If you are involved in a real estate transaction in the rural or mountain areas of Boulder County, the property most likely has a septic system and is not served by a municipal sewer system. When working well, these personal waste systems are mostly out of sight and out of mind. As toilets flush and sinks drain, the waste goes to a tank which holds the solids. The liquids move through the system and are released underground through a leach field. When working correctly there is no smell, no visible liquid and the solids are held in a concrete tank which has some natural bacteria which break down what is held. Every couple of years the tank needs to be pumped out. It is really a good system which in many cases lasts decades and decades without any large expenses.
The downside of this system is what happens when the system does not work correctly. A septic system that is not in good repair is at risk of releasing untreated matter into the environment including the water supply. Much of our mountain building took place between 1960 and 1980. This means that the septic systems for much of housing stock west of town has septic systems that are quickly becoming old. Boulder County decided that it needed some regulation that ensured that wastewater was being handled correctly. Last September their Septic Smart regulation went into effect.
The Septic Smart program requires that each septic system be inspected by a qualified inspector at the time of sale. If the system does not pass inspection a plan for repair or replacement must be negotiated between the buyer and seller and the repairs made within one year. According to the website, here is how the regulations work for buyers:
For Buyers of a Home
- If the permit record for the property shows “NOT APPROVED” in the “Date of Final Approval” field, this means the final permit has not been approved. Potential buyers should ask the homeowner about plans for repairing the OWS. If the buyer is expected to repair the OWS, it will need to be completed within one year of closing. The buyer should ask the seller for recent bids and a definitive “cost of repair.” The buyer may need to acquire the repair permit from Boulder County Public Health, or have the seller provide it.
- Check the onsite wastewater system (OWS) permit record on the house. Make sure that the number of bedrooms listed on the permit equals the number of bedrooms listed on the MLS. (Check permit)
- If the property shows a date in the “Date of Final Approval”, field this means the OWS permit has been approved. Potential buyers should ask for the maintenance history, recent property transfer inspection report, and certificate of operation (valid for four years).
The responsibility of the actual inspection and application with the County falls upon the seller of a property. Here is a guide for the sellers from the Septic Smart website:
For Sellers of a Home
- Check the onsite wastewater system (OWS) permit record of the house for sale. (check permit) Make sure that the number of bedrooms listed on the permit is not less than what exist in the home at the time of sale.
- If the permit record for the property shows “NOT APPROVED” in the “Date of Final Approval” field, this means the final permit has not been approved. Homeowners must apply for a repair permit to verify or repair the unapproved system (permit process).
- If the Date of Final Approval listed on the permit is more than ten years ago, the system requires a Property Transfer inspection. (View Inspector listings). If the Date of Final Approval on the New or Major Repair permit is within the last ten years, the system is exempted from the inspection process. Certain other situations are also exempted.
- In preparation for the inspection, the homeowner must:
- Expose the septic tank lids
- Mark the boundaries of the leach field
- Present OWS maintenance records
- Be present for the inspection