On-Site Septic Systems
If you are purchasing a house with an on-site septic system, the septic inspection may one of the most important inspections you should have. I got certification in the early 90’s, and re-certification several times to do Level I septic inspections by the Pennsylvania Septage Management Association and I did the septic inspection along with the home inspection for hundreds of clients. However, as a senior citizen, I no longer do these inspections my self. The digging and probing are a little more than I’m up for doing. I bring in a company that does the quality of inspection that I believe is the best available. Additionally, they have cameras and other technology to provide more information. In essence, you get two inspections. The one the septic company provides and the second opinion / additional information that I provide. Pennsylvania has one of the most diverse arrays of soil in the country. Because of this, Penn State University did an extensive amount of research on the different types of soils, including their ability to absorb, filter, and drain water.
If you are purchasing a house or building that has an on lot / private septic system you need to know what the condition of that on-lot system is. Some estimates indicate that as high as 50% of septic systems have serious malfunctions. Repair or replacement of septic systems can be very expensive. (If it is found to be necessary, a new system can cost anywhere from 6 to 35 thousand dollars.) This is not to scare you; most repairs are far less expensive than 20+ thousand dollars. The point is that you need to be aware of what you are getting into.
What can you do? First, you can ask the selling and/or listing agent, or the current owner for all / any information you can get on the septic system. If the current owner has maintained the system or if repairs/changes have been made to the current system, get receipts and /or call the company that did the work. You can also contact the local health dept. to obtain any information they have. Last, but not least you can have the system inspected.
As little as 20 years ago, in certain areas, systems did not have to meet the standards that are required today. If a septic system is not maintained properly or misused there can be a premature system failure. Generally, people do not know what to do or how to maintain their septic system. When you get to the 20, 30, 50, and even 100-year-old systems there are many questions and concerns that you need to be answered before you take on the responsibility and the possible problems/expenses. It’s also important to have some understanding of how this system works and how to maintain it.
With this information in hand, the Pennsylvania Septage Management Association (PSMA) established a set of standards/guidelines, to inspect septic systems. This is the most extensive septic inspection available today, with the exception of literally bringing in a backhoe and excavating the system. (Note: there is some hand digging and ground probing – sinking a rod into the ground to determine water levels or locate system components.)
Some of the questions that we would be looking to be answered are:
- What kind of system is it? (Cesspool, sand mound, seepage bed, and trench system, are just a few possibilities.)
- What are the levels of the solids, water, and scum in the tank? (High solid level indicates lack of maintenance and is a concern.)
- Are the baffles deteriorated? (Deteriorated baffles can allow solids to get into the drainage field and clog it.)
- Is the system functioning properly at the time of the inspection? Is it in its capacity or can it handle an additional load? (This can be very important if you are increasing the occupancy of the house.)
- What are the water levels in the drainage field? This is the most important piece of information. (Other parts of the system can be easily repaired, replaced, or even moved, but the repair or replacement of the drainage field can be very expensive.)
If you have any questions about septic systems, please feel free to call me.