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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
This article describes the parameters of different types and levels of septic system inspections, including pre purchase home inspections of a septic system that rely on visual inspection alone, septic loading and dye tests, and more thorough septic system level 0, 1, and 2 inspections.
We give in-depth information about conventional septic tanks, drain fields, septic pipes, and septic waste handling. This septic system inspection article provides additional links to complete details about septic system inspection, test, repair, and design articles, including our online septic systems book.
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Watch out: Anyone inspecting septic systems MUST be familiar with the hazards and safety concerns discussed at SEPTIC SYSTEM SAFETY WARNINGS [Above photograph shows the start of a septic dye test.]
Our term "septic system inspection level" refers to the thoroughness of the septic system inspection ranging from level 0: very basic to level 3: about as much inspecting and testing as can be achieved without compeltely digging up the entire system.
Each higher septic system inspection / testing level adds information about the condition of the septic system and increases the confidence in its assessment.
The septic inspection level system is cumulative: that is, each septic system inspection or test level presumes that the steps in the lower level(s) have also been performed.
A level 1 Septic Inspection can be performed by a home inspector or other expert. Some municipalities require this test be performed only by specifically licensed septic contractors or engineers. This is the Pennsylvania PSMA definition for level-1.
If septic tank pumping is required, such as in PA, the inspector should be present before, during, and after tank pumping in order to observe important indications of septic system condition such as damaged or missing baffles, baffle overrun, abnormal septic tank levels, or backflow into the septic tank during pumpout.
Because a Level-2 septic inspection requires septic tank pumping, the inspector should be present before, during, and after tank pumping in order to observe important indications of septic system condition such as damaged or missing baffles, baffle overrun, abnormal septic tank levels, or backflow into the septic tank during pumpout.
This article series answers just about any question you might have about buying or owning a house with a septic system. Septic system inspectors should also see the septic inspection and testing details found
Continue reading at SEPTIC SYSTEM INSPECTION WORK SHEETS or select a topic from the More Reading links shown below.
Suggested citation for this web page
Green link shows where you are in this article series.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Question: industry standard for home inspection - septic tests
(July 7, 2011) Joe said:
What is the industry standard for home inspection tests of septic systems, and who determines that? In PA, how many gallons of water should a test run?
Reply: Septic testing standards:
Good question, Joe.
Most home inspection standards and state laws do not require that a septic system be inspected nor tested at all as part of a home inspection, but many home inspectors do provide that service, as do some septic repair companies.
20 years ago we found that as there was no universal standard, along with help from other experts we set out to write a guideline for septic testing - which is described in detail at this website. We found that testing with too small a volume of water was a "fake" test that gave no chance of showing a problem while using an excessive amount could damage some systems and would in any case exceed system design paramaters, arguable therefore also invalid.
We calculated the volume of typical drainfield trenches that use gravel and perforated pipe and we calculated the volume of water that would be less than half that amount - to set an upper limit; the consensus at the time was that
Details of water volumes are at SEPTIC LOADING & DYE TEST PROCEDURE
Watch out: because running a reasonable test volume of water into the septic system is going to take some time, the home inspector can provide this service economically by overlapping the water running time with other building inspection chores. But beware of a septic "test company" who will only be on-site for that task alone. If that test company is in a rush to leave it is unlikely that an adequate inspection and test can possibly be performed.
(July 7, 2011) Joe said:
I appreciate your quick and considerate response. This website is very helpful and quite informative. Much appreciated.
Thanks Joe; from your question I have added a link to the article
Question: review of EZ Flow Septic System
(Aug 14, 2011) william webb said:
what do you think of the ez flow system ? by the way, this site is so informative & helpfull to me. thank you so much
William I've added the article category SEPTIC SYSTEM DESIGN ALTERNATIVES (links at page left) wherein you'll
see MEDIA FILTER SEPTIC SYSTEMS are discussed, specifically in the article titled "Textile Septic Media Filters" .
The EzFlow septic system is a media filter approach. Properly installed the system has the appeal of simpler, lower installed cost. I expect that to handle the same effluent volume as a conventional gravel trench you may need more linear feet of filter media, installed either in parallel in the same trench or end to end in a longer trench; but then the installation is still simpler.
Does a media-wrapped drain pipe in a gravelless system last as long as a gravel-filled trench in a conventional drainfield, given all other factors being the same? I don't know.
I have not seen data on system longevity comparisons among most of the alternative septic system designs, but my field and research experience leave me convinced that in any system the success or failure of the system depends largely on how properly it's installed.
Question: earthquake damage to septic system, then hurrican Irene flooding. Septic odors.
(Sept 4, 2011) Amanda Foser said:
We recently experienced an earthquake, which is rare for our area, and then got hit by hurricane Irene. The day after the hurricane we smelled a strong odor, which we thought one of the kids had stepped in dog waste, on our back porch. After a couple more days the odor was still there, and just as strong. It has been a little over a week now and the odor has disipated, but we still catch it once and a while.
We have a concrete septic system and are worried that it may have a crack which is releasing the odor. We do not have any other problems with it, so far. Can you please tell me if there is a way we can test to see if there is a crack and where it is located, or do we need to call the company that pumps it to do an inspection?
If the septic tank has cracked, on opening and inspecting it you'd usually see that the level of wastewater is abnormally low (leaking out) whereas usually the tank stays full to the level of the outlet pipe.
Keep in mind that an earthquake could also have disturbed sewer drain piping or even vent piping.
(Sept 4, 2011) Amanda Foser said:
Thank you. If we find that the water level is normal and still smell the odor should we have it inspected?
Checking the wastewater level in the septic tank IS an inspection. Lets do that first. If normal, next is a more careful effort to track odor to it's source - else we may be wasting effort and money shooting in the dark. Careful sniffing is in order.
Question: how often should the septic tank be pumped?
9/8/2014 Lisa said:
How often should a tank be pumped? I'm buying a property and the contract states the septic tank was installed in 2003 but has never been pumped. Should I be concerned? Thanks.
Septic tank pumping schedules are given at SEPTIC TANK PUMPING SCHEDULE where you'll see that general rules of thumb depend on the level of septic system usage (wastewater volume or number of occupants plus a few other factors) and septic tank size and type.
Questions & answers or comments about levels of septic system inspection and testing - what are the different approaches to septic system inspection and testing and how far should you go in testing?
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Technical Reviewers & References
Procedures for Inspecting Septic Systems
Design Manuals for Septic Systems
Onsite Wastewater Disposal Books