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What to Know About Septic System Inspections

By Bill Gassett | April 26, 2021

Buying a Home With a Septic System

Are you considering buying a home with a septic system? Septic inspections are a normal practice when buying a home that does not have a public sewer.

Taking good care of your septic system is one major task for your household's wellness and good hygiene. Proceeding with the right measures and inspections at the right time will prevent you from unpleasant incidents and money loss.

Getting a septic inspection is critical when buying a home. Without having a septic system inspection, you could be buying a costly problem. Replacement of a septic system is not cheap! One lower end, you'll be looking at around ten thousand dollars, and on the upper end, it's possible to pay over fifty thousand dollars.

You will want to make it one of your home buying contingencies when purchasing, so you have ample opportunity to perform your due diligence.

Let's take an in-depth look at everything to know about septic inspections.

Septic System Inspections
Things to Know About Septic System Inspections.

Understanding The Functionality of a Septic System

Before understanding precisely why your septic system needs periodic inspections, let us have a better look at how this system works. The job of this septic system is not only to collect the wastewater and solid waste of your household but also to treat it and let it go further away.

The main contribution to the plumbing network is the separation of solid waste into a different tank from the other not-so-solid residues in the wastewater, like oil and grease.

The separated wastewater then goes, into another tank system where special bacteria filter it, until it gets clean and ready to re-enter the water system, as underground water. The solid waste and sludge must be separated first so that the bacteria can produce its cleaning effects.

As you can see, the septic system is a quite important part of the underground water system and the septic cleaning process. So inspecting correctly is a vital part of this process also. It is also a part of the efficiency of cleaning wastewater.

When buying a home, you should plan on doing the septic inspection to coincide with the general home inspection unless the seller is required to do it. Some states mandate a seller having their system inspected before sale. For example, Massachusetts has this law in place called Title V.

How to Know It Is Time for a Septic Inspection

When is the right time to make the septic system inspection? Is it the right time to do this check-up? The specialists generally agree that the right time is once every couple of years. If you have a larger family, it should be done more frequently. If you are living alone, then you can stretch the time out between septic inspections.

Besides that, every time you want to purchase a new home, you should request a septic system inspection. That is before buying it. The state of the septic system can prevent you from having to pay for future malfunctions, repairs and avoid your discomfort.

One of the downsides of owning a home with a septic system is maintenance and the potentially high replacement cost during ownership.

Location of the Septic System

The major part of the septic system is underground, thus invisible from the house. Most homeowners are not even aware of where it is located related to the house they live in. The only issue is when you need to make the annual inspection or to clean it by septic tank pumping.

If you don’t know where the septic tank is, the specialized inspectors can help you locate it.

Its location should appear on what's referred to as the septic system "as-built" plan. If you hadn’t received such a plan when you purchased the house, you might find it in your local town hall in the health department. However, older houses might not have this plan registered.

There is also the possibility the former house owner has this information, and you could contact them, especially if they were the original owners.

If nobody has any idea about its existence, you and the inspector can proceed to find it. In the case of new systems, this is easier to do as they usually have certain visible components on the surface.

Otherwise, you could find it through a metal rod gently inserted in the ground, in the suspected areas, to discover the tank’s position. Don’t do it alone. Just ask a professional. They can even use a metal detector, or a radio transmitter sent down in the sewerage system, to detect the tank.

Another less professional technique is to analyze the area in the garden where the grass is greener. It usually indicates the septic system tank is right underneath.

Septic Inspection Steps

This what each inspector needs to search for during an inspection:

  • The date of the last septic inspection, and the date of the last pumping of the tank, including taking out waste particles and sludge.
  • The current level of sludge, which accumulates on the tank’s bottom. The risk level is achieved once the sludge rises over a 1/3 of the tank; if this level is reached, another pumping is required.
  • The septic inspector needs to check also if the size of the septic system tank is appropriate for the house proportions. The average size is that of a 1,500-gallon tank for a 4-bedroom house. The size of the septic tank also depends on the number of inhabitants.
  • The inspector will verify if some of the wastewater has infiltrated on the surface ground. This can be extremely dangerous, and measures must be taken right away if that is the case. It indicates a failed system.
  • The tank’s installation needs verification not to contaminate the underground waters or flood the tank and the house.
  • The inspector checks the state of the tank’s lid, if any, and repair any cracks or breakages.
  • The baffles which slow wastewater’s entry into the tank and help the solids’ filtering, as well as the pipes, are all verified during the septic system inspection. They need to be in proper condition and perfectly fitted on the tank. The inspector shall check for any solid deposits on the baffles or erosions due to chemicals. All these lead to overflow and leakage.

Maintenance Between Septic Inspections

If you take some septic tank actions, the time between inspections might be extended. This is also useful for extending the tank’s components and reducing the risk of any malfunctions.

Here are some maintenance actions that will make a lot of difference for the state of your septic system.

  • The only thing it is safe to flush down the toilet is the toilet paper. Otherwise, completely avoid flushing down paper towels, tampons, cleaning tissues, ear sticks, food leftovers, or any other type of home waste.
  • Plant only grass in the area above the septic system. Bigger roots might damage it.
  • Do not park heavy vehicles nor build heavy structures over the land around the sewerage tank.
  • Collect the rainwater or the water leaking from any other pumps into another direction so that it won’t flood and contaminate the area in the vicinity of the septic system.
  • Fix all broken toilet tanks, pipes, or faucets.

What to Avoid During The Septic Inspection

Here are some precautions during the septic system inspection.

  • Nobody has to enter the septic tank to search for cracks.
  • Do not use the dye flushed in the toilet method to discover the overload above the ground. It may take days and not even be visible.
  • Do not do a septic inspection with an unlicensed inspector. Hire only certified inspectors with special training. Septic tank cleaning or replacement must also be executed only by certified professional companies employing specific professional equipment.

Final Thoughts

Getting a septic inspection when buying a home is a big deal. It is essential to know exactly what you are buying and the current state of the system. Hopefully, you have found these tips to be helpful and better understand how a septic system works.

Bill Gassett is an authority in the real estate industry with 38 years of experience. Bill is well respected for his informative articles for buyers, sellers, and fellow real estate agents to make sound decisions. His work has been featured on RIS Media, the National Association of Realtors, Inman News, Newsbreak, Credit Sesame, Realty Biz News, and his own authoritative resource, Maximum Real Estate Exposure. He has been on of the top RE/MAX agents in New England over the last two decades.
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