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Septic vs Sewer Systems: Unplugging the Mysteries of Your Plumbing

Do all houses have septic tanks? The answer to that is no; many rely on sewer systems for waste removal through their plumbing.

When you build a house, do you get to choose between septic and sewer systems? The answer to that is probably not. That depends on the area and its regulations and infrastructure; rural areas tend to have septic while urban areas usually have sewers.

You do, however, get to choose whether to buy a house with a septic or sewer system. To do that, you’ll need to know the differences between the two, how they function, and what the pros and cons are of each. 

This article is about all things septic vs. sewer – if you find yourself asking questions afterward, just contact us at Four Seasons Plumbing! We’re an Asheville-based family-owned business serving all the plumbing needs of our beautiful mountain region.

What Is a Septic System?

A septic system collects and treats your wastewater on the site. There’s a septic tank that the plumbing directs wastewater to, and it’s usually buried underground. As the homeowner, you’re responsible for the costs of installation and maintenance.

Inside the septic tank, solid biodegradable waste breaks down. However, the septic tank will need to be drained from time to time; how often really depends on the size of the tank and how much use it gets.

Maintenance and repairs can be tricky and messy, and both are best left to experienced, certified pros like those at Four Seasons Plumbing.

Pros and Cons of Septic Systems

One of the biggest advantages of septic systems is that when maintained properly, they’re much friendlier for the environment than sewer systems are. That’s because they use less infrastructure and energy and they usually don’t use chemicals to remove pollutants.

Other advantages of septic systems include the following:

  • They return effluent to your property, replenishing groundwater and nourishing trees and plants. By this, they help conserve the local water supply.
  • If you want to live in the country, septic systems make that possible. Building sewer systems in rural areas usually requires way too much work and infrastructure.
  • It’s often less expensive to install a septic system than it is to connect to a municipal sewer system.
  • Because septic systems aren’t connected to a municipal sewer system, you don’t have monthly bills to pay in order to use it.

The cons of septic systems include the following:

  • They can treat a limited amount of wastewater per day, so you might have to adjust your bathroom and laundry usage habits. This can especially be the case when you have a lot of company over.
  • Cooking oils, food scraps, and non-biodegradable objects can clog the system, leading to messy, expensive repairs. Thick toilet paper is also a concern because the bacteria that treat wastewater inside the tank can’t break it down fast enough. Excessive chemicals can kill the bacteria.
  • All maintenance and repair costs are your responsibility. That includes having the system pumped out, which you’ll have to do every 3-5 years on average.
  • The system runs down over time, and as it ages, sewage backups, leaks, slow draining, and pooling water can occur. These problems rarely occur with systems connected to municipal sewer lines.
  • You need enough space on your property to accommodate the system.

What Is a Sewer System?

With a sewer system, your plumbing directs wastewater from your property and into municipal drainage systems. From there, the wastewater goes to a central treatment facility. The government operates and maintains the off-property parts of the system through taxes and fees.

If the plumbing on your property’s sewage system needs maintenance, repairs, or replacement, trust this difficult work to the pros at Four Seasons Plumbing.

Pros and Cons of Sewer Systems

Over time, sewer systems tend to cost the homeowner less since it’s the city that pays for and maintains the off-site infrastructure, though the initial costs of installing a septic system can be cheaper. Here are other pros of sewer systems:

  • There’s no tank that can crack or leak and which has to be pumped out every few years or so.
  • Sewer systems can handle heavy water usage. This gives them an advantage for homes with large families, when there is usage of several appliances at once, and in instances of strong storms that produce heavy runoff. (Septic systems do not manage storm runoff, so if your property has drainage issues, you have more of a problem.)
  • There’s less maintenance. Either system can require repairs, but with a sewer system, you don’t pay out of pocket for off-site maintenance and repairs. Also, septic maintenance often includes excavation that can emit foul odors. That isn’t usually the case with sewer systems.

Now here are some disadvantages of sewer systems:

  • The connection costs to get hooked up to a municipal sewer system can be high, higher than the cost to install a septic system. If the sewer system is in a rural area, the costs can be even higher.
  • Homeowners and businesses have to pay annual fees for using the municipal sewer system in addition to their regular monthly fees.
  • If there’s a clog or other problem in the municipal system, that can still affect your home or business through a backup, for example. You’ll have to wait for the city to fix the problem. Worse, any messes or other problems on your property that result will be on you to pay for. The city might reimburse you, but don’t count on it.
  • Because of all the infrastructure and the frequent use of chemicals at wastewater treatment plants, sewer systems are less environmentally friendly than septic systems are.

Septic vs. Sewer: Which One Is Better?

There’s really not a clear answer to that question. There are lots of factors that come into play when answering this question. You’ll have to weigh the pros and cons of each when you look at where to live, and if you’re set on either the city or the country, you may not even have a choice of system. But if you do have a choice, this guide should help.

And if you have more questions or your system needs any kind of service, call Four Seasons Plumbing for the best Asheville septic and sewer service available at 828-216-3894!

Max Rose - Owner of Four Seasons Plumbing


Max Rose

Max Rose is the owner of Four Seasons Plumbing, a plumbing company in Asheville, North Carolina.