Coast Environmental Ltd.’s Vancouver Island maintenance supervisor

HOMEFINDER: Septic systems need not be scary prospect

If properly maintained, systems should leave homeowners stress free

Many first-time home buyers look to the West Shore for the affordability and proximity to community amenities.

What many of those people may not realize is that large sections of this area are not hooked up to the sewer system and still use septic fields and other on-site systems for disbursing black and grey water.

Moving into a home which requires a certain level of maintenance for its septic system needn’t be a source of stress, if the previous owner has done the work and adhered to guidelines laid out by the Capital Regional District.

But as real estate agent Kent Deans with Pemberton Holmes says, it behooves potential buyers to have the septic system inspected by professionals before making an offer on a home.

“There has to be full disclosure (of its condition) from the seller’s standpoint, but the buyer should ask about it,” he says. “Especially now that some of the homes are 20 to 30 years old, (the system can be) getting past its prime.”

Doug Marshall, Island maintenance supervisor for Coast Environmental Ltd., is a 40-plus year veteran of the septic service and sales industry. He says various factors make it important to have an inspection done, including questions around the frequency of routine maintenance, plus the usage and care of the system at the source – i.e. what kinds of materials do the existing homeowners put into the system?

“There’s some situations where the septic system was built to accommodate a single-family home,” he says, “but the addition of a rental suite can cause excess capacity.”

More laundry and showers, additional toilets flushing and more water flowing down drains generally can put pressure on a septic field or tank designed to accept or distribute only a certain amount. Upgrades can be done to increase capacity rather than replacing the entire system, Marshall says.

In those situations where an inspection finds the need to install a new system – the lifespan for most systems is between 25 and 30 years – the prices can vary based on what type of system you want to put in and the topography of the land. Homeowners can be looking at anywhere between $15,000 to more than $30,000.

Marshall described three main types of system, starting with the standard septic tank and drainage field. Municipalities that adhere to the CRD’s guidelines require property owners to have the tanks pumped out every three years, he says.

Type 2 would include some form of treatment system, usually in situations where there isn’t enough soil or land base for a conventional setup. And type 3, at the high end, treats the sewage and provides a cleaner quality of effluent, often for properties built largely on rock, adds Marshall.

West Shore properties on septic mainly use the first system, with fewer homeowners having installed a treatment system of some kind.

From a buyer’s perspective, Deans says, “once people are on it, most people (understand it).” Learning to space out laundry loads through the week, or knowing what types of cleaners not to put down the drains or toilets is information that is readily available, he adds.

Marshall has seen what can happen when people don’t spend the extra few hundred dollars to have an inspection done. One recent home buyer he worked with hadn’t taken that step and saw their system fail, only to face a multi-thousand dollar bill for replacement.

For home sellers who need to replace their septic tank, he says, “a new system can be a selling feature for the house.”


Septic systems are an important wastewater treatment option for homeowners in the Capital Region.  They provide household disposal of wastewater where sewers are either unavailable or too expensive.  Currently, septic systems serve about 26,000 households in our region.  If your system is working properly, it is an environmentally friendly and economically sound treatment option.

The key difference in being connected to the sanitary sewer system and being connected to a septic system is that the homeowner is completely responsible for operation and maintenance of their onsite wastewater treatment system.

The CRD provides information materials to help support owners of onsite wastewater treatment systems, on our Septic System Resources page. We also offer free Septic Savvy Workshops for residents to learn how septic systems work and how to save money with proper maintenance.

To find out more about the CRD’s guidelines for septic system maintenance, visit




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