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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
Steps in a septic loading & dye test: beginning here, this article series provides details of the Septic Loading and Dye Test procedure for testing the function of septic systems, focused on condition of the effluent disposal section, also known as a leach field, seepage pits, drainfield or drainage field.
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Septic System Loading and Dye Tests often requested by certain lenders, involve flushing a special dye down a toilet or other drain combined with a known quantity of water sufficient to put a working load on the absorption system. If waste water leaks to the ground surface (an unsanitary condition indicating serious septic failure) one may find dye in that water provided the septic system is flowing at common rates.
Dyed effluent usually appears in 20-30 minutes on a failed system but can take up to five days to show up. If at a building inspection suspect wet areas are observed I recommend a dye test even if one was not previously requested. When wet areas are not found (or created by running water into the septic system) on the property being inspected, dye tests may still be performed to meet requirements of some lenders.
Although this test can often find a costly failure it does not find all possible problems. So by itself a dye test is not indicative of complete condition of the system. On the other hand, I've found so many failed systems with this procedure that it's well worth performing.
Also see The Septic Information Website - and see Septic Systems Inspection, Testing, & Maintenance online book on inspecting and maintaining septic systems, of which the document is a chapter. Technical review by industry experts has been performed and is ongoing - reviewers are listed at "References." Comments and suggestions for content are welcome.
Why do We use Septic Dye during a Septic System Test?
Septic dye tests involve flushing a special florescent dye down a toilet or other drain. The dye itself does not make anything happen.
Septic dye stains the test water: the septic dye is simply a colored indicator that can identify water found outside as having come from the fixture where the dye was introduced. If we did not use any tracer dye we could still conduct a septic system loading test. But if the test produces a sewage effluent breakout anywhere on or near the test site, the inspector could be subjected to an argument that the liquid seen outside did not come from the tested property's septic system.
Now a careful pre-test inspection can avoid most such problems by making note of the pre-test conditions, including any exisiting wet or smelly areas, and including noting the absence of such areas.
A pre-existing wet area might already indicate an ongoing septic system failure, or it might be due to other problems such as uncontrolled surface runoff or local ground water. Septic dye can often (not absolutely always) help sort out those differences.
Watch out: if somone is trying to fool the septic inspector s/he might have poured bleach into the water supply or even directly into at toilet or septic tank before the test begins. Bleach, and on occasion other site conditions, can "hide" the dye itself even though the septic test produces an effluent breakout. Some methods to detect this sort of mistake (or on occasion deliberate dishonesty) are described at CHEATING ON WATER TESTS.
It's the volume of water introduced into the system that forms the actual "test". If waste water is coming to the surface (an unsanitary condition indicating serious septic failure) one may see dye in that water, provided the septic system is flowing at common rates.
When suspect wet areas are observed, if the system has no maintenance history, if the area is known to have problem soils, or if other historic or site conditions raise question about the condition of the system we recommend that the inspector perform a dye test.
A septic loading and dye test will by no means find every septic failure, but this methods finds many failures that otherwise are unnoticed by a home buyer until shortly after moving-in. Septic loading and dye tests are complimentary to and should precede any further inspection steps taken such as pumping the septic tank.
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HOW TO REPORT SEPTIC TEST RESULTS - & Test Conditions - What is the Minimum That A a Septic Test Report Include
A septic loading and dye test does not guarantee detection of all failing conditions. However it can make a meaningful reduction in the risk of an imminent costly septic failure, if the test is performed and documented properly. For a test to be meaningful, it is critical that reasonable test procedures be followed, such as described above, and that the procedures are documented.
A professional inspector is expected to provide sufficient documentation of the procedure followed and results obtained that an experienced third party could review that information and agree that the test provided was acceptable, regardless of the outcome. Finally, proper documentation at the site and during the test makes writing the septic report much easier.
The meaning and reliability of any test procedure is obscure unless the consultant records the test parameters and conditions. For example, a "dye test" was performed by an inspector who placed a single dye tablet into a washing machine drain line, followed by running 50 gallons of water at an upstairs plumbing fixture.
The lack of aggressiveness of the test, inadequate dye amount, minimal volume of water run, and failure to confirm that the fixture operated actually placed water into the septic tank all would have been more obvious to both the inspector and the client had this date been reported. Instead, the inspector wrote that he had "performed a septic dye test" and that there was "no evidence of a problem."
In an often-occurring anecdote, the morning after the new building owner moved into the home, sewage effluent had flooded the yard behind the home. When the septic contractor opened the tank it was evident that the tank was totally packed with solids. Litigation followed. This sounds like an extreme example, but it's all too common.
Essential documentation of septic loading and dye test procedure and conditions includes at least the following:
An example field data recording sheet which includes a section on Dye Test Procedure Used (fixtures operated, total volume run, confirmation of flow into septic) and pre and post-test Observations such as and evidence of dye breakout is provided at Level 0 - Basic Septic Inspection Worksheet
After a loading and dye test (which primarily tests the absorption system, leach field, or drain field), unless the septic tank has been pumped very recently, we recommend that this additional step be taken.
Before completing the purchase of a property with a septic tank and absorption system, limited but important additional information regarding the condition of the system tank and also the leach field may be obtained by having a septic contractor open, clean, and inspect the septic tank itself.
Particularly in the case of older systems that have not been serviced, if the property owner will permit this step we recommend it. When the tank is pumped, ask the pumping contractor to describe the size, type, and condition of the tank and its components, and also to tell you if s/he saw any indications that the system needs repair or that the tank or leach system are at or near the end of their life.
Do not permit the septic tank to be pumped before the septic loading and dye test - that will prevent a valid test of the system and in particular, prevents loading of the drainfield. More details about the problem of septic tank pumpouts as a cover-up of a septic problem or failure are at Don't Pump Before Testing Septic Systems: warnings for home buyers about septic tank pumping.