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Septic System Survey

 

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:

  • Changes in lifestyle and household activities, i.e., adding a garbage disposal, or children engaging in a new sport and taking more showers
  • Addition of bathrooms or kitchens to an existing system
  • Change of ownership from a retired couple to a 6- or 8-member family, i.e., younger families typically mean more washing machine loads each week
  • The average life expectancy of a septic system is roughly 25 years, but whether a system will continue to be trouble-free for that long depends on how well the system was designed and how well it has been maintained.
  • Contrary to popular belief, it is not good news to hear, "I've never had to pump the septic tank."  Pumping is NOT something you do AFTER the tank begins to show signs of failure.  Pumping must be done routinely at least every two years for the life of the system.  Failure to do so allows the scum on top of the tank and sludge in the bottom to build up year by year, thus reducing the capacity by more and more each year.

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.

A septic system has four major components:

  • A sewer pipe from the house to the septic tank
  • The septic tank
  • A distribution system
  • A leaching system

 

What can we do for you?

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. 

 

SEPTIC DYE FLOOD TEST

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

(Performed by a licensed septic contractor)

Visual tank inspection is more expensive than the septic dye flood test.  It is a four step process that includes:

  • Interview of the occupants
  • Review of health department records
  • Pump the interior of the tank dry for visual inspection of the interior and its baffles
  • Issue a written report to the client

 

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.