If you are buying a house, you know there are many steps involved with the purchase. You save up for a down payment, attend open houses, talk to sellers and agents, and eventually find a home you love. Now, comes the fun part. You must submit an offer, secure a loan, book a home inspection, and finally, after stacks of paperwork, the house is yours. But wait! If the house you are considering has a septic system, there is one more very important step you must take: get a septic system inspection.
You may be wondering why you need a septic system inspection. Well, first of all, the septic system is one of the most expensive components of the average home, and it is often the most difficult to replace. In fact, it can cost tens of thousands of dollars to replace a malfunctioning septic system. Furthermore, a faulty septic system can be subject to frequent backups and unpleasant odors. If there was a leak in the roof or a crack in the foundation, you would want to know. It is just as important to know the condition of a home’s septic system.
“Okay, but I already did a home inspection and a dye test. Isn’t that enough?” While these inspections may satisfy a lender’s requirements, they are not enough to thoroughly evaluate a septic system. The only way to know the true condition of a septic system is through a septic system inspection by a Pennsylvania Septage Management Association-certified inspector.
What is a septic system inspection?
A septic system inspection is a comprehensive evaluation of all the components of a septic system. The inspector will locate and assess the septic tank, distribution box, and absorption area. He will discover and examine all the system’s mechanical and electrical components including septic lines, baffles, filters, pumps, floats, alarms, etc. During the inspection, he will open the septic tank (digging up the lids, if necessary) so that he may confirm wastewater sources from the house to the septic tank and visually inspect the septic tank at its operating level. Then, the inspector will pump out the septic tank’s contents, thoroughly clean it, determine its size, and inspect the empty tank for any cracks, holes, or structural issues using a mirror and spotlight. If the home has been vacant for an extended period of time or if the home’s occupancy is going to increase, the inspector will perform a hydraulic load test to determine if the septic system’s absorption area is able to handle the home buyer’s anticipated daily wastewater volume.
A proper septic system inspection must be completed by a qualified inspector. In Pennsylvania, this means that the inspector must be trained and certified by the Pennsylvania Septage Management Association (PSMA), which has developed a set of standards for an objective septic system evaluation. All PSMA-certified inspectors have received rigorous training to gain the skills necessary to conduct a thorough septic system inspection, and they complete continuing education to maintain their licenses.
Each PSMA septic system inspection concludes with a comprehensive report. Your inspector will present his or her findings and indicate any conditions which may signal problems for future owners. While this report is not a guarantee, the conclusions it draws can save you thousands of dollars in septic system repairs or replacement. Remember, the inspection period is the only time a buyer has to negotiate the costs of repairs and replacements. Without a PSMA inspection and report, you risk inheriting the financial burden of major septic system repairs or even an entirely new system.
Septic System Inspection vs. Home Inspection
Home inspectors are well trained to examine the interior and exterior of a house to identify common problems. They will tell you if there are visible concerns with the roof, windows, electrical system, interior plumbing, foundation, etc. However, a home inspection is a non-invasive, visual inspection only. Therefore, home inspectors report on components of the home that they can see and nothing more. Because most components of the septic system are underground, they are not visible to a home inspector. This means the septic system is outside the scope of a home inspection.
Beware of home inspectors who claim the septic system is included in their inspection. They will flush the toilets a few times to make sure the system isn’t actively backing up, and they may even take the lid off the septic tank (if they can find it). This, however, doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of an adequate septic system inspection. Without a pump truck to empty the septic tank, how can a home inspector tell you what condition the tank is in? How does one evaluate an absorption area without probing into the ground to locate it and examine its saturation level?
Home inspectors have a broad knowledge of many components of the home, but they are neither equipped nor trained to properly examine a septic system. Therefore, a home inspection is not a sufficient evaluation of the septic system. For the most comprehensive and informative septic system inspection, rely on a PSMA inspector who specializes in septic systems.
Septic System Inspection vs. Dye Test
A dye test uses a brightly colored, non-toxic tracing dye to ensure that wastewater is correctly routing into the septic tank and not elsewhere on the property. In plain English, a dye test shows that water gets from point A to point B. During a dye test, a technician will flush dye tablets down toilets and drains, confirm that the appropriate wastewater sources are entering the septic tank, and walk the property to see if dye is surfacing anywhere. This may identify if a septic system discharges partially treated sewage to the surface of the ground or into waterways, but it reveals little about the actual condition of a septic system.
A dye test will not identify the size or condition of the septic tank. It will not inform you of common absorption area problems such as root intrusions, partially clogged lateral lines, or whether the absorption area will be able to handle your family’s water usage. Dye tests reveal nothing about the functionality of important septic system components like baffles, pumps, floats, and alarms. Although dye tests are often required by municipalities and lenders during a real estate transaction, the prudent home buyer will also request a far more thorough septic system inspection.
When buying a home, don’t risk a future full of septic system malfunctions and costly repairs. Trust the PSMA-certified inspectors at Hapchuk, Inc to perform a thorough septic system inspection for you. Our experts will provide you with all the information and guidance you need to confidently purchase a home with a septic system.