So you’ve decided to move to the country. Fresh air, green meadows, and lots of space to stretch out, relax and enjoy life.
Buying property outside the urban area has lots of challenges, and many more details to consider. For instance, where do you think the water in your taps comes from? Where do you suppose your sink empties to?
If you live in a city or town, don’t worry. If things go wrong call city hall and they will take care of the problem. After all, the municipality owns the infrastructure and must repair when needed.
WATER AND SEWAGE
But on acreage it is your responsibility to keep the water flowing, and the sewage ebbing away.
On a country property, in Melancthon or Mulmur Township for example, you will need a water well and a septic system. Water pipes and septic tanks are buried. Inspecting these items is difficult; in fact, impossible without digging up. The present home owner is not likely to permit any excavation before purchase.
That’s why you should include items in your offer to purchase for a country property that specify the tests that must be performed on the water well and the septic system. At the bare minimum, you should ask for a water flow test, a water potablity test, and a warranty that the septic system is in working order, and that it be pumped out before you take possession.
There are different types of water wells. If the water well is fairly recent, drilled, and provides a good consistent flow of drinkable (potable) water, that is the best. However, some properties have an old drilled well, or a dug well. Dug wells are shallow, not tightly sealed, have great potential to run low on water, and become contaminated with bacteria or ecoli. You should discover what type of well serves the property, its location, and have it tested for potable water and flow rate.
The water well has a pump. This pump may be installed right down inside the well, or may be inside the basement. There is also a pressure tank to equalize the water pressure, and so the pump does not have to start up every time water is needed.
And guess who is responsible when the pump or pressure tank breaks down? You of course! And they will fail sometime in the future for sure. Count on it.
Many country home owners, when asked, will tell you their water is great – “here, taste it” they say. Nothing like good clean country water”. I never taste until I’ve seen the test from the local Health Department showing there is no bacteria or ecoli present. Neither organism is visible. Perhaps the present family has become used to some bacteria in the water over the years, but your family may become ill when exposed to the germs. If Ecoli is present, no one should ever drink the water. (Remember Walkerton?).
If the water does not test clean, there are remedies. Bleach is an old stand-by, and putting chlorine bleach in the well once a year is actually a good thing to do to keep everything sanitary. However, if bleach is continually needed to keep the water pure a more permanent solution, such as an ultraviolet water treatment system is needed.
It is actually more important that there be sufficient water to meet your needs. In modern life we have multiple bathrooms, dishwashers and automatic washing machines. We don’t want to schedule our showers so they don’t coincide with dishwashing, so make sure the water well has a good flow rate. If you check my app, you will find the name of a reputable contractor to test your well for you.
Here is a link to a good article about wells: https://www.wellowner.org/basics/
Septics are buried, so it is very difficult to tell how efficiently they work. Buyers should ask the age of the septic system. Well maintained systems can last thirty to fifty years; they should be pumped out every three to five years, and the contractor can inspect the system at the time of pumping. Even the best maintained septic system will fail if heavy equipment (such as a truck or car) runs over the area where the pipes in the leaching bed are located. Older septics installed in areas with high water tables may not perform well.
Here is an excellent brochure on septic systems that includes diagrams and explanations:
Septic installation is regulated by the province. A licenced septic contractor must install a new or replacement system, and Dufferin County will specify what type of system is needed. Some are definitely more expensive than others. If the installation is to be in a wet or smaller area, an aerobic system may be required. A qualified contractor will be able to say what system is required.
Septic systems are very expensive. You want to get the best information possible about the system in the property you are considering for purchase. A sewage back-up, and needed replacement of the system, is not a surprise you want in your new home.
In the country, the natural gas you are used to may not be available. You will have to choose between propane gas, oil, and electricity. A forced air heating system can use any of these fuels.
Propane seems to be the fuel of choice today. It is clean and efficient. The price can fluctuate greatly so you may not always be able to plan for the bills. A complete fill-up is expensive, but many companies will allow an equal billing plan. The tank is almost always rented from the propane supplier. A yearly fee is charged.
Fuel oil has mostly fallen into disfavour. It can smell unpleasant, and oil leaks are extremely hazardous to you, your land, water well, and perhaps your neighbour’s property as well. When purchasing a house with oil heat, you should make sure all oil burning appliances have been recently inspected and have been certified for use. Oil tanks older than fifteen years, or if the gauge is too thin, are not insurable.
Electricity to heat your home is expensive, especially because of Ontario’s time of use payment charges. But electric baseboard heat in a home with seldom used rooms can be beneficial as the heat in the unused rooms can be turned down to a low temperature. Under floor electric heat is very comfortable. Geothermal furnace installations are very efficient, taking the heat out of the ground in winter, and putting it into the ground in summer. However, with time-of-use billing plans the compressor in these units eats up electricity.
Many homeowners in the country are turning to wind turbines and solar panels to produce electricity to supplement their heating and hydro needs. Although these systems are still costly, the price is decreasing and may be an alternative to expensive carbon based fuels.
in any case, utilities will cost more in the country than in the city. Homes are further apart, wind may be a factor, and the hydro suppliers tack on a higher delivery fee.
LOCATION & ZONING
Such a pretty home! Wraparound porch, gorgeous gardens, and a little barn for the kids’ pony. What more could you want?
Well maybe you might want to look behind and beside the house. Are they raising pigs in that huge barn upwind of your potential purchase? What’s that long driveway you spied when driving to meet the realtor? Is a wind turbine slated to be installed there? How close are you to the nearest town? Yes, it’s great to be walking distance, but it you are that close, perhaps the field behind you might be zoned for future subdivision. So much for peace and quiet.
Definitely ask questions about the property, and visit the municipal offices to see what future plans there might be.
Also, don’t assume you will be able to do anything you want in your rural home. Dogs are not permitted to run freely, there is a limit on the number of farm animals per property (if any at all are allowed), and even though your neighbours are a wee bit away, they will not appreciate your teen running the ATV at all hours of the day and night. They might even complain!
Enjoy your time in your new country home, but make sure you look around and ask all sorts of questions of your realtor before buying.