What does a Title V Report Tell a Buyer When Buying a Home?
The short answer is: LOTS! A Title V report is a complete overview of a septic system by an expert in septic system as determined by the state of Massachusetts. These reports are very valuable, but generally buyers only look at the top line information. Did it pass or fail? Yes, that is clearly the most important information, but a savvy buyer of property is going to look deeper at this report to see what they can learn about this very important home system.
Key Takeaways from a Title 5 Report
Current Status of the Septic System
This is the pass or fail. There is also a "conditional-pass", whereby some work needs to be done, and then the system will be in compliance. Pass is good - it means the system is working and nothing needs to be done at the moment. Fail is bad - that generally means the system will need extensive repair or replacement, and ultimately it means that the house shouldn't have people using it. A house is not much good without a working and safe septic system.
Age of the Septic System
The age of the system is often documented as well. Even a well-maintained system comes with no guarantees if it gets beyond the edge of it's life. Unlike many manufactured components, a septic system can (and often does) run well past it's "useful" life. But you should what risk profile you are taking on.
Type of Septic System
Not all systems are modern, tank-and-leechfield systems. There are systems with leech pits, tight tanks,
Don't Ask me if the Microwave
is Included and then ignore the Title
V report! That makes no sense!
raised systems, pump tanks, and other less common configurations. You should know what you are buying, and make sure you understand it, just as you would your heating system or A/C systems.
Have the water flows to the system been normal? High? Low? These systems are designed to process water safely - but they have limits. A system with low flows may funciton acceptably, but when high flows begin you could start having problems. This can happen when a house has been vacant for a long time, and a larger family moves in. All of a sudden, the system gets hit with a much higher flow rate, and it can't handle it.
How many people live in the house
This is a quick way to figure out the "load" the system might be under. Water flows are more accurate.
Ground Water Levels
Most inspectors try to determine - or re-state - reseach done on the ground-water levels in the area. Why is that important? Septic systems are about DRAINANGE, as much as anything else. The faster water drains away, the more load the system can handle. If the ground water level is very high - and your system fails - it could be hard (read:expensive) to put a new system in. Basically, if you have an old system, high ground water, and low loads - you might want to think very carefully about buying a home with this combination of factors! No one wants to have a system fail, but fail they do. A little research today can keep surprises at bay if it happens to you.
Who did the inspection is good to know if there are questions. You should call the inspector if you have them.
Where is the Septic System
You're going to need it pumped, and it can be hard to figure out where the tank is. Guess what? Every report contains a map showing where the tank is, and how to find it. This is important information! If you can't show your pumper where it is, he's going to have to find it- and they probably won't do it for free!!
Things a Title 5 Report WON'T Tell You
The report is very useful, but there are things that you can not determine by looking at the Title V report. Some of them are listed below.
The Future of Your Septic System
Any system can fail at anytime. There are no guarantees with any system, unfortunately. That's why assessing the health and risk of the system is so important.
Informaion about the Leech Field
The leech field can't be inspected easily, and isn't a requirement of the inspection. People who don't maintain
Water Flow and Water Levels are key
to understanding your Septic System
their systems properly can be clogging their leech field. (They do not, however, fill up with leeches. I jest.). Even people who do everything right are often not protected from lint and hair build up in older systems. (Newer systems have multi-stage chambers and filters to help with this). At some point, if enough objects that won't dissolve get into your leechfield and collect, the septic system won't perform, and you'll have problems.
Generally, the pump history that was performed by the previous owner(s) is not listed on the report. Hopefully, someday it will be. We'd all like better access to this information. Sometimes it's at the Board of Health at the Town Hall, but it's not guaranteed to be accurate or even up-to-date.
How Much a New System will Cost
Virtually no one will price Septic systems with out a Septic Design, and a new Septic Design is not the purpose of a Title V report. Looking at the size of the lot, the drainage, and the ground water level can give you indications of how difficult the design will be - but that is a far cry from an accurate estimate.
Note: Matt Heisler is not an expert in septic systems, but he's read a report or two!