QDEAR BARRY: The house we are buying has a septic system rather than a sewer hookup. The real estate agent disclosed that the leach field has limited volume, but she explained that this simply means we will have to pump the tank more often. We are not certain that we understand this. Does this mean we will need to be mindful of the amount of water we put through the septic system on a daily basis? If so, is this acceptable, or is the agent merely downplaying what could be a major problem? -- Jayme
ADEAR JAYME: There are minimum legal requirements governing the size and volume of septic tanks and leach fields. If the system in question has limited volume, then it is either in violation of those requirements or it is getting old. Either way, you could be facing costly replacement of the system.
To spare yourself this major expense, get expert advice before proceeding with this purchase. The system should be pumped and professionally evaluated by a licensed septic contractor, and you should consult with that contractor so that you understand any problems. You should also check with the local building department regarding their minimum standards for an adequate septic system and leach field.
Regarding your second question, prudent real estate professionals know better than to advise clients in matters that exceed their level of professional expertise. For an agent to make statements that minimize a potential septic problem and that sidestep the likelihood of costly repairs is unprofessional and irresponsible.
DEAR BARRY: My house was built by the original owner in 1959 and sold six years later to my parents. An aspect of the house is a complex low-voltage lighting system that has caused problems for years, first to my father, and now to me.
I can remember my father's frustration with lights that worked occasionally or not at all and his inability to find an electrician who could comprehend the workings of this oddball system. He said they would spend hours, scratch their heads, and finally give up.
Now that I have inherited the property, these problems are mine. What can I do to get these lights in working order? -- Frank
DEAR FRANK: Low-voltage relay lighting was moderately popular during the 1950s and early 1960s among a small group of high-tech experimenters, usually engineers or professors with visions of Frank Lloyd Wright innovations.
Now that these systems are old, they are great when they work but utterly frustrating when they don't. And to make things worse, few electricians have had sufficient experience with these systems to develop any measure of expertise.
One possible way to locate a qualified expert would be to contact your local electricians union to see if they can recommend someone with this esoteric knowledge. Otherwise, you'll have to cold call electricians from the Yellow Pages and ask, "Are you familiar with low-voltage relay lighting?" If this fails, it may be time to have the home rewired in a conventional manner.
Barry Stone is a professional home inspector. If you have questions or comments, contact him through his Web site, www.housedetective.com, or send mail to 1776 Jami Lee Court, Suite 218, San Luis Obispo, Calif. 93401.
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