Waste-disposal system

Waste disposal from a residential structure will be either through sewers connected to a community waste-treatment plant or through a private disposal system such as a septic tank or cesspool. When all other items are equal, a house with a sewer is more desirable than one with a private disposal system. Sewers are relatively maintenance-free. On occasion, there might be a blockage, which can usually be cleared at low cost by using a drain auger (“plumber’s snake”). Maintaining a private disposal system, on the other hand, can be quite costly.

Whether the house is serviced by a sewer or is connected to a septic tank usually cannot be determined during an inspection. The house drain line passing through the foundation wall is the same regardless of whether there is an exterior connection to a sewer or to a septic tank. Since not all municipalities require a house trap on the main drain, the absence of a trap does not mean that there are no sewers. And just because there is a sanitary sewer in the street, it should not be assumed that the house is connected to the sewer line. Tying into the sanitary sewer (if the connection is permitted) is at the homeowner’s expense. I know of several instances where homeowners elected to stay with their septic systems rather than go to the expense of tying into the sewer.

Real Estate Home Inspection photographs of house defects

standing “gooseneck” cover.

In some communities, however, once a sewer line is installed, all the homes on that street are legally obliged to connect. Your best bet is to contact the local municipal building department and ask them if this house is connected to the sanitary sewer system. It might save you a lot of aggravation later on.


A cesspool is basically a hole in the ground that has been lined with stone, brick, or some other material. It is constructed to allow raw contaminated liquid sewage to leach into the soil while retaining the organic matter and solids. Because of environmental and health considerations, most communities no longer allow cesspools in new construction. The older homes that have cesspool disposal systems are not required to upgrade them to septic systems as long as they are functioning properly. However, when problems develop, the homeowner is often legally obligated to replace the cesspool with a septic system rather than repair it. Depending on soil conditions, topography, and available space, the installation of a new septic system may cost several thousand dollars.

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