When a septic system is working properly, you should hardly even know it’s there.
Septic systems are an essential component of many homes, as they efficiently manage solid and liquid waste. A properly functioning septic system is crucial for maintaining a healthy living environment and preventing soil pollution. In this article, we will discuss everything you need to know about septic inspections, including why you should have your septic system inspected, the types of septic inspections, and the costs involved.
Intro to Septic Inspections
A septic system is simply designed to remove waste from a home. This includes any waste that comes from toilets, showers, sinks, and washing machines. When that water has served its purpose, it flows through pipes and into a septic tank. That tank, in turn, filters the wastewater before redistributing the sterilized result into the soil.If you’re a homeowner with a septic tank, you’ll still need professional inspections done from time-to-time.
The same goes for anyone who’s considering buying a home that runs on a septic system. We’ll go into details about the cost in a minute, but suffice to say, you’ll need to budget for ongoing septic inspections when considering the long-term costs of a house.
Types of Septic Inspections
There are several types of septic inspections, including:
- Visual Inspection: A visual inspection involves checking the main components of the septic system, such as septic tanks, distribution boxes, and the septic drain field, to ensure they are functioning properly.
- Loading and Dye Test: This test involves introducing a dye into the septic system and monitoring water flow to determine if the system is draining properly.
- Pump the Tank: A septic tank pump is necessary to remove solid waste and check for any damage to the tank.
Visual inspections are usually only done in conjunction with a general house inspection when the home is under contract. Most general home inspectors will not perform the septic inspection, so you'll need to hire a septic company.
Among other things, the septic system inspector may ask the current owner a few questions (e.g. about the age of the house, how old the tank is, when the last inspection was done, etc.). They’ll also check the home’s water pressure and drainage by flushing all the toilets and running water from all the taps. Finally, they’ll check the drain field for standing water to make sure there aren’t signs of a cesspool.
While a visual inspection of a septic tank is helpful, most real estate experts would recommend you have a full inspection done before actually buying a house.
Full inspections are also the kinds homeowners require. You simply can’t rely on a visual inspection to be certain major septic problems aren’t on the horizon.
A full inspection entails everything we just covered, but the inspector will also examine the actual tank itself. They’ll remove its cover to check the tank’s water level, which is the only way to know for certain if there are drainage issues.
Similarly, they’ll run water in the house and then watch to make sure that it’s properly flowing into the septic tank. If they see that the water level rises when they do this, they’ll know there’s a problem.
They may even add dye to the water in the house, so they see just how much of it ends up in the septic tank.
To finish the septic inspection, they’ll check the absorption area for backflow by running the pump. Backflow would indicate that there is an issue with the drain field. If that checks out, they’ll check the flow level one last time for any blockages and to be certain it’s still running correctly.
Reasons to Have Your Septic System Inspected
A septic system inspection is necessary for various reasons, including:
- Real Estate Transaction: A septic inspection is often required during a real estate transaction, as a home inspector may not have the expertise to assess the septic system adequately.
- Preventing Environmental Issues: An inspection can help prevent ground surface pollution and ensure that your septic system is draining properly.
- Septic System Repairs: Inspections can identify septic system issues, such as a full septic tank or damaged outlet pipe, allowing you to address them promptly.
- Maintaining a Healthy Septic System: Regular inspections help keep your septic tank healthy and prolong the lifespan of your septic system.
How Often Do You Need a Septic Inspection Done?
Visual inspections are done when you’re interested in buying a house. It’s a good preliminary step before paying for a full inspection.
As far as a full inspection of your septic tank goes, you should aim for every four to five years. If you have a larger household that uses more water on a regular basis, it’s probably best that you don’t wait five years. Likewise, you should count on a three-year schedule if you simply have a smaller tank.
If you just moved into a house with a septic tank, the inspector you used before closing should’ve told you how often you’d need the full assessment done. Otherwise, have one done and ask that inspector when you should schedule another.
Always keep records of your septic inspection, too. For one thing, this will tell you when you need your next appointment. It will also help you track any ongoing maintenance problems in case you have to start saving for a new tank in the future.
How Much Does a Septic Inspection Cost?
Fortunately, the cost of a full septic inspection should only be about $350, though it depends on where you live.
In any case, paying this negligible amount every three years or so is necessary to ensure that your septic tank isn’t malfunctioning, which could lead to a number of problems. The worst-case scenario would be the septic tank backing up so that contaminated water comes to the surface of your yard. It could even flow back into your home.
Far too many homeowners wait until this type of problem emerges before finally calling a professional to take a look at their septic tank.
Unfortunately, by then, it’s often too late.
Instead of spending around $350 for a preemptive review, it could end up costing them anywhere between $5,000 and $9,000 to completely replace their septic tank. Worse, if damage has already been done to their yard or home, the costs could be significantly more.
Septic System Components
- Septic Tank: The septic tank will be inspected for leaks, cracks, and proper functioning of the inlet and outlet pipes.
- Distribution Box: Septic inspectors will ensure that the distribution box is functioning correctly and evenly distributing liquid waste to the leach field.
- Leach Field: The inspector will check for signs of soil saturation, which may indicate a malfunctioning septic system.
- Sump Pumps: Septic inspectors will assess the condition and performance of sump pumps, as they play a critical role in maintaining a working septic system.
Should You Buy a Home with a Septic Tank?
Ultimately, it’s a personal preference, but you should make sure a system inspection is performed during due diligence.
According to the EPA, 20% of U.S. homes run on septic systems. So, while its operation may seem simple, it’s also proven to be incredibly effective.