Septic, it’s such an unpleasant thought. Realtors may know how daunting a septic can be outside of aesthetic notions. Aiding a client through the purchase or sales process when a septic system is involved can be unpleasant and full of surprises. Hopefully this article can clarify the inspection process and offer some tips to help the process go smoother for you and your clients.
During a septic inspection, the inspector will observe the structural and mechanical integrity of the system. An inspector can identify obvious functional, structural, or potentially problematic issues with a septic system. The inspection provides a description of the current observed state of the system at that given point in time of the inspection. Therefore, it’s important for a buyer to take advantage of all inspection options that are economically feasible.
- Locating and Gaining Access
The first step in the inspection process is to locate and access the septic tank. The first thing your client should know when scheduling the inspection is, “where the septic tank is and if the lid is exposed?” Many septic tank accesses are buried, and the location is unknown (especially for older homes – this is where additional expense comes in). Many other septic tanks have risers with manhole sized covers above ground. A common misconception is believing the 6-inch PVC pipe above ground (a.k.a. the cleanout) is the access to the septic tank. The easiest way to help reduce time and locating cost is to provide a plat of the property to the inspector when they arrive. Plats can be obtained from the county Health Department. We have multiple avenues of locating the system. From probing the ground, to using flushable transmitters and even using a camera snake that has a locator built in.
- Checking the Baffles and Waste Levels
Once the system is located and accessed, the inspector will verify the presence of both inlet and outlet baffles, and the level of fluids and solids in the tank. A septic tank whose levels of liquid/solid are not level with the outlet baffle will result in a system deemed unsatisfactory. The inspector must assume the tank is not capable of holding liquids and is structurally compromised. Please notify your clients not to have the tank pumped leading up to the scheduled septic inspection. The baffles are the pipes that expel waste into the tank (inlet baffle) and direct waste liquid into the drain field (outlet baffle). Both baffles must be present and structurally sound.
- Hydraulic Test
Next, a hydraulic test is performed to ensure the system’s ability to handle the flow of wastewater. This is typically done by running water inside the home to ensure wastewater is properly flowing out of the home and through the septic system. The amount of water used in a hydraulic test is based on the number of bedrooms in the home. The drain field is then observed and probed to ensure the systems function and grounds ability to absorb wastewater in the drain field. Visual water bubbling from the grounds surface is a red flag and shows the system to be unsatisfactory. Homes that have a low number of occupants or homes that have been sitting vacant have low continuous impact on the saturation points of the ground surrounding the septic system. If a home has been vacant or the current number of occupants is significantly lower than the buying party, then it is recommended that the buyer have the inspector dig up and inspect the distribution box. Issues with distribution boxes are often not identified until after the buyer moves into the home and taxes the system more than the previous occupants.
- Pumping the Septic Tank
The last step is the most controversial and that is pumping the septic tank. Often, I hear of inspectors not pumping the septic tank during the inspection process. To be compliant with Maryland State standards the septic tank shall be pumped. If structural integrity is one of the inspections most important focuses, then the tank must be pumped so the walls and the floor can be exposed for observation of any structural deficiencies. If the ground surrounding the tank is over saturated, then a structurally unsound tank will falsely give the appearance of properly holding and maintaining waste levels.
Hopefully, you have gained some additional knowledge about the septic system inspection. Should you have further questions or need additional information please don’t hesitate calling our office or contacting your local health department as they too are a wonderful source of information.
Tags: real estate septic inspections, septic inspections, septic tank cleaning, septic tank pumping