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Septic Inspection Discovery: Inaccessible Tank

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There are many types of septic systems and with that comes a variety of different inspections for each. Recently we were called to an older home where the septic inspection included locating the tank, exposing the lids and pumping the tank.

Van Delden Wastewater Systems installed the system in the 1980s, so we didn’t anticipate any issues. However, we had never pumped the tank since it was installed. According to the owner, no one else had ever pumped it either which means we were about to encounter a 30-year-old system that had never been pumped.

Each inspection process begins with a tremendous amount of preparation. We obtain septic records and then look at pictures online to familiarize us with the property and tank location.

During the discovery phase, the septic drawing showed the tank to be by the house, where over the years, many surface improvements were added (flagstone sidewalk, concrete drainage ditch, landscaping, fence, swimming pool, etc.). We informed the buyer that we suspected the tank might not be accessible for the inspection so he was prepared for that possible scenario.

Upon arriving at the home, the owner thought he knew the tank location and tried to point us in the right direction. Unfortunately, the owner thought the tank was 50 feet downhill where the drainfield is located. After being unsuccessful with a probe and metal detector, we flushed a transmitter down the commode to locate the tank. This flushable transmitter flows through the plumbing and then into the tank.

We were able to pick up the signal over the ground, but the locator stopped about 5 feet from the house where a combination of surface improvements had been made. We dug close to where the locator signaled, and located the tank top in a two-foot section that did not have surface improvements, about 2 feet deep. However, the tank we installed was about 8 feet round. We verified the tank location, but could not dig further to find the access lid due to the surface improvements.

This was an unfortunate situation where the owner didn’t think he was building over his tank. Luckily, the buyer ordered a thorough inspection to discover the situation. There are different levels of septic inspections, so if a less invasive inspection had been ordered, the tank location would not have been verified – much less the issue with accessing the tank lid.

If you are in the market to purchase a home with an existing septic tank, don’t skip the septic inspection. Here are some questions you can ask your inspector to be sure you are getting the best inspection. Not sure which septic inspection is right for you? Contact our knowledgeable staff so that we can make an educated recommendation that could save you time and money.


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