Are you thinking about ditching the place that you have, simplifying your life, and joining the tiny house movement? If so, make sure that you deal with a not-so-tiny problem before you buy that tiny house you love: the sewage disposal system.
Find out what type of sewage system the house currently has.
Since part of the tiny house movement involves getting away from the burdens of city life and reducing your financial obligations, don't expect to the home to be linked to a city sewer line. The odds are good that your tiny dream home has one of three types of waste disposal systems:
- A composting toilet. These largely waterless systems mix human waste with things like sand, sawdust, and peat moss to reduce the odor and help spur along the natural aerobic breakdown of the waste into a type of compost. The compost pile has to be tended and mechanically aerated regularly, which not everyone is willing to do.
- A chemical toilet. You're most likely familiar with chemical toilets if you've ever been in a motor home, at a construction site, or on an airplane. All of them use some form of chemical toilet. The chemicals are designed to control odor as the holding tank for the toilet gradually fills with human waste. You have to watch them closely and empty them when they get close to being full.
- A septic tank. Some tiny houses have ordinary septic tank systems, which are common features in rural living. Household water and waste are flushed into the tank, where the solid material eventually gets broken down through natural bacterial processes. The fluid and the dissolved waste particles create an effluent that gradually flows out of the tank via a pipe into a nearby leach field. Pathogens are filtered out by the soil. The septic tank has to be emptied only when it gets full or backs up, so it should be checked once a year to see how full it is getting.
Be on the watch for an illegal septic system before you buy.
A lot of tiny home owners prefer the septic system because it's the easiest to use, operates most similarly to the waste disposal systems they're familiar with if they've lived in cities, and is least labor intensive to deal with once it's installed and running. However, there's a problem inherent in septic systems when it comes to tiny houses: some of the homes don't have enough land to properly devote to a tank and leach field (or the original owners didn't want to use their space that way).
People can look up the directions online to construct a small septic system of their own, and do just that, but these systems aren't legal.
Before you purchase a tiny house with a septic system, hire a company that specializes in septic tanks to examine the whole system, including the tank and leach field, making sure that everything is complaint with local codes and in functioning order. If there are problems, and the system just needs a few repairs or a clean tank, you can address them before you buy. Ask to have the price reduced or split the costs of any repairs with the current owner.
If the septic system is illegal, don't buy the house unless you can get a legal system installed or are willing to convert to a different system. While the laws vary in each state, environmental concerns are driving many states to come down hard on people who get caught operating a system that isn't up to code. In Ohio, for example, a problematic septic system can land you a public nuisance charge, with daily civil fines of $100 a day and criminal fines of $1,000 a day! For more information, contact companies like Mr Bob.