What to Know About Septic Inspections
Are you wondering how septic inspections work? If you are buying a home with a septic tank, there are some things you need to be aware of. If you are selling your home, you could need an inspection of the septic system.
For example, here in my home state of Massachusetts, we have a law known as Title V that states upon the transfer of real estate a seller must have their septic system inspected by a septic inspector.
Septic inspectors need to be licensed in many states, so you can’t just have anyone do a septic inspection. Of course, as an owner of a property that is serviced by a septic system, it is vital to have proper maintenance so that there are no issues now or when it comes time to sell the home.
In some states having a septic inspection is a big hurdle to clear in a real estate transaction.
Let’s take an in-depth look at why septic inspections are important and what you need to know about them. Both buyers and sellers should have a firm grasp of how septic inspections work.
What is a Septic System?
Before we work through what you need to know about a septic inspection, it will be important to have at least a basic understanding of what a septic system is and how it works.
Most septic systems consist of a septic tank, a distribution box, and a leach field. People also refer to a leach field as a drain field. Septic tanks assist in digesting organic matter and will separate floatable matter such as oil, grease, and solids from the wastewater.
A septic system that is functioning properly will discharge the liquid from the septic tank to a distribution box to perforated pipes that are buried in a leach field. The pipes are designed to release the effluent into the ground slowly.
Septic tanks have been in use since the late 1800s. A septic tank, however, did not become more commonly used until the 1960s. Prior to that time a cesspool or cesspit was the most common type of waste removal.
Why Having a Septic Inspection is Important
So, what is a septic system inspection? If you are looking to buy a home with this type of wastewater treatment system, a septic tank inspection is vital. Septic inspections make sure that the system is operating as it should so that you and your family don’t get sick thanks to a leak or other problems.
Since these types of water treatment systems are located underground, a septic inspection is something that homeowners easily overlook. However, if something does go wrong, you will regret not having had septic inspectors check your system on a regular basis.
It isn’t only when you are looking to buy a home that septic inspections are needed. A septic tank inspection should be done throughout the time you own the home. Otherwise, you could find an expensive repair bill waiting for you for this vital system in your home.
Who Has Septic Systems?
Around a fifth of homes have septic systems installed to deal with their wastewater, but despite this, many home buyers won’t have encountered them before. The vast majority of homeowners have lived with public sewers, so having a septic system can be somewhat of an anomaly.
Septic tanks are used to deal with all the wastewater from the home. This includes water from sinks, bathtubs, showers, toilets, as well as appliances. As mentioned previously, this water is filtered through what’s known as a leach field and returned to the ground.
Septic systems minimize the chances of water and soil pollution when they are working correctly.
How Septic Tank Systems Work
The wastewater from bathrooms and the kitchen leave the home going to the septic tank. In the tank, the waste and the water separate, with the solids sinking to the bottom. This will then be broken down by bacteria gradually.
The water at the top of the tank will go through pipes to the drain field or leach field. This contains gravel that filters the water before it enters the soil. The soil helps to filter the water further, making sure that the water isn’t contaminated when it reaches the groundwater level.
Many septic systems also use what is referred to as a distribution box as well.
The distribution box helps the water flow out to the leach bed in the yard.
Three Main Components of a Septic System
The three main components of a working septic system are as follows:
- Septic tank
- Distribution box
- Leach field
Without anyone of these components of a septic system function properly you could have issues. Some of them can be fairly minor to correct such as a cracked cover on a septic tank.
Where big money comes in is when you have to replace a leach field. When a leach field fails you’ll be looking at big bucks to fix it.
Have a look at what to know about the cost to replace a septic system. After seeing how costly it is to replace a septic system or even a septic tank, you will realize how crucial proper maintenance can be.
How Often is a Septic Tank Inspection Required?
To make sure your septic system is functioning perfectly, you should have it inspected every 3 to 5 years. This is about the same schedule that you will need to keep when having the tank pumped as well.
If you stick to a schedule like this, your septic tank should continue to work well for the life of the system. If you have a large family, you may want to consider it slightly more often.
Unfortunately, many homeowners don’t stick to a schedule like this. Missing septic inspections and not having the tank pumped as frequently as it should be. The result tends to be that something goes wrong with the system, and only then the homeowner calls the septic inspector.
Though at that stage, the inspector is likely to recommend repair work or replacement of parts of the system. When this happens, of course, the costs are going to be a lot more than the expense of maintaining the system correctly.
A full replacement of a septic system can run from around $10,000 to $50,000 on average. These costs can increase based on things like the terrain, existing soils, groundwater, and the difficulty of installation. Septic systems are much less expensive when the groundwater is not high and the soil is gravel and not clay.
These are costs that can often be avoided with pumping and septic inspections being carried out regularly. Correct maintenance will also prevent any nasty faults from developing and should make your home easier to sell when the time comes.
Septic Inspection Near Me
You may be wondering how to find a septic system inspector nearby? If you are working with a real estate agent you should be able to get a recommendation on a qualified septic inspector. If you are selling for sale by owner, you can hit up Google for septic inspectors nearby.
I would recommend septic inspection near me, septic tank inspection near me, or septic inspectors near me. There should be multiple results of who can do a septic tank inspection.
The Two Types of Septic Inspections
A home inspector will normally complete a visual inspection of the system. This will include checking the age of the system and maintenance history.
The inspector will also test the system by flushing toilets and turning on faucets to make sure the pressure is good enough. This will also show that the septic system can deal with the water correctly.
Visual checks will also be made on the drain field. They are looking for standing water, which will mean the drain field could need replacement.
While all this gives some indication about the health of the system, it isn’t going to give a full indication of the reliability. To find that out, a full inspection is needed.
A full septic tank inspection will do all of the above and go much further. This type of inspection will involve opening up the cover on the tank to check the level, and that water is flowing from the house as it should. Sometimes a dye will be used to show how much enters the tank.
If any water flows back into the tank from the drain field, this will be discovered after the tank has been drained. All of these tests will ensure that there aren’t any blockages in the system and that each stage of the process is working as it should.
If there is water above the pipe leaving the distribution box it is a sure sign that the leach field is no longer functioning as it should. You could be looking at a septic system replacement.
How a Septic Inspector Will Locate Your Septic Tank
There are a few ways to help determine the location of your septic tank and the rest of your septic system components. You can locate your system as follows:
- Get the septic system “as-built” from the local board of health. The as-built plan shows the exact location of where the system is located on your lot.
- An inspector will use a metal rod to probe the yard on the potential location of the septic tank.
- Some septic inspectors will use a metal detector if they are having problems find the tank.
- Locate an area in the lawn where the grass is much greener than everywhere else.
- As a last resort septic inspectors will flush a small radio transmitter into a toilet where it will eventually land in the septic system.
What Does a Septic Inspection Cost?
The cost of a septic inspection will vary depending on a few factors. The size of the tank has a bearing on the cost, as does the qualifications and licensing required by the inspector.
In some states, like Texas, for example, licenses aren’t needed so your costs should be lower. However, it can mean that the inspector doesn’t have the qualifications to spot a problem with your system.
You can expect average septic inspection prices to range from around $300 to over $1000. You could find that your local health department offers inspections at lower costs if this seems too high.
Symptoms of Problems With Your Septic System
There are a few things that indicate your system needs some money spent on it to keep it working.
If you find that puddles develop above your septic system or drain field, this can be an indication of a blockage or worse. This puddle could be wastewater, so make sure your family stays away from it. An inspector will be able to tell you if it is a problem with the system and what will need to be repaired.
If the grass is greener over the septic system than elsewhere in your yard, it could be a sign of problems. If the drain field or the tank, isn’t working as intended, it could result in more water entering the ground.
While this might be something your plants and grass benefit from, it isn’t good for people and is an indication of repairs being needed.
If the water doesn’t drain away as it should, it could be caused by a blockage which might be a simple fix, or something worse. It could be a sign that the tank needs replacement, and your septic inspectors will find the answer.
Strong Septic Tank Odors
If there is an awful odor in your yard it goes without saying that the cause could be related to your septic system. A septic inspection will be able to assess if the strong odors you smell are coming from the system or not.
Making Your Septic Tank Last Longer
If you avoid flushing things that won’t break down in the tank, this will help it last. Things like paper towels, baby wipes, and tampons should be disposed of another way.
Medications, chemicals, and anti-freeze aren’t going to help the functioning of your tank. Avoid putting these down your drain, as they can destroy the bacteria in your tank.
Bleach can be put into a tank but only in small amounts. You should try to buy laundry detergent that is designed to be used with septic systems.
Building a Home Where Septic System Installation is Required
If you buy a piece of land where there is no public sewer, you will need to have a septic system installed. If you are getting a construction loan, the lender will require seeing a certificate of compliance from the local board of health stating that the system passes the required standards.
When buying land where a septic system is needed it will be crucial to have a property survey for proper placement. Some cities and towns will have minimum distance requirements on where a septic system can be placed in relation to the house and other structures such as pools.
If you are buying over an acre of land this is usually less problematic unless the parcel is constrained by wetlands or ledge. Buying a piece of land that is serviced by a septic system can be more problematic because you need to verify that a system will be able to be installed on the property.
It will also be essential to ensure you are not overpaying for the land. If the septic system installation is going to be an extraordinary expense this should impact what you will pay for the land. It will be crucial to run comps to determine what other like properties are selling for.
Buying a Home With a Septic System
If you are purchasing a property with a septic system, you should find out a few things about it and the maintenance. Knowing how old the home is and when the system was last inspected or pumped, will help you see if there are more likely to be problems.
Other questions to ask should include if there has been any standing water near or above the tank, and problems with backups. Also, find out about any repairs that have been made to the tank and when.
You will want to hire a septic inspector to really make sure the system is functioning correctly. Spending the money on this type of inspection should ensure you don’t get surprised by a large bill soon after you’ve moved in.
In states where septic inspections are required, it will often be a contingency in the real estate contract between the buyer and seller. If the septic system inspection does not pass, the buyer would be able to get their earnest money back.When buying a home with a septic system, it is vital to have a licensed septic inspector look over the system!Click To Tweet
Selling a Home With a Septic System
When selling, you might find that you need to have a septic inspection before the sale. Some states need sellers to have inspections before a sale, and others don’t. Check with your state’s health department or local real estate agent if you are unsure of the requirements.
If you do know of a problem with your system, and you don’t disclose it to the buyer, you could be in for legal trouble. In many states, there are real estate disclosure laws that require you to inform the buyer of problems you know about. Failure to do so could lead to a lawsuit.
If problems are discovered with the septic system in the process of selling your home, it is likely the costs will be your responsibility. Though this can be negotiated with the buyer.
Frequently Asked Questions About Septic Inspections
1. What is done during a septic inspection?
There are three things a septic system inspector will check during an inspection including the integrity of the septic tank, the proper function of the distribution box, and a leach field that is working as intended.
If all three of these components are working correctly you will have passed the septic inspection.
A septic inspector will open the septic tank and look around visually. Most of the time they will pump the tank as well unless it has been done recently. The inspector will also open up the distribution box and check to see that’s it’s functioning as intended.
2. How much does it cost to inspect a septic system?
The cost of inspecting a septic system will vary depending on a few factors, including your location. Pricing will vary from state to state.
The size of the tank which is generally either 1000 or 1500 gallons will also have some bearing on the cost as septic inspectors will typically pump the tank as part of the inspection.
You can expect to pay anywhere from a few hundred dollars to a little over $1000. When a septic inspector has to bring in equipment to get to a septic tank the price will increase.
3. Who pays for septic system repairs, the buyer or the seller?
In most states, the seller will be responsible for repairing any issues found during a septic inspection. In Massachusetts, you cannot sell a home without a passing inspection.
4. How long do septic systems last?
On average a septic system will last from twenty to fifty years. Being a real estate agent, I have seen septic systems fail sooner as well as last longer. If you take care of your system it will last longer.
It is recommended not to have a garbage disposal with a septic system, as it can cut years of life off the system. Solids in the tank can end up in the leach field, eventually causing it to fail.
5. Are septic inspections required for FHA and VA loans?
With a VA loan, there are no specific separate septic system inspection requirements. The VA does, however, require an appraiser to verify the system is function properly at the time of sale.
The FHA does require that the septic system is functioning properly in accordance with local ordinances. An appraiser would also need to verify during their visit to the home that the septic system is functioning as intended.
6. What happens if a septic system fails during a home sale?
In most states, one of two things needs to happen. Either the seller will need to replace the system or the buyer’s lender will need to allow an escrow holdback for replacement. When you do an escrow holdback and close as planned, the lender will require a holdback of 1.5 times the cost of replacement.
So, if the septic system is going to cost $20,000 to replace, the lender will require a seller to have $30,000 of their proceeds held in escrow. The seller will get these funds back when the septic system has been installed and the local board of health signs off on approval of same.
Conclusions on Septic Inspections
Normally, septic systems are efficient when properly maintained. If they have been inspected and pumped regularly, they can last 25 years or more without replacement. You can prolong the life of your system by avoiding putting hazardous chemicals or non-biodegradable items down your drains.
Hopefully, you have learned a ton from our guide to septic inspections and properly keeping up with your system.
About the author: The above Real Estate information on what to know about septic inspections was provided by Bill Gassett, a Nationally recognized leader in his field. Bill can be reached via email at [email protected] or by phone at 508-625-0191. Bill has helped people move in and out of many Metrowest towns for the last 34+ years.
Are you thinking of selling your home? I have a passion for Real Estate and love to share my marketing expertise!
I service Real Estate Sales in the following Metrowest MA towns: Ashland, Bellingham, Douglas, Framingham, Franklin, Grafton, Holliston, Hopkinton, Hopedale, Medway, Mendon, Milford, Millbury, Millville, Natick, Northborough, Northbridge, Shrewsbury, Southborough, Sutton, Wayland, Westborough, Whitinsville, Worcester, Upton, and Uxbridge MA.