Septic System Inspections

The Ultimate Guide to Understanding Septic System Inspections

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If you’re a homeowner with a septic system, getting regular inspections is crucial for protecting your investment and avoiding expensive repairs down the road. But what exactly should you expect during a septic system inspection? This comprehensive guide will walk you through the basics so you can make informed decisions about your system.

Why Inspect Your Septic System?

There are two main reasons to get your septic system inspected regularly:

  1. Prevent failures. Like other household systems, septic systems can fail over time if not properly maintained. Some common signs of failure include:
  • Slow draining sinks or toilets
  • Gurgling sounds from plumbing fixtures
  • Sewage surfacing in the yard
  • Foul odors around the leach field

Regular inspections allow you to identify minor issues before they become big, expensive problems. For example, something as simple as a cracked pipe or broken baffle can be fixed easily if caught early.

  1. Comply with local regulations. Many counties and municipalities require septic system inspections at regular intervals, such as when a property is sold or every 3-5 years of ownership. Failing to comply can result in fines, so it’s important to know the rules in your area.

In summary, septic system inspections serve both a practical and legal purpose for homeowners. They provide peace of mind that your system is functioning properly and help avoid unpleasant surprises.

How Often Should Inspections Occur?

Experts generally recommend inspecting your septic system every 3-5 years under normal use. However, more frequent inspections may be wise if:

  • Your home has a higher than average number of occupants
  • You use a garbage disposal frequently
  • You live in an area with heavy clay soils
  • Your system is over 30 years old

Conversely, you may be able to extend inspection frequency to 5-10 years if:

  • Your home has only 1-2 occupants
  • You don’t use a garbage disposal
  • Your system is newer or recently replaced

Use the higher end of these ranges if you notice any signs of trouble, such as slow drains or wet spots around the leach field. It’s much less costly to get ahead of problems through regular inspections than face an emergency repair or replacement.

What Does the Inspection Cover?

A standard septic system inspection is visual and non-invasive. The inspector will check the major components, including:

  • Septic tank – Checks for signs of clogs, leaks, or damage. Measures sludge and scum layers.
  • Distribution box – Ensures all outlets are free-flowing to the leach field.
  • Soil absorption field – Scans for wet spots, odors, or surfacing sewage.
  • Pipes & pumps – Checks for blockages, leaks, abnormal noise/vibration.

The inspector will also review site factors like the location of your well and drainage patterns. By the end, you should have a written report assessing system function and outlining any repairs needed.

What’s not included? Opening up or pumping out the tank. Those services can be added on for an additional cost if desired. The standard visual inspection is usually enough for a general check-up.

What Are They Checking For?

When inspectors assess the different parts of your septic system, they are generally looking for the following problems:

Septic tank:

  • Cracked or damaged fittings
  • Peeling paint or corrosion indicating leaks
  • Blocked inlet/outlet tees
  • Excessive sludge or scum layer buildup

Distribution box:

  • Broken or obstructed piping
  • Uneven flow between outlets
  • Leaks

Leach field:

  • Standing water or muddy soil
  • Grassy or lush plant growth indicating untreated wastewater
  • Sinking or depressed soil areas
  • Sewage odors

Pipes & pumps:

  • Leaking joints
  • Backed up flows
  • Unusual noises indicating pump issues
  • Electrical problems

Site factors:

  • Well too close to system
  • Stormwater drainage toward system
  • Trees/plants overhanging components
  • Excessive landscape irrigation near leach field

Any of these red flags will be called out by the inspector and given priority in their report based on severity.

What is Involved in the Inspection Process?

A complete septic system inspection generally follows this process:

Records review – The inspector will ask to see any records or permits you have for the system to understand its design, age, and maintenance history.

Visual assessment – The inspector will first conduct a visual check of the septic tank, pumps, distribution box, and soil absorption field checking for any of the issues noted above. This may involve some digging if components are buried.

Plumbing tests – Simple dye or flood tests are often done to check for leaks between the house and septic tank. The inspector will run water in sinks, tubs, etc. to observe flow.

Site evaluation – The inspector will note the location of wells, surface waters, and other important site features that may impact the system.

Interview – Talking with the homeowner helps identify usage patterns, changes over time, and any problems you’ve experienced.

Report – Finally, you will receive a written report summarizing the inspector’s findings, any issues found, and recommendations for correction or further professional review.

The inspection is visual and non-invasive, meaning the inspector won’t pump or open the tank or start excavating parts of your system. But the process gives a very comprehensive analysis of how the system is currently functioning.

How to Prepare for the Inspection

Having a septic system inspection doesn’t require much prep work on your end, but these tips can ensure it goes smoothly:

  • Gather relevant documents – Have any permits, system diagrams, or previous inspection reports ready for the inspector to review. Also provide contact info for previous owners if available.
  • Clear access – Remove debris and overgrown vegetation so the inspector can easily access covers, manholes, and the distribution box.
  • Reduce water use – Limit showers, laundry, and dishwasher use for 12-24 hours prior so the inspector can observe flows.
  • Mark system parts – If you know the locations of your system components, mark them to save time.
  • Keep pets contained – Secure pets away from the inspection area for safety.

Following up on any recommendations from the inspector can also extend the life of your system. Take their advice seriously—performing needed maintenance now prevents much larger repairs down the road.


Septic System Inspection Cost

The average cost of a septic system inspection ranges from $200 – $500, depending on your location and the complexity of your system. Here are some factors that affect the price:

  • Where you live – Inspections cost more in metropolitan areas.
  • Size of system – Larger homes with bigger tanks and field lines cost more.
  • Additional services – Dye testing, tank pumping, or repairs if needed add to the costs.
  • Inspector expertise – Engineers and master inspectors often charge higher rates.

While not free, an inspection is well worth the investment for the peace of mind and early identification of issues it provides. Preventing even one emergency repair job down the road will easily offset the cost.

Important Septic System Inspection Questions to Ask

As the homeowner, you should come prepared with questions for the septic system inspector. This ensures you completely understand their assessment, recommendations, and any next steps needed. Here are some key questions to ask:

  • How urgent are any repairs identified?
  • Do you see signs the system is nearing the end of its lifespan?
  • What maintenance should be performed regularly?
  • How often should inspections be done in the future?
  • Do I appear to be using the system within its design capacity?
  • Are there any signs of failure you expect to see in the near future?
  • Do you recommend contacting a septic professional for any issues found?

Good inspectors will take time to thoroughly explain their findings and make sure you feel comfortable with the condition of your system. Don’t be afraid to ask plenty of questions—there are no bad questions when it comes to such a vital home system!

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