Resources: Energy, Water, and Heating

Resources related to water supply, electricity, and heating.

Septic Systems

Some good advice about septic systems:

1) Don't talk to anyone in or around the Town Hall about the condition of your septic system.

2) No one can inspect the condition of your septic system without digging up the tank and the leach field.

3) One can replace either the tank or the leach field, and then 2 years later replace the other.

4) The only way to know if your system is not working is that the water stops going down the drains.

a) The vent pipe is plugged. (run a snake down it)

b) The drain pipe is plugged. (run a snake down it)

c) The tank is full. (have a company come out and drain it)

d) The leach field is plugged. (have a company dig up and replace the field)

5) Anything that is put down the drain, will will eventually have to be removed from the tank.

6) Grease clogs up your leach field.

7) Building Inspectors want new buyers to replace their septic systems: Refer to #2.

A State-approved site plan is about $5000.00. Refer to #1.

If you replace part or even all of an existing system, you don't need any approved design or state permits. Just call it a "repair" and do whatever you want. Gotta love New Hampshire!

Here's a local company that manufactures "innovative septic technology."

Leach beds can fail. The ground around them becomes saturated and plugged with black gunk. Then the liquid doesn't percolate out, and the system backs up. This can be caused by improper construction, abuse, or neglect. In a modern system, the tank should be pumped periodically, depending on use, maybe as often as every 5 years or up to 10. If the tank isn't pumped, the "indigestible" solids that are supposed to settle in the tank start going into the leach system and plug it up.

Before about 1967 (give or take a couple years), there were no state subdivision regulations or lot (percolation) testing requirements. Any system built before the regulations were in place is built to whatever design the installer thought was good enough. Some of them are great, and some really suck. I have seen chalets that were built as vacation homes where the entire "septic system" consisted of a "dry well" about the size of a barrel made out of dry-stacked concrete blocks and covered with a scrap of plywood and 6 inches of dirt. And of course even a system installed last week might be a disaster waiting to happen if it was a very poor "repair" job.

One thing a prospective buyer can do is to call around to the local "honey wagon" outfits to see if any of them know anything about the system. They might know at least what kind of tank is in the ground; whether it is concrete, steel, or good old-fashioned railroad ties. They would also know if it had been regularly pumped, and whether it had caused problems in the past.

The bottom line for any home buyer is: Caveat Emptor!


Always try to get an idea of the fuel costs for any building before purchase. Request copies of the fuel bills from the owners and if they don’t have such records, request that thay call their fuel supplier and get a statement.

Most homes are heated with oil or propane or use wood. Natural gas isn't very common, but it is available in some areas (major cities like Concord and Manchester, and some smaller towns/cities along the pipeline.) Some few houses use electric heating here, but it is an expensive proposition due to electricity costs, and should generally be avoided unless you plan to replace it with a fuel-based heating source after purchase.

Any fuel-burning appliance should be serviced yearly (with the exception of very few space-heaters that get serviced every two years) by a reputable service company. New Hampshire does not license oil or wood-heating service companies. Gas-heating licenses have recently been created, but reports from those who have taken the training course seem to indicate that it is more of an exercise in memorization than of testing skill. Once you move, ask your neighbors who they rely on and if they are happy with the service they have received - it gives you a convenient excuse to introduce yourself, and while you are there you can ask for any recommendations for electricians, plumbers, auto repair shops, and other skilled tradespersons.

If you will be having major work done, make sure to ask for proof of insurance. Follow-up by calling the insurance company to verify, since a few unscrupulous individuals will obtain insurance coverage, then cancel the day after they receive the certificate. Five hundred thousand dollars is bare-minimum liability insurance, and most reputable companies will have one million. Some companies (particularly those that deal with commercial accounts) may have two million or even more.

Another thing to keep in mind when dealing with skilled trades is that they are often willing to accept barter in exchange for work. I know a plumber who replaced a water heater in a restaurant in exchange for fee meals there. Others may be interested in trading work-for-work, if you have a skill that they need (eg, computer repair, or landscaping). It doesn’t hurt to ask, although the larger companies are less likely to be interested, and the smaller shops are rarely not interested in some level of barter (of course, you might not have anything they want).

-Joe Brown

Your browser (Internet Explorer 7 or lower) is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites. Learn how to update your browser .