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Lake Facts


Facts about Lakes and Ponds...

You are not only buying a house, you are buying the lake. Therefore, it is imperative that that you know everything that you can about the water. The following chapters present valuable information relevant to lakes and ponds.

  1. The difference between a lake and a pond?
  2. What is a watershed?
  3. How are Lakes formed?
  4. What is Eutrophication?
  5. Nutrient Overload and Buffer Zones
  6. What's up with the weeds?
  7. Weed Management
  8. Water Level
  9. Water Quality
  10. Lake Associations
  11. Mosquito Myths

Lake Home Specifics...

For the most part, the primary steps of purchasing any property are very similar. However, lakefront properties have other unique characteristics that you must take into account.

  1. Understanding Septic Systems
  2. Value of Lakefront Property
  3. When is Lakefront - not really Lakefront?
  4. Maintenance of Lakefront Property
  5. Home Orientation
  6. Home Location
  7. Zoning, Conservation & Legal Restrictions
  8. Flood Insurance

1. What is the difference between a lake and pond? Back to Top

Generally, the term can be used interchangeably. But some general characteristics can be defined: A lake is considered to be larger than a pond. Some put the difference as man-made vs. natural, or others might relate the term to depth.

2. What is a Watershed?Back to Top

A watershed is an area of land in which all the water drains into a particular low-lying river or other surface water body. The boundaries of a watershed are determined by higher areas of land which separate it from adjacent watersheds.

3. How are lakes formed?Back to Top

Lakes are formed in a variety of ways, including: river activity, volcanoes, glacial activity, animal activity (Beaver dams) and human activity. Kettle ponds were created when ice chunks from glaciers were buried and later melted. In the last few hundred years, human activity has resulted in the creation of new lakes and ponds. Dams have been constructed to provide irrigation for crops, reservoirs, roads and hydro power.

4. What is Eutrophication?Back to Top

The process by which a lake or pond gradually fills in over time. Based on human activity, this could take dozens of years or thousands of years. Phosphorus from fertilizers, sediments from run-off, urban development, land clearing, recreation and septic waste all expedite the level of eutrophication.

5. Nutrient Overload and Buffer ZonesBack to Top

Excess levels of phosphorus and nitrogen are introduced to water bodies from a variety of sources including; failing septic systems, urban storm water runoff, and residential use of detergents, fertilizers and organic debris disposal. A Buffer zone, usually 20 to 30 feet of undisturbed land between the lake and home, will create an essential filter buffering the lake from excessive nutrients.

6. What's up with the weeds?Back to Top

The rooted plants that thrive in many lakes and ponds are divided into three main groups: submerged, floating-leaved and emergent. Native aquatic plants are important in the ecological balance of lakes because they provide oxygen, food, habitat, shelter and contribute to the diversity of the aquatic environment. In addition, their roots help to stabilize the shore and slow the flow of sediments and pollutants.

Non-native, invasive aquatic plants

What is an Invasive Species? Many plants that are found in lakes were originally brought here from other places around the world and these plants are called non-native or exotic. They can be extremely destructive to the environment by out-competing native species and taking over the water body (invasive). They have no natural predators. Invasive species can impede recreational activities, lower property values, decrease aesthetic values, stunt fish growth and displace wildlife. They spread by "fragmentation".

Get to know the most common non-native species

7. Weed ManagementBack to Top

Most lakes, if there is an infestation of invasive plants, will already have an active lake association or management plan in place to try to control the species. However, there are also options for individual homeowners who may want to control the weed in their own hydrorake_sm.jpgswimming area.

  • Benthic Barriers
  • Hydro-Raking
  • Mechanical Cutting
  • Aeration

Permits and/or permission may be required and may differ from town to town. Keep in mind, there is almost always something you are "giving up" while gaining a clear waterfront. For example, fish and wildlife habitat may be displaced once weeds are removed.

8. Water levelBack to Top

It is important to know how a lakes water level is controlled, or if it is at all. Naturally, water levels can fluctuate by rainfall, natural springs, and evaporation. Most lakes will have a dam that is controlled by the state, town or the lake association. Review their guidelines on who, where, when the dam is put to use. Some lake managers employ "winter draw-downs" that assist in weed control and allow homeowners to fix/build docks and walls.

9. Water QualityBack to Top

Most towns and/or lake associations will test the quality of the lake water on a regular basis. They are testing for several different qualities against state regulated standards. All testing must be completed by a state regulated testing laboratory. It is suggested that you request to see the results of the tests to determine frequency, location of testing, prior issues, and future plans.

What to look for: Acceptable State Levels (Class A):
Dissolved Oxygen Not less than 5.0 mg/l
Total Coliform (Bacteria) Not to exceed 100 organisms per 100 ml
E. Coli (Bacteria) Not to exceed 235 colonies per 100 ml
Total Phosphorus Results indicate trends and patterns in overall lake health. Based on same tests being completed at the same time year after year. Interpreted by a Lake Management specialist.
Biochemical Oxygen Demand
Nitrate (as Nitrogen)
Total Alkalinity
Ammonia (as Nitrogen)

10. Lake AssociationsBack to Top

lake assoc.jpgLake Associations are formed to protect the lake's future and resolve problems that maybe threatening the lake's health. Members of a lake association meet to discuss lake issues and determine courses of action to protect their lake. They can: attend town meetings to be a voice for the lake, apply for grants to protect or improve the lake, monitor the lake or pond for invasive species and check water quality, work with the towns to address watershed issues including increased cleaning of storm drains, implementing new storm water control techniques, work with planning boards to reduce the impact of increasing development, attend workshops to gain more knowledge about lake ecology, hydrology etc., and hold training workshops to educate the community about lake and watershed issues.

About 35% of recreational lakes have an association, some more active than others. Most of the time there will be a President and Board of Directors. It is suggested that you contact these individuals about lake management issues they are currently working on. They are a great resource for lake information. Most associations charge a fee to join... anywhere from $10 to $150 per year and membership is usually voluntary.

11. The Mosquito MythBack to Top

mosquito.jpgThis questions get asked quite often: Aren't lakes a breeding ground for mosquitoes? Let's clear up some facts... There are four stages in the life cycle of a mosquito: egg, larva, and pupae must have standing water to complete their development. The type of standing water, however, varies greatly. Some species prefer to develop in permanent water sources such as marshes, waste lagoons, and catch basins. Other species prefer the water that collects in tree holes, tires, cans, or other artificial containers. Still others develop; in temporary pools of rainwater. The water source must be "stagnant" and protected from the wind.

Most lakes and pond we are referencing today would not be able to support mosquito life. Also, on any decent sized body of water, there is almost always a breeze coming off the lake that helps keep mosquitoes away. You will certainly still have mosquitoes, but you will have less than your neighbor across the street whose house is tucked in the woods.

12. Understanding Septic SystemsBack to Top

A. Town Sewerage

To avoid some of the problems involved with on-site septic waste disposal systems, many lakefront homeowners take advantage of connecting their homes to the municipal sewer system. Connecting to the sewer system can reduce the potential for environmental contamination and health hazards caused by old septic systems and cesspools, and offer a cost-effective alternative to systems that require pump-outs and often need expensive repairs.

To connect to town sewerage, homeowners obtain quotes for private contractors to connect their property to the sewer line/stub in the street. The work also entails a proper abandonment of the old waste system according to relevant specifications.

If the property you are looking at has town sewerage, it could be important to research town records to see that the work was completed with proper adherence to laws and regulations.

In addition, it is important to ask if there are any outstanding betterment fees and what party is responsible for paying those fees at Closing. Most of the time, this is the Seller's responsibility. However, it can be a negotiating tool.

A sewer betterment assessment is a fee assessed by municipalities to properties that have been "bettered" by the construction of a public sewer. The value of those properties are said to have been improved and therefore, are "bettered".

B. What about Septic Systems?

The purpose of a septic system is to retain solid waste in the tank and to dispose of effluent waste water into the ground without contaminating the environment.

To accomplish this, a septic system consists of the elements shown in the sketch on the following page. In simplest terms, a septic system consists of a holding tank which retains solid waste and grease from household waste water, and an absorption system or "leach field" which disposes of liquid wastewater or "effluent" which leaves the septic tank for absorption below ground into soils at the property.

Typical Septic System

Properly designed and installed on-site septic systems are very functional and sanitary. Private septic systems serve more homes in the US and many other countries than any other waste disposal method. However, components can be costly and do not have an indefinite life. Therefore, there are some questions that you will want to ask.

First, the best information you can obtain is a copy of the as-built septic plan. This is usually recorded with the Town Board of Health. This plan tells you exactly where the septic system is located.

You'd probably want to know how often the septic system has been pumped and whether it has a current inspection.

With conventional septic systems, it is always a good idea to conserve water whenever possible. You'll want to choose commercial drain cleaners carefully, as many may be harmful to the groundwater and to your leach field. When septic systems are not pumped routinely, the leach field may become clogged. Bleach, drain cleaners, chemicals and paints may harm beneficial microorganisms essential to the systems operation. And, as a general rule, garbage disposals cannot be used with septic systems.

Septic systems that are designed, installed, and operated properly will treat wastewater as well as any municipal sewage system. In fact, some septic systems do a much better job! The tanks will require pumping every 3 to 5 years at a cost of approximately $200 to $300.

C. Cesspools

A cesspool combines the septic treatment tank and absorption system into a single component. In its most basic and traditional form a cesspool is a hole in the ground lined with stone or concrete block to form a masonry-lined pit into which sewage is discharged. Solids (sewage from the building) remain in the pit, effluent is absorbed into soil below and at the sides of the cesspool. Cesspools as a means to dispose of sewage have been around since the late 1400's at the beginning of the Renaissance. Cesspools require pumping every 1 to 2 years at a cost of approximately $200 to $300.

The concern with cesspools is that they may overload the capacity of the soil to remove bacteria, viruses, and phosphorous, and to nitrify ammonia and organic nitrogen compounds. Some communities will fail cesspools automatically via regulations. Some accept them if they are functioning properly and meet other criteria. It is important to understand what you are buying.

D. Tight Tanks

Tight tanks are similar to septic tanks, except that they have no outlet and must be pumped out at regular intervals...usually monthly. Most regulations strongly discourage the use of tight tanks, but they are allowed in situations where an existing system has failed and there is no other feasible alternative. Tight tanks are not allowed for new construction or increases in design flow.

When purchasing a home with a tight tank, you'll want to request copies of maintenance invoices for the last year. Then, determine the usage of your family and how that will impact those costs. Normally, tight tanks are sized from 1500 to 2500 gallons. Each pumping can cost from $175 to $250 (assuming frequency discounts).

E. Presby Systems

Compared to conventional pipe and stone systems, as well as many other systems on the market, Enviro-SepticĀ® Presby systems delivers more benefits such as: requires less area and fill, a longer System life, up to a 50% cost savings, faster installation and less disruption of your landscape, installation on sloping terrain (up to 25%) with no mounding and a variety of System configurations. Not all communities allow these systems, check with the local health department.

The fact that a system passes an inspection is not a guarantee that the system will continue to function properly. Even properly maintained systems may only last an average of approximately 20-25 years. You will always want to provide a contingency in your Offer to Purchase to require your satisfactory review of the complete report as a condition of your Offer.

13. Value of Lakefront PropertyBack to Top

It is certainly understandable that lakefront property will carry a certain premium over non-lakefront property. How much of a premium is always difficult to quantify. There are several factors that come into play, such as: the type and size of lake, the size and level area of the lot, the town it is located in, neighboring homes, water quality, specific location on the lake, privacy, proximity to amenities, etc.

Recent sold comparables can be a good judge of current market value as long as they are taken from the same lake, sold less than 6 months ago and are comparable in ALL aspects. Your Lakefront Real Estate Specialist can pull recently sold properties for you. It is also not out of line to ask the listing agent how they arrived at the price. They should be able to justify it to you or your agent. It is also advisable to include an appraisal condition in your Offer to Purchase contract (discussed later in "contract essentials").

The good news is that lakefront properties hold their value, and increase in value, better than any other residential real estate you can buy. These properties make an excellent investment for yourself and future generations.

14. When is Lakefront - not really Lakefront?Back to Top

On some State-Owned lakes, there is a section of property between the house and water body (usually 100 feet or more) that is owned by the state. If there is a State Park located on the lake, this is usually the case. The State is managing and governing the conservation and preservation of the natural setting of the lake. Therefore, properties abutting these types of lakes are not technically 'waterfront'. It is especially important to determine the dock permit process, swimming restrictions, building restrictions, access limitations, etc. on these types of properties.

15. Maintenance of Lakefront PropertyBack to Top

With regards to maintenance of a lakefront property, there is really is no different considerations of that of non-lakefront property. The lake "climate" does not produce any unusual considerations on wear and tear. The biggest difference with a lakefront property may be the presence of groundwater.


Depending on the homes foundation height in relation to the groundwater, there may be a need for additional precautions. Many lake homes employ the use of sump pumps to remove potential water from entering the basement during high water portions of the year. Others use French drain systems that accomplish the same thing. A knowledgeable home inspector can detect the presence of water / moisture within the home.


Insects can be an issue as they are in any home. It is strongly advised to properly inspect the home by a qualified pest inspector. If a termite contract is already in place, check to see if it is transferable to the new homeowner.

16. Home OrientationBack to Top

Be aware of the homes orientation to the sun. This can play a huge factor in the enjoyment of your lakefront home in terms of lifestyle and entertaining. It certainly helps if your deck or patio has protection from the afternoon summer sun. If this is a concern, you may not want to buy on the east side of the lake or consider other sun-screening options. Not a morning person? Make sure you understand where the sun rises in relation to your bedroom. Also, be aware of where the predominant wind will strike the home in the winter... this could certainly impact your heating costs. Landscape features such as trees, rocky outcroppings and small hills can impact how your home performs. There is no substitute for a site with good southern exposure. It is recommended you bring a compass with you to every property.

17. Home LocationBack to Top

You already decided to be on the water... but which part of lake should you be on? Believe it or not, your lakefront experience can vary from one house to the other. Besides the home's orientation, there are other factors that will impact your decision:

Depending on the wind direction, coves can be a catch all for floating weeds.
Depth of water
Shallow water may not provide the recreational activities you desire.
Make-up of bottom
Gravel, muck, sand, weeds... know the impact this will have on your lifestyle.
Dock restrictions
Check with the Conservation Commission for permit requirements / restrictions.
Non-native plants
Concentrations in front of your home will impact your enjoyment.
Good ones are terrific, bad ones you can't change! Know who they are.
Boat traffic patterns
Understand frequency and distance from the home.

Be aware of the time of year you are buying the home because lakes change tremendously throughout the year. Your swimming area may look fine in early spring, but then by midsummer it is filled with nuisance weeds. Do not believe what the listing agent is telling you! Be sure to talk through all this with your Lakefront Real Estate Specialist, the Lake Association, Town Offices, and/or the neighbors until you are completely satisfied.

18. Zoning, Conservation & Legal RestrictionsBack to Top

Any lake or pond is considered a "wetland" and therefore falls under the Wetlands Protection Act. Each town has its own interpretation of this Law and you (or your agent) need to find out the particulars of the home you are considering. There are some general guidelines:

Be sure to ask is there are any easements on the property such as utility easements, shared drives, etc. Verify through RE attorney.

19. Flood InsuranceBack to Top

In order to secure financing to buy, build, or improve structures located in Special Flood Hazard Areas (SFHA's) you will be required to purchase flood insurance. Federally regulated lenders are required by law to determine if the structure is located in a SFHA and must provide the buyer with written notice that flood insurance will be required.

A Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM) will generally show a community's base flood elevations, flood zones, and floodplain boundaries. As a property owner/renter, you can use this map to get a reliable indication of what flood zone you're in. However, maps are constantly being updated. Therefore, for a truly accurate determination, contact your insurance agent or company, or your community floodplain manager.

Homeowner's insurance does not cover floods. Flood insurance can cost anywhere from $1,200 to $2,000 per year.

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