Chapter 9

Country property offers special features and challenges not found in urban and suburban areas. Usually the parcel is measured in acres rather than square footage, and the home is often isolated from the neighbors. In many cases there are also barns or other outbuildings to maintain as well as the home itself.

If you are considering living in the country and have not had this experience in the past, there are some things you should be aware of before you make a commitment. There are many differences between country parcels and traditional subdivisions.

The owner of the property is often responsible for providing the water supply, the sewage disposal system, and the fuel for heating and cooling. In some cases generators or solar systems provide some or all of the power. All of these systems require maintenance and occasional improvements.

Water Wells

Domestic water wells can vary from relatively shallow to hundreds of feet deep. The water is pumped into a holding tank that creates water pressure to the house. Turbine pumps are mounted on top of the well, and are common for larger wells. Many domestic pumps are submersible, where the entire pump is suspended in the well and cooled by the water.

The holding tank stores water for use so that the pump does not have to come on every time someone turns on a faucet. The water is pumped into the tank to a pressure of about 60psi, depending on the settings. As water is used in the home, the water level and pressure drops to about 40psi. This triggers the pump to come on again. If there is enough water being used at a time, such as for irrigation, the pump will come on and run steadily. It is better to open extra faucets and let the water run freely in such cases, for if the water is running too slowly the pump will continually cycle off and on.

Domestic water wells are usually run by electrical power. If the power supply is interrupted to the home, water service is also cut off. Some people own a generator for backup power if power outages are a frequent occurrence.

Septic Systems

When there is no municipal sewer system available, many rural areas rely on an individual septic system for sewage disposal. If properly designed and installed they can work trouble-free for many years. The waste for the home is discharged into a septic tank, where bacteria "digest" the solids into liquid and sludge. The sludge settles to the bottom and the liquid flows out an outlet pipe to a drainage field.

Leach fields are prescribed by the local health department so that the design will work with the soils. Trenches are dug and filled with rock, and the pipes are laid in on the rock and covered with straw to keep silt from filling the pipes. Then the rest of the trench is backfilled. The drain pipes in the leach field are perforated to allow the liquid to percolate into the earth. The liquid evaporates upward as well as being absorbed into the soil. It is important not to plant trees or significant landscaping in the area of the leach field, so that it remains accessible and the roots don't invade the pipes.

Some communities use deep pits called drywells instead of a leach field. This is often because the soil does not allow for percolation; the drywell is drilled down through hardpan or clay to reach an area where the liquids will drain. The holes are often three feet in diameter by 40 to 60 feet deep, and filled with rocks. Drywells also require less acreage than leach fields. In either case, most jurisdictions now require enough room on the plot plan for a replacement drainage field if the first one fails.

The sludge should be pumped out when the levels get too high. The required frequency varies according to how the system is used. Do not put grease or "non-digestible" items down your drains if you are on a septic system.

Gravel Driveways Most country homes are set back much farther from the road than in a typical city subdivision. The driveway must be maintained by the owner, and the quality of the original installation will have a big effect on how much money is required to maintain it later. If the driveway was properly graded and a sufficient base was put down, it will hold up far longer. As ruts and potholes start to develop, it is wise to regrade and add rock before wet weather.

Sometimes it is tempting to use "pit run" as the rock base because it is cheaper, but this type of rock is usually rounded from being agitated in the creek from which it was taken. The round rocks will turn with the traffic and slowly loosen and move. This process speeds up when the fine binding dirt between the rocks becomes wet and slippery. As the rocks turn and loosen, the surface of the driveway develops potholes and ruts. This problem can be avoided by using crushed rock, which has coarse angular surfaces and does not turn in place. Adding a little crushed rock and touching up the grading when your driveway begins to show signs of wear can help prevent bigger failures from water flows in the middle of winter.


If you want gas appliances and your area is not served by natural gas, you may need to install a propane tank. These tanks are filled periodically by a tank truck that delivers to your area. You may wish to get estimates of the cost to operate various appliances if you are in a position to choose between propane and electric power for the larger items. In some cases a woodstove will provide enough heat so that there is no need to use either propane or electricity for space heating needs.

Electrical Service

Most rural areas are served by an power supplier even if they must provide their own water and sewer. On the other hand, solar technology has improved enough over the last twenty years that it is economically feasible to build in a remote area without power available.

Animals and Other Costs

There are many more items needing repair and maintenance if you keep animals on your property. Fences must be maintained to prevent animals escaping, gates must be kept strong and operable, water tanks must be filled and cleaned, and barns and other outbuildings must be kept in good repair.

Country property requires far more time to maintain than traditional city homes. Just mowing the "lawn" can involve a tremendous amount of time. If you like being in the country, the rewards can be great, but be sure you understand the extra demands if you are thinking of buying a place and aren't used to the lifestyle.

Next Chapter: Inspection Checklist (coming soon)
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