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SEPTIC SYSTEM INSPECT DIAGNOSE REPAIR
SEPTIC CARE INSTRUCTIONS
SEPTIC D-BOX INSTALL REPAIR
SEPTIC DRAINFIELD FAILURE DIAGNOSIS
SEPTIC DYE TEST PROCEDURE
SEPTIC FAILURE SIGNS
SEPTIC INSPECTION & TEST GUIDE
SEPTIC LIFE EXPECTANCY
SEPTIC SUPPLIES & PARTS
SEPTIC SYSTEM DESIGN ALTERNATIVES
SEPTIC SYSTEM DESIGN BASICS
SEPTIC SYSTEMS, HOME BUYERS GUIDE to
SEPTIC SYSTEM SAFETY WARNINGS
SEPTIC TREATMENTS & CHEMICALS
SEWAGE BACKUP PREVENTION
SEWAGE EJECTOR / GRINDER PUMPS
SEWER GAS ODORS
SEWER LINE REPLACEMENT
SINKHOLES, WARNING SIGNS
SOAKAWAY BED FAILURE DIAGNOSIS
SULPHUR & SEWER GAS SMELL SOURCES
TOILETS, INSPECT, INSTALL, REPAIR
TRAPS on PLUMBING FIXTURES
TREATMENTS & CHEMICALS, SEPTIC
VIDEO GUIDES: Septic Videos
WATER CONSERVATION MEASURES
WATER SOFTENERS & CONDITIONERS
WATER SUPPLY & DRAIN PIPING
WATER, WELLS, WATER TANKS: TESTING GUIDE
WASHING MACHINES & SEPTIC SYSTEMS
WASTEWATER TREATMENT BASICS
WINTERIZE A BUILDING
Home Seller's Guide to Septic Systems and septic system testing:
Here we offer some advice for home owners who are selling a property with a septic system, including useful information that you can prepare and provide to a home buyer, septic system testing, and making septic system safety repairs before even listing a property for sale.
No one wants to see a condition like the failing septic system shown just above, but isn't it just the rotten luck that sometimes problems like this show up right when you're trying to sell a home?.
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Question from a reader who is selling a home with a septic system: My brother and I are helping sell my parents house in Massachusetts, and we were told we had to have this inspection done. We don't know what kinds of questions to ask when interviewing potential inspectors - can you give us some insight into how to best research this? We want the best possible chance of having a positive, no issues inspection, so again we would appreciate your advice.
Tips for Sellers of Homes With Septic Systems
Avoid a Conflict of Interest about Reporting Septic System Condition
To avoid a conflict of interest all parties to a real estate sale should prefer to see a Title5-type septic inspection and any other condition of property inspection ordered by the buyer not by the seller. Otherwise, later if a problem is found by the new owner the seller could be charged with providing self serving, inaccurate information.
Use a Qualified Septic System Inspector
All Title 5 inspectors working in MA are licensed and must be trained. Septic system inspectors in other states and provinces may also be required to be licensed or registered, though many excellent septic system inspections are also offered by some home inspectors as well as some septic contractors. Do not hire an inspector for septic or other inspections if s/he has a conflict of interest such as one who also offers repair services for the property to be inspected, nor an inspector who has a relationship with the home buyer, seller, or real estate agent.
Ask about the septic system inspector's experience. Ask to see an example septic inspection report and compare its contents with the requirements specified by law in Title5 and with the septic inspection reports described at this website.
Prepare and Provide Basic Homeowner Information About the Septic System
Provide the most accurate information possible about the septic system age, location of components, type of components, service and repair history you can. You may not know all of these things but the more you know an provide the more accurate will be the septic report and the less pure speculation will be involved.
Speculation by a septic system inspector, in the absence of actual information, can lead to worst-case guesses or warnings to a buyer, issued not so much to protect the buyer as to protect the septic inspector - to reduce risk of a buyer's later complaint about the inspector's diligence. But such a septic system condition report, in which the inspector spends your money to reduce his/her risk, can result in premature, inappropriate, or excessive septic system repair repair costs.
What if the Septic System Needs Repairs Right When We're Selling Our Home?
If you already know of a septic system failure or unsafe condition or of a problem that is easily corrected, such as a flimsy septic tank cover or surface runoff invading the drainfield fix these right away - we don't want a prospective buyer falling into the septic tank, and drying out a wet leach field caused by invading ground water will improve its function.
If there is already evidence of a septic system problem, such as odors, wet areas, or sewage backups, obtain several repair estimates, including a reliable diagnosis of just what the problem is. Repair costs range from trivial (unclogging a pipe) to significant (replacing a septic system). Do not try to "hide" a problem by pumping the septic tank. Such a step is very short-term (hours or a day or so), and may constitute a fraudulent or illegal act. Of course if you have to pump a failed septic system tank so as to have emergency ability to flush toilets, go ahead, but inform the parties concerned of this condition.
If the septic inspection indicate a costly problem, get further, accurate diagnosis and repair cost estimates from one or more septic repair companies - more than one approach and cost may be feasible.
Repair work bids should be from a septic repair company having no relationship with the septic inspector.
Since high costs and even life-safety issues could be involved in some septic system problems, responsible accurate septic reports, not just a septic report whose results make us happy, are of paramount concern.
Since some lenders will not write a mortgage on a property unless the septic system is working, you may have to go ahead and perform the necessary repair work. Generally, unless immediate functional or safety repairs are needed, we prefer to obtain estimates and then to negotiate with the buyer on that amount, perhaps offering the repair cost as an allowance against the purchase price of the property. Why? Because the new owner - buyer will be more confident that the repairs were done properly if s/he is in control of that work, and the seller will be free of any future liability concerning the septic system.
What if the Septic System Inspection and Report are Faulty?
If the septic system inspection yields a result that seems unclear, inaccurate, or just plain wrong, or if its confusing, ask for clarification from the inspector, and also pass that information and question along to me by email- I may have a suggestion
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about selling a home with a septic tank
Question: Our first septic system test failed, the second one that was less thorough passed. The buyers want a whole new septic system. What should we do?
I am curious what you would say about my current situation. I'm in the middle of an inspection w/ buyers. The first septic inspection failed a flow test. We have had no issues [with our septic system] in the 13 years we've been in the house. The system is old [built probably in ] 1965. We've found no map of the field and no one has found the field.
We had a second opinion inspection without a flow test [septic loading test]. The septic system passed [this second procedure]. Tank was emptied and inspected. He said he found no high water marks. No damage found to tank.
Buyers wanted another opinion so our agents hired a company- this company failed the system. Used a camera in the out pipe which was holding water and followed it down to a place on the lawn just staring to green up and found the soil there saturated. They said the system was about to fail, but couldn't located any leaching system. No break out or odor. They also claim to have found a hairline crack in the septic tank. Now the buyers want us to replace the whole system, septic tank included and to use the company that last inspected! What do you think? I think it stinks, but my lawn doesn't.
Reply: Avoid a future dispute, find out what repairs are really needed, fix or escrow
A septic loading and dye test cannot find all possible septic problems but it can find enough to be worth doing, and if the septic loading and dye test was properly performed, it can protect both buyer and seller from a later dispute.
The legal question of what you should do in the case of a failed septic system is one to take to your lawyer.
That said, my OPINION is that these are some points to consider:
- DJF - editor.
Question: home buyer troubled by improper septic test at time of purchase & later septic system failure
(Mar 30, 2014) Tim said:
I dug up the tank caps the next summer and a trustworthy private septic inspector said all looked well. I picked up a leach field map from our town hall and realized the love before us had planted a tulip tree on one of the leech lines. I cut down the tree and have diverted grey water from the house. There's also a large deodara cedar planted about 10' from the same leech line. I'm going to eventually dig up the D box and see if the roots have grown down the leech line and into the D box. In the winter, especially when it rains, wastewater from the house flows into the tank and immediately out of the tank caps.
I think the previous owner knew about this and I'm suspicious that the owner's realtor may have known. We can't afford repairs and the town we live in is known for city inspectors failing systems. I wish I had figured out the problem more quickly because I think I could have pursued legal actions against the previous owner and maybe the realtor.
Who would I contact to anonymously ask for an investigation of the Real Estate company that we bought our house from?
Contacting our town would backfire and we'd have to spend big money on repairs. Should I contact the county, the state? I need to do it anonymously. Thank you for any help! Tim.
Sorry to read about the unfortunately not-unusual septic system failure aggravation.
The presence of cleanouts does not itself assure that a seller knew about the problems you describe, but other site clues could indeed show whether there had been a history of backups and failures as might septic pumping company or excavator recorsds.
I'm doubtful that you will ever get to first base on going after the seller or the realtor unless you can come up with an actual document existing from the time of sale or just before the sale proving that either party knew of and failed to disclose a substantive defect. Real estate law protects realtors from having to disclose defects that the agent can simply indicate was not disclosed to them by the seller.
Caveat emptor applies in-spades to real estate purchases. The question remains whether or not you had an adequate septic inspection and test prior to buying the home.
Question: when buying or selling a home, who should pay for septic system inspections & tests?
(Nov 16, 2014) Anonymous said:
Who pays for pumping or inspection?
2 Feb 2015 Krystal said
The seller is trying to make us (the buyers) pay for a septic test. Why would he want to do that?
The person ordering the inspection or test. In the purchase of a home normally that would be the property owner as a buyer may have no right to order work on a property that she does not own.
Well he's pretty smart your seller, or he/she got proper advice from a realtor or attorney.
Continue reading at HOME BUYERS GUIDE to SEPTIC SYSTEMS or select a topic from the More Reading links shown below.
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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Question: we are buying a home with a septic tank and know nothing about it. The home looks well maintained. Should we get the septic system inspected?
We are in process of buying a home with a septic system. Your information has been quite helpful. We know NOTHING of septic systems. I'm trying to figure out what kind of system it is, we've been told it's not aerobic so by default does that mean it's anaerobic? We know it was pumped 7 months ago and that the owner of 3 yrs has never had any problems. The house, built in 1986, is VERY well maintained as attested to by our home inspector. Fortunately I have a lifelong friend that lives on the same street so she's told me about her system, etc., but I'm not sure ours is the same. What concerns should we have? Should we absolutely get it inspected? I'd appreciate any advice. - Stephani S. DFW -Texas
Reply: yes, absolutely.
Stephani S DFW Texas
There are serious health and safety risks involved as well as possibly expensive repairs needed.
In the article above, at "Steps to Take When Buying a Home With a Septic Tank" we tell you what is recommended.
The basic approach includes asking questions, a visual inspection of the home and site, and then depending on what we learn, an escalating series of inspections or tests, depending on what is discovered at each step.
Question: there are septic smells at a property I'm buying. The realtor says they're going to replace the distribution box, pump the septic tank, and put in a "bio kit" - will anything good come from this?
I'm trying to buy a home in Vt. And I noticed a septic smell while walking around the property as I look down there's a stream of black water running. The owner called his septic people to check out the problem. This is the response from his realtor. "They replaced the dbox, pumped the field and put in a bio kit. They will come back in a week to see how its doing!" I'm not sure what I should view this. Anything good from this kind Sir? - Jack Garlin
Reply: not much.
Jack, the realtor is someone with a conflict of interest and not a person on whom you can rely to protect your interest, money nor safety when you are the buyer of a home. Even a well intentioned real estate agent in the case you describe will not know the condition of the system, will not warrant you at all about the future usability of the system, and is not held legally responsible for property conditions.
Pumping the septic tank gives the septic drainfield a few days off from having to absorb septic effluent. That might, for a few days, diminish the septic odor - fooling you into thinking everything is OK.
Fixing a bad distribution box is a good repair in that if the old box was routing all of the septic effluent into say (making this up as an example) just one septic drainfield trench, leaving three other trenches un-used, the overloaded trench will quickly fail. By routing effluent into all of the septic drainfield trenches we reduce the load on the bad trench and might get more life out of the system. It depends ... on the age of the system, soil conditions, and condition of the other trenches. You could ask the septic contractor what they found and what they recommend. The contractor won't want to make the realtor and seller mad by ratting them out, but you could point out that you are moving in and would be his new customer.
Question: Question: Septic system distances: I'm planning a garden at a property with an aerobic septic system and aerators. How far away should I plant? Aerobic septic system with aerators and sprinkler heads
I am buying a property in Forney, Texas that has an aerobic septic system. I believe the system has aeraters (sprinkler heads) in the back of the property. I want to have a vegetable garden and some fruit trees planted. How far away should I plant from the aeration field? - Marylin
What is the distance requirements from the septic to home and well to home? - Katie
Good question Marilyn and forgive that this sounds a bit glib, that's not intended - my OPINION is that you want your garden far enough away to not pick up septic effluent. That depends on soil properties - how water flows through the soil, as well as ground slope and of course the distance that the sprinklers actually spray. I'd allow for wind-blown effluent overspray too.
Take a look at PLANTS & TREES OVER SEPTIC SYSTEMS for added details.
Katie there is not a fixed distance from home (the structure itself) to septic tank nor to distance from home to a water well. For example a typical minimum recommended distance between septic tank and the structure is ten feet but some states allow five and others, 100. The maximum distances are set in part by terrain.
But what you should also be asking is what are the required distances between septic system components and other site features such as wells, streams, lakes, etc. For example required distances between a septic tank and a private well is typically 50 feet but varies up to 100 feet in some states.
Question: My septic inspector found evidence of a partly flooded drainfield - is that a septic failure?
We are buying a home and the inspector said there are 5in of water in vent pipe in seepage area. does this mean it's failing? - Lady
Lady I'm guessing you mean that an inspection pipe in a septic drainfield is showing five inches of water. Standing water in the drainfield would be evidence of drainfield failure. Now there could be a surge of water if a test was being run, but if the level was remaining static in the standpipe, the system is flooded and in failure. In my opinion.
Thanks for your response! I can only hope you read this one soon. Well, we are having quite a dilemma. The letter says that it has capacity of 1000 gal, and was at normal level, baffles are intact (although bill says baffle replaced), "vent pipe in seepage area had 5 inches of water in it," "ground at end of leach field had fractures between the trees...cause unknown." No drain back from leach field. No ponding at this time. "Operating under saturated conditions." "was a time several years ago where saturation on surface."
Lady a few clues are evident from your comments.
Thank you for making me feel sane. And, yes, the system had been pumped for the test. I am glad to know that I'm at least asking the right questions. We had planned to talk with the county tomorrow to find out more, but at least I don't feel like such an idiot now. I keep feeling like people think I'm making this up to complain about it, and I'm not sure why it's a surprise to anyone, especially since it was built in 1972.
You sound sane to me, but I add that most people don't buy a new home often, so they are at a bit of an experience disadvantage vis-a-vis other players in the transaction such as real estate agents, attorneys, inspectors who have other interests.
Question: My septic inspector failed the septic drainfield during wet conditions after Hurricane Irene; the owner disputes the results and may have added something to the fields to try to "pass" the system. Whom can I trust?
My inspector failed the drain field on a house that I wish to purchase yesterday September 6. 2011. On August 30th was the first inspection which was a few days after Hurricane Irene. The inspector said the tank needed a clean out. Our inspector recommended waiting until Saturday for the field to dry out due to the excessive rain from the Hurricane.
Then the homeowner insisted on being at the inspection and wanted no one on his property so he pushed the inspection to one full week since he was on vacation. In the meantime the tank was cleaned out. It again rained the night before and day of the inspection of the tank and field.
Our inspector failed the field. The homeowner who claims he went to school for septic engineering is disputing the results. He is saying that the inspector did not check the bed yesterday to see if it had drained and only looked in the tank. He claims the inspector said too much rain to test and told the homeowner and 2 witnesses that the septic should be fine, bed is far enough from house and he could test sometime in October.
Do you think the homeowner is lying and maybe adding or already added something to the septic to try to get it to pass inspection? We are debating having a different inspector return to the property. I am afraid he may hire someone he knows due to his admission of being a septic engineer. Also, can you tell if someone added something to treat the field? If you could please let us know ASAP. Thank you my whole world revolves around this issue. I have kids in school and soon no house to live in since mine is being sold in a few days. - R.F.
Reply: Caveat emptor: when buying a home you have to rely on consultants who are both competent and have no conflict of interest
A competent onsite inspection by an expert who has expertise in septic system testing usually finds additional clues that help accurately diagnose a problem or answer questions about the condition of the system. That said, here are some things to consider:
Your inspector who wanted the tank pumped most likely would have asked that as an extra step in inspecting and diagnosing the system
A septic drainfield has to work even in rainy weather; indeed, however, if hurricane Irene had actually caused local area flooding, that'd be sufficiently abnormal as to decide to wait on testing
An owner who won't allow people on a property is in my experience waving a red flag of warning to watch out for a cover-up of a costly problem. I emphasize that point even though I understand that selling a home is a nervous time for the seller too.. Everyone wants everything to go smoothly. And on occasion I've seen sellers do very suspicious things not because there was really a serious issue, but because they were afraid there might be one. It's a mistake.
I agree with the owner, however, that just looking at the tank is hardly a competent inspection; however, one might see something at the tank, such as drain-back into the tank during pumpout or lost tank baffles that would be very indicative of a field failure.
In real estate law just about everywhere the courts opine that because buying a home is a major expense and because there are parties with strongly conflicting interests, a buyer who relies on representations by a seller or a real estate agent is ... well how should I say it ... being ill-advised. Details are at Conflicts of Interest at Septic System Inspections.
Home buyers are responsible for performing their own due-diligence and would be wise to rely only on advice from parties whom they are absolutely sure have no conflict of interest in the deal. Part of due diligence also involves doing your best to be sure that your advisors are not only unbiased, but competent.
In my experience and opinion, it's rare that a problem is so costly that buying the home is a mistake. It's correct, however, that the true cost of the property needs to be understood by the buyer to include the cost of necessary repairs for the property to be safe and habitable.
In sum, in the conditions you described, you would be wise to presume that on purchasing the home, at any time thereafter you are likely to face costly septic system repairs or even replacement of the drainfield; depending on the tank, its materials and conditions, there may be work there too. Age of the system, materials used, and other site clues would perhaps raise or lower the worry level but with no better data, the bottom line is unchanged.
Question: After I lived in my New House for a few months I had the Septic Inspected and it Failed - but the septic system "passed" when I made the purchase two months before. How could they sell a home with a bad septic? How could the first inspector pass and the second inspector fail my septic system?
I purchased a home in Rochester, NY in February 2012. No one had been living in the house for around six months so the bank requested $7,500 escrow. Once I lived in the house for 1-2 months I was told to get the home inspected and once passed I'd get the escrow money returned.
I got it inspected and it failed. The tanks in there are 500 and 300 gallons and are made of steel and have concrete covers. The tanks are from around 1968 when the home was built. The house was inspected and I was told it was fine. I never saw the inspection report but my lawyer did.
Do you know the NYS laws that cover this? How could they sell a home with a bad septic and how could it have passed inspection?
Company "A" Septic Tank Service inspected it on 7-5-11 and didn't note any problems. The bank then wanted it inspected again and the same company did it for them again on 12-12-11. Again nothing noted that anything was wrong with it. I was told the last time it was emptied was July, 2010.
I hired Company "B" to inspect the tanks and he failed them on 4-4-2012. He said the tanks were old and rusted and could cave in at any time and that the lines going into it were rusted and leaking. Both of these gentleman have been in this business for years and years and are know for their expertise.
Company "B" said when he went for schooling at Delhi they said that steel tanks were banned and not allowed since 1968. I believe him and trust him and feel he's looking out for my welfare and obviously Duane Marshall was looking out for the welfare of the sellers of my home.
Now what do I do? Is there a law that states it should have been changed over before the home closed? How could Company "A" pass it when Company "B" did not? I know that in two months the condition of them couldn't have deteriorated that much.
Please help. I don't know what to do or how to proceed. My lawyer seems to think I'll be lucky if I get the sellers to even cough up half of the $4,000 that Company "B" said it will take to replace it. The seller worked for and was a leader in a labor union his entire life. You can't tell me he didn't know and realized what he was selling and doing to me. I'm looking for any direction and/or help/laws to assist me?
- [Anonymous for privacy ]
A competent onsite inspection by an expert usually finds additional clues that help accurately diagnose a problem or evaluate the condition of a system - certainly not something I can accomplish by email. .
In my OPINION, if you did not receive an adequate or honest inspection and report of the condition of the property and its septic system before it was purchased, whomever steered you to an inspector who didn't do the job gave you very bad advice. So you may have three parties against whom you have complaint: the seller, the inspector, and the realtor.
You will want to consult your attorney again, or if necessary find one familiar with real estate law and financing, for an authoritative answer about what you can or cannot be compelled to do. Those are legal questions. My OPINION is that the terms and conditions of financing you cite are levied by the lender, your bank, and the specifics are not regulated by law. But it is my OPINION and experience that if there is a case of failure (errors and omissions) or real estate fraud, you may be entitled to some financial relief.
There is no doubt that there can be very serious conflicts of interest in real estate transactions. A home inspector or septic inspector who depends on real estate agents for referrals is serving two masters - his client (you) and the realtor (his "real" client). The inspector may not want to get in trouble with you, but s/he doesn't want to upset the real estate agent or referrals will stop. Stop dead.
In the home buyers septic system advice article above I include Conflicts of Interest at Septic System Inspections
I expect your attorney, realtor, and any other expert to confirm that there is no law in New York that would have required a property owner to replace a working, functional, steel septic tank after a certain date. However if a septic system is not working, it may violate local or state health department regulations and when that failure is discovered it would at that time require proper repairs.
At this point your priorities should not be on litigation or arguing, but rather on finding out exactly what will satisfy your lender, how to get that work performed, and how to make sure that your home and all of its systems are safe, sanitary, and functional.
Use the "Click to Show or Hide FAQs" link just above to see recently-posted questions, comments, replies, try the search box just below, or if you prefer, post a question or comment in the Comments box below and we will respond promptly.
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