boring stuff that you don't need to know as long as everything works like it is supposed to!  If you are looking forward to buying or selling and you want someone familiar with onsite wells and septics outside of the city, give me a call or email and I'll be happy to help you.


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