Country living questions: septic system and propane


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Old 03-25-16, 06:42 AM
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Country living questions: septic system and propane

I'm interested in buying a house out in the country. It has a buried septic tank system for sewage and a leased propane tank for heat.

Home was built in 1988. It is a 5,800sqft home with 4.5 bathrooms. The property disclosure describes the septic system as "2-1000gal" with "7 feet of laterals" and "? feet infiltrators". It was last pumped in 2012. That's all I currently know.

What do you think that means? Is that 2 1000 gallon tanks, or 1 1000 gallon tank with two compartments? Assuming the system is already 18 years old, what kind of life can I expect and what's a ballpark cost to replace? Is this just for the toilets, or does it collect all the grey water from sinks and showers, too? Or would it be 1 tank for each?

For heat, there's no indication of a geothermal heat pump. Appears to be solely run on propane. As compared to municipal natural gas service, how much more expensive is it to heat a home with propane?

If you could tell me some things to consider or look for when I visit the property, I'd appreciate it.
 
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Old 03-26-16, 11:33 AM
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First thing I wold find out ab out is the water supply. Well or municipal? If it is a well find out what the recharge rate is and if there is a chlorination system. The house is worthless without a good supply of water.
 
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Old 03-26-16, 12:33 PM
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I agree on the water issue. I'd imagine country living to mean well water.

With 4.5 bathrooms..... I take that as being two 1000 gallon tanks Your septic system should collect, hold and process all the waste water from the house. I'd want at least the tanks inspected.

A geothermal system would be a rare find. The cost is prohibitive.

The propane tank lease has nothing to do with you. You can take it or leave it.... you're not obligated to take over the previous owners lease.

As far as the heat issue..... you'd need to determine the cost of propane versus natural gas (if it's even available).

You may find fossil fuel costs prohibitive and opt to have a heat pump installed.
 
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Old 03-26-16, 07:09 PM
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House is on rural water. Not too far out of town, but too far for sewer service or natural gas.

No geothermal. Appears the furnace runs on propane and also has a heat pump in AC units. Electric water heater.

I wouldn't ordinarily consider using heat pump because cost of electricity is so much more than natural gas, but perhaps it is cheaper than using propane. Either way, sounds like utilities will be higher to heat with propane/electric than with ng.
 
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Old 03-26-16, 07:20 PM
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Either way, sounds like utilities will be higher to heat with propane/electric than with ng.
Yes... that is pretty much a given.
 
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Old 03-27-16, 04:23 AM
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Propane is not regulated so it's price fluctuates with the market. Generally it's more expensive with a leased tank and with a leased tank you are tied to getting your gas from that company. If you purchase a tank you are free to purchase your gas from any provider and shop around for the best price. I have a 1'000 gallon tank which can accommodate our needs for over two years. That large reserve allows me to buy propane when it's cheaper, usually summer. This site shows propane prices but for the most accurate information call the providers in your area but Kansas has pretty low propane prices.
 
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Old 03-27-16, 05:11 AM
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How often do you have to have that in-ground 1000 gallon propane tank re-certified ?

I only use propane for a kitchen cook-top, and the Company owns the tank; but my little barbecue tanks are only good for 10-12 years from the date of manufacture, and then can only be re-certified for another 5 years. I'm soon going to try and have one re-certified for a second 5 year term; but it's costly . . . . almost cost prohibitive, and two recertifications will likely exceed the cost of a new tank.

I wonder if the cost of a new 1000 gallon tank approaches (or exceeds) the value of the 800 gallons of propane inside it ?
 
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Old 03-27-16, 06:14 AM
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I also live in the country and have a well, septic, and propane gas. Our house is 4600 sq ft and has 3 full baths. We have one 2,000 tank that was installed when we bought the house because the previous tank did not pass inspection. All houses in MN are required to have the septic and well inspected/tested in order to sell. If your state does not, I would require it before buying the house.

Our well system does not need "recharging" and does not have a chlorination system. In fact, none of my previous houses, or friends/relatives well require them. Again, they have all been tested.

The my propane company does not charge for the use of their tank(s), however you are required to buy gas from them which limits you to one vendor. Changing vendors is not a big deal, only an inconvenience. As mentioned gas prices fluctuate with demand so the best time to fill is in the hot summer when propane prices are down.

Our company also does a prebuy for your gas for over the the winter. This will give you a set price, typically cheaper, that you will pay for the gas because winter time gas prices tend to go up. Normally we buy 800 gallons on prebuy but your millage will vary. Check the name on the tank and call the propane company to find out how much gas the previous owners used per year to get an idea how much it will cost you to heat the place. Last year there was a propane shortage for some reason and prices were about $4 per gallon. I was still paying $1.29 per gallon because I was on prebuy.

Five or so years ago when gasoline was well over $3 per gallon, propane was also high. Many people started looking at electric heat again. Standard electric prices were still over the price of propane but some electric companies will do "off-peak". With off peak you pay about half per KWH then the standard rate. If this is something you would want to do a duct heater could be added to your existing furnace plenum. The A/C condenser could also be changed to a heat pump (not geothermal) and also added to off peak. Check with the electric company for what programs they offer.
 
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Old 03-27-16, 06:42 AM
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Request the previous 3 years of propane and electric bills. At 5,800 ft² they should be substantial. In my area they will not release that information to anyone other than the one who was listed as owner at the time. You have to get it now rather than later.

Ask how many people have been living there, the life of the septic is related to use. It also depends upon what they have been putting in it, there should not be a garbage disposal in use on a septic system.

Look at or have it determined as to where a new septic field would be installed if the current one fails. Are you near ant water bodies, streams or lakes?

Is the septic a gravity feed system or does it use a pump?

Pumped in 2012, do they have a copy of the inspection at that time.

Are the current owners the original owners or has the house changed hands a few times. Frequent changes in ownership is a big red flag.

Check the town office to see what permits have been pulled. Any changes to the septic would have required a permit and changes would indicate a problem.

Might as well ask more questions while you are there.

An 88 home was built before the push on energy efficiency, therefore I would not expect this house to be as well air sealed as it could have been.

Ranch, 2-story, slab, crawlspace, basement? High and dry or low wet area?

Large country home, does it have a wood burning fireplace?

I like to list all home furnishings that have a life span, like roof shingles, carpets, and heating systems. Then determine their expected life and look at how far along they are. A roof that is 28 years old is approaching replacement and its value has depreciated. All other potential replacement items can be reviewed the same way.

Bud
 
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Old 03-28-16, 09:04 AM
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Bud, thank you for the detailed advice. All great questions.

We toured the property and have concluded that it has a TON of potential and amazing features, but we're just not ready to make the jump... yet.

First, the house is almost certainly a massive energy hog. It's a 5,800sqft ranch with a walk-in main level master and 4 more bedrooms in a huge sprawling basement. This property has a ton of doors and windows - the east side has 4 sets of sliding doors/windows. Heating that size of home on propane with leaky doors and windows could be tough to swallow. Likewise electric for cooling in the summer.

It's on an elevated site and I'm not worried about drainage issues.

I don't have any idea on quality of the "rural water." I'd need to test it. There are no softener or filtration units. Septic would need to be thoroughly tested b/c it is approaching 30 years old. I agree on getting records from prior inspections and pumpings. The kitchens have garbage disposals, and who knows how heavily they've been used.

The grounds have a small-ish maybe 1 acre pond that's not in great shape. Seems pretty shallow and is being invaded by cattails. It would need to be renovated. Near the pond is a functioning windmill that appears to pumping - what? It might be pumping water into the pond? Can't tell.

The irrigation system in the couple of acres immediately surround the house is odd. A lot of elevated sprinkler heads on pipes sticking out of the ground. A lot of valves elevated above the ground. It's like no sprinkler system I've ever seen based upon my suburban dwelling experience. Again, would need to be thoroughly tested.

What drew us to this property are the 40 acres, which are generally in great shape, and the beautiful exterior construction of the home. The interior doesn't look like it's been updated since 88. That's a LOT of updating, but also a big opportunity.

The property has also been on and off the market for the past 3 years, which means it is (a) still overpriced, despite a reduction last year, (b) the sellers don't have a huge urgency to sell, and (c) something else?

So anyway, this is a property we'd love to tackle and transform into our own, but we're just not financially ready for this undertaking and we're not going to waste the sellers' time with a bunch of questions right now. We're going to wait a year. If it is still on the market next spring, we're going to ask a ton of detailed questions and make a serious offer. If not, it wasn't meant to be.
 
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Old 03-28-16, 10:18 AM
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Wow, at each paragraph I could hear the cash register ring and my back would twinge. You would have to be a lot younger than I and have pockets so deep that money would not influence your decisions. That would be a big project.

When you look again next year or so, DON'T offer a reasonable price. Build your list of projects and submit it with an offer less than half of what you are or will be thinking. Trust an old guy, once you move in you will find all sorts of things that will need to be fixed, changed, or updated. And it sounds like a nice place to do things right. Many existing homes, foe one reason or another are not worth anywhere near what their owners think. The market for top end homes is falling apart and you shouldn't be the ones left absorbing their loss.

Hope I'm still kicking when you come back, but you made the right decision for now.

Bud
 

Last edited by Bud9051; 03-28-16 at 10:21 AM. Reason: spelling
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Old 03-29-16, 06:56 AM
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Yup, just overhauling the energy efficiency of the home, restoring the pond, and possibly overhauling the 30yo septic system and irrigation (I'm betting there's problems) would be about 50k. We could easily spend another 50k painting and updating the kitchen, flooring, and light fixtures (that 80s honey oak and brass light fixtures throughout).

If we got the property at the right price, we could make it phenomenal. But that means at least 100k less than they're asking - which is why I suspect the property has been on and off the market for three years. Even a "rural" property shouldn't be on the market that long. It's less than 20 minutes outside a 100,000+ population center.

Anyway, we're going to get our ducks in a row so that we can make a more aggressive push for this property, or another like it, next spring.
 
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Old 03-29-16, 07:41 AM
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Even though they may have deep enough pockets to just sit on it, they may have a conscience . If you give them enough reasons to let it go at a lower price with the understanding you want to restore it to being the great place it was intended to be they may eventually let it go. Quite often the sellers haven't stepped back far enough to really recognize how much is needed.

The problem I run into, when shopping for myself or helping others is, they just say no as someone less capable of spotting the problems will eventually come along and take over the mess. My daughter looked at one house and she made a low offer, declined. 3 weeks later it sold at full price. The list of what it needed was horrendous.

Again,
Best,
Bud
 
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Old 03-29-16, 02:05 PM
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Well, the market dictates what a property is worth, and part of the market is not-so-smart buyers! So I certainly can't blame sellers for holding out for a less savvy buyer to come along. In this case, though, 3 years.... Who knows? For all my talk the property could sell next week and if so, so be it. Lots of fish in the sea and all that.
 
 

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