How to Determine Whether an Older House Has a Cesspool

If you are buying, or considering buying an older house, you may want to determine what kind of waste disposal system it currently employs, whether it uses a septic tank or a cesspool. You may want to determine this so you can expect or anticipate any problems that may occur in the future. It could be very messy if you do not address this question.


  • Metal Detector
  • Iron Rod
  • Pipe Snake

Step 1: Visual Inspection

Inspect the property to spot any signs of a cesspool. It is usually covered by a circular metal plate, which is at least 3 feet in diameter; this is the minimum allowable width of a cesspool. Some of these covers have tubes or stakes driven into them, to determine their location. Look for these signs when inspecting the property.

Step 2: Inspect Landscape

If you do not find anything at first glance, look harder by noticing the landscape and how it looks. An area with a cesspool will have no trees growing in that area. Also check for the earth being disturbed and rocks being overturned and not buried in the ground as they usually are.

Step 3: Sewer Lines

Follow the sewer lines coming from your house. You can do this by using a pipe snake and have someone assist you by listening to the snake going through the pipes and eventually ending up in the cesspool.

Step 4: Metal Detector

If the above steps fail, use a metal detector. A lot of cesspools have reinforced concrete and a heavy metal lid. A metal detector will surely pick these up, and you will have found your cesspool.