Public or Private

What other ways are there to determine public or private sewage system?

Only way I know of is if there are manhole covers in the street.

A possible clue might be a mound in the yard, but not positive.

The water meter is a good indication of public water.

Thats true, didn’t think about that.

Water meter is a good indication of public water, but not necessarily private sewage. A cleanout is ALMOST always required for Septic Systems.

Good point Dave,

I just did an inspection to include well and septic…there was a well but I couldn’t find the septic anywhere so i flushed a locator and away it went, down the city sewer.

Surprising thing is that the seller said the house was on a septic system. Oh well, lesson learned there.


David. What is a locator?

It’s a device that helps you locate hard to find septic tanks. Basically you turn the device on and flush it down the toilet. Then walk the yard with the receiver until you pickup the beacon. If all goes well, you find the tank and are able to retreive the device for future use. It works well as long as your not on city sewer…if you are, then not so well. Each device runs about $20-$25 so you hate to see them disappear.:smiley:



All of my reports indicate that I do not now if the home is on a sewer or septic system. The only way to know for sure is (i guess with a locator - didnt know about that one) to have a plumber come and snake out the line. They measure the distance of the snake and that tells them where the line goes to. Another good way to know is to as a neighbor, if they have lived there for any lenght of time (neighbors are a great source of information).

There are many areas down here that were on spetic tanks at one time. Once the city installes sewer lines those homes show up as being on city sewer. The questions then becomes, did the homeowner pay and have his home hooked up (a lot of municipatilities require the homeowner to hook up).

I had an inspector friend who always listed the system as unknown. A realtor he was working for came back to him and tried to get him to commit to sewer or septic. The mls and city taxroll showed this home to be on sewer. Turns out the people never hooked up, the tank was under the sidewalk. The side kick to this the clients told the agent they absolutely did not want a home on a septic tank. This realtor tried to make the inspector commit so she could hang him out to dry. As it turned out, the realtor had to shell out almost $6000.00 for the client.

Ever since that story my reports say unknown.

Why would you want them to reappear?
Eeewww. :vomit:

Rinse and go, i guess. :smiley:

cool though.

Usually but not always the septic is in the back yard .
Find the Sanitary access usually 1/2 way up the wall for septic ( sometimes city sanitary is also up there to ) . Now go out from the access and about ten feet is where they normally have the tank in my area.
Look close has the ground not level with the rest of the area or has it been dug up recently .
(Usually the town sanitary is below the basement and goes out the front of the home .)
This is the usual access hole or two for having the tank pumped out .
Take a 7/16 rod A BBQ Rotisserie shaft works well ,Push this into the ground you can sometimes find the tank ( I also use this to find buried Oil tanks 7 so far ).
As some one said ask the neighbors .
I love neighbors they just love to tell all about the home and when things have been done.
Incidentally septic additives do not help the system and are not needed .
Some times can damage the system
Roy Cooke

Good one William thanks

Yes. Opening a septic tank and digging around inside is a tough way to get $25.00 back.

Sounds like risky business, if you make a mistake about public or private. I think I will penn a disclaimer.

As for the locator, I would just have to wright it off as a cost of doing business, too stinky.

We have a private well and private septic. The city installed public sewer several years ago, but we did not tie into it since our septic was working fine. The hookup would cost $2000 and sewer fees are approximately 30 five dollars a month, so we did not hook up to the city system since our sewer works fine.

What are your thoughts on this:

By visual inspection only, I believe this home to be on a Public / Private sewer system.

The determination of whether a home is on a public or a private sewer system is not always possible by a visual, non-invasive inspection.
One clue would be manhole covers in the street, this may indicate the presents of a public sewer system. There is no guarantee that this home is connected to it. A sewer system may have been installed in the street after this home was built, and connection to it may not have been mandatory.
A cleanout in the drain/waste pipe may indicate a private system. There may have been a private system in use at one time, but has since been bypassed and connected to a public system.
One possible way to tell if a septic tank is present is to poke a rod into the ground in the area where a tank might be. You may hit something solid, and it may be a tank. It might not be a tank. If it is a septic tank, is it still being used? Or has it been bypassed and now connected to the public sewer? Drain field pipes that come out of septic tanks are usually plastic. Poking holes in them will allow dirt to enter the pipes and damage the drain field.
The truth is that there is no definite way to tell visually. Recommend that Client ask the seller if this home is on a public sewer system or a private system. If seller cannot answer the question, recommend having evaluated by a Licensed Plumber. If a private system, ask seller when was the last time it was serviced. If last service date is undetermined, or more than a couple of years, recommend servicing.


Seem kind of wordy–:mrgreen: --lol…

This goes into all of my reports;

The waste disposal system appears to be connected to a public sewer system. There are isolated instances where the system has not been connected to the public sewer system but remains an on-site system. Client may wish to confirm sewer connection with the local building department or the property owner prior to close.

Hope this helps

You know, I was thinking that fishing out a locator out of a septic tank doesn’t turn me on at all, and curious how you fish it out.?

Do you use a smelt net or something?
I actually could not see myself re-using it to begin with. Not for $25.


Douglas I agree, it is kinda long. If you don’t mind, I’m gonna steal yours.

I agree with Roy, where ever the main sewer line goes out the tank, if there is one will be within 10-15 feet of the foundation. I have a 5ft. fiberglass rod wit a T handle on it to locate tanks. Also, if the tank is only a few inches or maybe a foot under ground you’ll notice the difference in the grass or it won’t freeze the same as the rest of the yard.
Once the tank is idenified you can use the probe to fiend the leeching field, when you push the rod into the ground you can feel the crushed stone ETC.

I’ve done this test quite often in the past and got good at finding septic systems and the feild.

There is also a flow test you can do. You flush dye down the toliet and flood the system with water, the dye will turn floresent on the surface if the field if saturated, this is not recommened by todays standards though.


You wrap it in toilet paper and flush…the device floats so you just grab it with a shovel or wear a pair of gloves. Unwrap, rinse, turn it off and reuse on the next job if need be.

About the dye test…check out this link:

The dye test doesn’t really do anything to help determine if there is a problem with a drain field.


I had a crew working for me one time and they where talking about how cheap this person was .
He cleaned out his own septic tank with a rope and pail .
When it down to the bottom he got in with a shovel and filled the pail and his son carried it away .
Now I have to admit that person has to be the most frugal person I have ever heard of .
Knowing what I know now I do not understand how he did not kill himself with the fumes in the tank.

Roy Cooke