What happens during a septic system inspection, frankly, depends on the inspector. Unfortunately, there is no regulation in Texas that requires a septic system inspector to have any sort of license or certification. Scary!
The best thing you can do to ensure you are getting a qualified professional to inspect your system is check out his or her credentials.
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) licenses individuals as Installers, Maintenance Providers, Site Evaluators, etc. The National Association of Wastewater Transporters (NAWT) offers and Inspector Certification. The most qualified septic inspectors have several of these licenses.
There are two main types of inspections of conventional septic systems: a “visual” inspection and a “full” inspection (where the tank is pumped out at the same time). This article covers visual inspections — we’ll cover full inspections next week.
This is the type of inspection usually performed by home inspectors. Occasionally, a septic company may provide this type of inspection if the home buyer is not concerned about the septic system and is only having one done to satisfy the mortgage company (although not all loans will accept this type of inspection).
A visual inspection is a very limited inspection: it consists of running water in the house and flushing commodes. The tank may or may not be located, but it is usually not opened or checked unless the access lid is already exposed.
Therefore, as long as there is no backup in the plumbing and no water surfacing over the absorption area, one has to assume the system is functioning properly. This doesn’t mean everything is functioning as it should — it just means the toilets flush.
A visual inspection is risky for the buyer, because you don’t know what you can’t see. Here are a few examples of problems systems can have that the inspector would never know if only a visual inspection were performed:
A need for repairs caused by a major problem with the system may mean having to install an entirely new system (due to regulation changes). Depending on the type of system required for that property, new systems can range from $6,000 to $12,000 on average, with some properties up to $25,000 or more due to small lots, hills and access, etc.
If these problems are not discovered until after the house has sold, the new homeowner may find themselves having to foot the bill for repairs of a new septic system.
An inspector may perform a variation of a visual inspection called a “dye test,” in which he or she adds dye into the plumbing via the faucet or commode. The theory is that if any of the dye is seen in the yard, then there is a problem.
Adding dye is unnecessary; no water should ever surface over any portion of the system, no matter its color.
The average life expectancy of a septic system is approximately 25 years, depending on its usage and maintenance. However, we have found leaking tanks on a one year-old system and drainfield lines infested with roots in 10 year-old systems. Then there are systems that are 40 years old that are still functioning, not like a brand new system of course, but still in working order.
The point is, you never know and it’s risky to skip a septic inspection or only order a visual inspection. Although a full inspection with pumping may cost several hundred dollars more, it could be the difference in spending many thousands of dollars once you’re stuck with a system after closing.
Have questions or need to schedule an inspection? Contact us online or give us a call today!