The old saying that "the grass is greener over the septic tank" is true only if it has a serious problem. The septic tank is generally a waterproof concrete box with watertight piping entering and leaving the tank. If there has been any seepage, more lush growth will be present over the tank, most likely due to a backup or overflow in the system. There are many effects that can add strain on a septic system:
A tank that isn't pumped until the capacity is reduced to the point where untreated solids stop the working of the system and fill the leaching field is already in failure. Unless there is room to expand to a new leaching field and a program of regular maintenance is established, an entirely new system may be required.
If you are contemplating the purchase of a home with a septic system, there are two methods available to inspect your septic system.
The first test, the Septic Dye Flood Test is performed by the Building Inspector of America. The second test, a Visual Tank Inspection, is performed by licensed Septic Contractors and is recommended by the Maryland Department of the Environment.
The Building Inspector of America can provide a septic survey that will determine whether the system is functioning properly. This survey includes dye and flood tests and a visual survey of the ground surface to determine if the leaching field is still satisfactorily absorbing water. The test is performed by pouring a chemical dye into the septic system from a toilet or drain in the home. The septic tank is then filled with enough water to disperse the dye out of the tank into the septic field. An inspection of the property is made to determine if there are any leaks as evidenced by colored soil downstream from the septic tank. A written report is issued to the client. This test is usually acceptable for settlement and is reliable and cost effective, however it does not inspect or pump the tank. The second method is similar, but requires pumping the tank for inspection.
Visual tank inspection is more expensive than the septic dye flood test. It is a four step process that includes:
While both of these methods offer valuable information about the condition of the septic system, neither test is perfect nor guarantees a trouble-free system. Since a septic system is mostly underground, any number of latent defects can be concealed. It is important to remember that the best way to care for a septic system is have it pumped every 3 to 5 years depending on usage.