Most of our real estate inspection topics are geared towards conventional septic systems, but aerobic systems should be inspected as well. This applies even if the system is under a current maintenance contract and if the system was recently serviced.
State regulations require all aerobic systems to be checked every 4 months. Some counties require a licensed company to provide service, while others allow the homeowner to service their own system. Whether or not the system has been serviced by a licensed professional or the homeowner, we find many issues during real estate inspections.
As with any industry, there are “licensed professionals” who really aren’t that professional and aren’t doing their job. It’s your job as the buyer to ensure the system is operable and adequate before you buy a home. Don’t take the seller’s word for the septic system simply because it was “just serviced.” Half of the systems we inspect that were “just serviced” by another professional still need serious attention. Even if we service a system for the owner, we can’t disclose anything about their system to the buyer without a real estate inspection. Service reports for regular maintenance don’t usually address design issues, which are just as common as inoperable parts.
Besides inspecting the operating parts of systems, our inspections look further into current house specs (number of bedrooms, square footage, additions, pool additions, etc.) and the anticipated hydraulic load by the buyer. This is really, really important!
The most common thing we find is that spray heads have been moved or capped off. This requires a permit to complete, but we find that no permit was obtained in most cases. This affects the amount of distribution and has other setbacks. The average cost to remedy un-permitted spray head changes is $1,000 to $2,000. Not a small fix.
We also often find systems designed for a smaller number of bedrooms than currently exist in the home. This makes the system undersized for the listing, which also creates problems. It’s best to perform a real estate inspection, regardless of how sure you are of a septic system’s state. When buying a home and inheriting a septic system, it’s always better to be safe than in a messy, expensive bind.