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It can be easy to put off having your septic tank inspected. If you are not having any major issues with back-ups, slow drains, sewer smells or other problems, you may have gone many years without an inspection. While you may think this is fine since everything is working okay for you, this could end up being an issue if you ever sell your house and need a real estate inspection prior to finalizing the deal.

Taking good care of your system and having regular inspections will likely lead to a smoother real estate inspection. However, if your system has not been maintained properly, your inspection could lead to losing the sale of your home or spending thousands of dollars to get the system to the level that it will pass inspection.

When you have decided to sell your house, you will need to get a septic system inspection. It is very important that you understand what to expect. One of the most crucial points in this process is hiring a qualified septic professional separate from a standard home inspector. A septic contractor will be able to give you an honest and thorough assessment of your septic system and help you best understand what condition it is in. The septic professional will typically have a list of steps that he follows to ensure that your system is thoroughly inspected.


Selling a House with a Septic System

California law requires all real estate property sold with an on-site septic system to have an inspection done prior to transfer of property. The inspection must be performed by a licensed company. This inspection of the entire septic system must document how it is functioning prior to change of ownership.

If the seller knows of any issues with the septic system, the law requires them to disclose it to the buyer. If the seller does not disclose the information and the buyer finds out, an expensive lawsuit might ensue. It is ultimately the seller’s responsibility to repair damage to the septic system, but you can negotiate sharing costs as part of the deal.


Buying a House with a Septic System

If you are purchasing a house with a septic system, you will want to know the answers to a few questions:

  • How old is the house?
  • When was the septic tank last inspected and pumped?
  • Have you had any back-ups or standing water issues over the septic tank?
  • Have there been any repairs on the septic tank?

You will also want to make sure a third-party inspector completes a thorough inspection. It may be tempting to get an inspector that will go through the inspection quickly and sign off with a gold star. But that could result in you purchasing a house with a bunch of problems down the road.


What Does a Point of Sale Inspection Entail?


  • Locate, Map & Uncover Tank

The septic tank and access point must be located by the professional, unless the system has already been mapped. Note that if you are not aware of your tank location, an additional fee may be charged for the location and mapping of your system. During this time, your inspector will search for the location of the drainfield and tank by inserting a tool into the ground to locate the system. During this time, your inspector will also search for indications of leaks or drainfield issues that are typically indicated by dark green grass or a change in the type of weeds growing.

  • Flow Test

The inspection will typically begin with a “flow test.” This test seeks to determine whether the pipe used to transport liquid to the system is functioning and intact. To do this, the technician will turn on all water in the house to “charge” the system with ½ of the water the system is designed to support for 24 hours. Depending on the size of the house and septic system, this is generally a few hundred gallons. During this test, the water entering the holding tank should force the effluent through the baffles and into the drainfield.

If little to no water flows into the tank, there is a serious problem. Whether the pipe is displaced or cracked, a failure at this stage may indicate tree roots or other debris is clogging the pipe, creating the potential for flooding inside the house. Such a failure may also necessitate a sewer line inspection. If the water in the holding tank rises too quickly during the flow test, a problem downstream may be to blame.


  • Checking the Contents of the Holding Tank

The next phase of the on-site inspection consists of evaluating the contents of the tank to determine whether a disproportionate amount of scum, effluent and sludge are present. When a tank is operating properly, there should be a separate layer of scum, gray water and sludge at the bottom and the tank should be operating at the appropriate levels. Once operating levels and layers have been confirmed, your inspector will begin pumping out the tank. After the tank has been pumped, the inspector will shine a light inside in order to inspect the condition of the inside of the tank. The septic inspector will also check and clean the effluent screen at this time to ensure that it is properly filtering all solids and preventing them from entering the drainfield.

During this portion of the inspection, the inspector checks to ensure the tank is water tight and there are no cracks. Water lines above the appropriate level can sometimes indicate drainfield malfunction.


  • Inspection of the Drainfield

Finally, the technician will thoroughly examine the drainfield to determine whether it is functioning properly. If any potential problems have been identified in the previous tests, the technician will attempt to identify the source of those problems during this phase. First, the technician will visually inspect the drainfield, looking for wet areas that may indicate a flooded or clogged drainfield. They will also be alert for any foul odors, which may indicate the same. The technician may then perform a probe test to identify any potential hydraulic stress. If the probing holes fill too quickly, it may be an indication of a problem with the drainage of this system.

Unless your inspector finds signs that your drainfield may be malfunctioning, they will probably not dig into your drainfield. If there are signs like bright green grass or certain types of weeds growing, then a simple soil test or probing the ground may suffice. Other examples of things that may result in the need for drainfield repair are parked vehicles over the drainfield site or trees in the area surrounding the drainfield. Drainfield repair is typically only required when systems are not properly maintained.


  • Replacement of Soil & Sod

It is important that the septic professional communicate how they will dig to access the tank. The sod should be cut out cleanly and all dirt placed on a tarp. After the inspection all of the dirt and sod should be replaced in the same spot so there is minimal surface impact.


Call West Coast Sanitation Today!

The entire septic system inspection process is very involved and could take as long as 6-8 hours to complete. This inconvenience should be considered minor, as septic inspections reveal a lot of information about your system and will give you the peace of mind in knowing that your system is properly maintained and suits your water use.

At West Coast Sanitation, we know that you don’t have time to deal with septic problems. If you think that your system has reached capacity, please give us a call right away. We have professionals ready to answer your questions and get your system working properly again.