January 31, 2018 Irene Voronel

So you’ve decided to buy a home in Reno – or some other fun spot in Northern Nevada.  Now you’re wondering about all of the things that you’ve heard homeowners talk about (sometimes not in the most flattering terms) that make living and owning a home in the Truckee Meadows a bit different than some other places. We feel ya, buying a home seems like a daunting task let alone if it has some bells and whistles you’re not familiar with. We put together a list that can help to answer your questions about some features you may encounter in your home search.  Of course, if there is anything we didn’t touch on or you need additional information feel free to give us a call. We promise to get you on your way to being one of the many happy (and informed) Reno home buyers.

Septic Tanks

Most people haven’t had a reason to know anything about septic systems because, lets face it, we don’t like to think about plumbing. In most urban and suburban developments the home’s plumbing connects to the main sewer line which takes it through the public sewer system to a wastewater treatment facility.  Homeowners connected to the public sewer system pay a fee to the city or county for removing the waste from the home.

While many homes in Washoe County are connected to sewer, there are pockets of homes still using a septic system.  The way that septic tanks work is by breaking down the waste in two separate compartments. Then the tanks release the processed liquid back into a leach field.  You can learn more about septic tank design here.  

Just like all systems in the home, septic tanks require regular maintenance. The tank should be inspected every year and pumped as needed. Depending on the size of the tank and the number of people using it, consider pumping the tank every 3 to 5 years.  Also, if City sewer is nearby, some Reno home buyers choose to pay the municipality to connect to the public sewer. The cost is in the thousands for this connection.  For additional questions about septic tanks check out this handy FAQ


Similar to the septic tank, which is not connected to municipal systems, a property with a producing well is not usually connected to water provided to by the City or County.

Most homes in Reno are not on a well though there are parts of the area where the water source for the homes is a well located on the property.  North Valleys, Virginia City, and Washoe Valley are some places where you may find homes with active wells. Just like septic tanks, its advised that a professional inspect the well annually.  The well owner should contact a technician as soon as evidence of any problems arise.  Check this out  to learn about well basics as well as maintenance.  In additional to annual inspections, it is important to test the well water. This ensures that the water chemistry is safe for drinking.  There are several good resources online regarding water testing but this one is our go-to.

Heating Type

While a large part of Washoe County homes utilize natural gas for heat, it is not uncommon to come across properties still on oil or propane systems. Reno home buyers will find that properties which were built prior to 1970’s may still be using oil to heat the homes.  The primary difference between natural gas and other types of heat is the cost.  Oil is about twice as expensive as gas, sometimes more depending on supply and demand.  Since the early 2000’s heating oil has averaged 30% to 50% more than gas.  Many homeowners choose to convert their property to natural gas.

Conversions are usually costly because you would need to pay for new equipment . Then you would pay the utility company to hook up to the gas line.  Many owners converted to gas because the savings of heating with gas add up.  The breakeven point is usually 5 to 7 years.  You can learn more about converting to natural gas here.  If you are thinking of buying a home with oil heat you can read more here.

Wood Burning Stove

In Washoe County wood burning stoves and fireplaces are highly regulated because they are significant contributors to pollution.  Before purchasing a home with a freestanding or built-in wood and pellet stoves, a licensed inspector needs to certify the unit prior to close of escrow or upon transfer of the property, to verify that the units meet local air quality health requirements. If the inspector cannot certify a free-standing stove, the seller must remove it from the property prior to close of escrow.

Informed Reno home buyers know that certifications are not required for standard masonry, manufactured zero clearance or gas log fireplaces. To learn more about this visit the county site.


Radon Gas

Radon, a naturally occurring radioactive gas, comes from the ground and can enter homes and accumulate to elevated concentrations. At elevated concentrations, the odorless, colorless gas can raise the risk of lung cancer for unsuspecting homeowners.  The radon risk in Nevada is higher than average.

U.S. Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona has issued a warning to the American public about the dangers of radon gas. “Indoor radon is the second-leading cause of lung cancer in the United States and breathing it over prolonged periods can present a significant health risk to families,” Dr. Carmona advised. “It’s important to know that this threat is completely preventable. A simple test detects radon and the fix is through well-established venting techniques.”

Washoe County in collaboration with University of Nevada Cooperative Extension provides test kits to determine if the home has radon.  You can get a kit by visiting UNR’s site. Some zip codes (see map) in Washoe County have a higher percentage of homes which test positive for radon. Reno home buyers concerned that their prospective property may have radon gas, should have it tested prior to purchase.