How to Perform a Septic Loading & Dye Test
Septic Testing Procedures Home Page
SEPTIC DYE TEST PROCEDURE - CONTENTS: How to conduct a septic system loading & dye test - this septic testing protocolis used by most home inspectors and septic test consultants - How to perform a septic loading & dye test, step by step
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Septic dye testing procedural guide:
This article series provides the detailed procedure explaining just how to inspect and test a septic system.
We give 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.
HOW TO PERFORM a SEPTIC DYE TEST - How to Properly Conduct a Septic Loading and Dye Test
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.
Septic dye tests involve flushing a special florescent dye down a toilet or other
drain. The dye itself does not make anything happen. It is simply a colored indicator that can identify water found outside
as having come from the fixture where the dye was introduced.
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.
WHEN TO PUMP THE SEPTIC TANK - After, not Before Septic Tests are Performed
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.
The links given below describe the details of how to perform a septic loading and dye test, procedures, observations, water quantity, and septic dye quantity.
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The Illustrated Home illustrates construction details and building components, a reference for owners & inspectors
Septic Dye MSDS material safety data sheets for septic dye powder and tablet products
Where to buy septic dye for septic drainfield breakout effluent indication:
(the first links below allow you to purchase septic dye directly from the producer):
Pylam Pyla-Tel Fluorescent green septic dye test dye powder, Pylam Products Company, Inc. 2175 East Cedar Street Tempe, Arizona 85281-7431. Phone: 480-929-0070 800-645-6096. Fax: 480-929-0078. Emails: firstname.lastname@example.org www.pylamdyes.com/contact.html
Pylam Pyla-Tel Fluorescent red septic dye test dye powder
Septic dye test powder may be packaged and re-sold by local plumbing or chemical suppliers in in your area.
For example, we bought repackaged septic dye powder from Duso Chemical in Poughkeepsie NY
Percolation Testing Manual, CNMI Division of Environmental Quality, Gualo Rai, Saipan provides an excellent English Language manual guide for soil percolation testing. Original source: www.deq.gov.mp/artdoc/Sec6art108ID255.pdf
Soil Test Pit Preparation, fact sheet, Oregon DEQ Department of Environmental Quality, original source www.deq.state.or.us/wq/pubs/factsheets/onsite/testpitprep.pdf The Oregon DEQ onsite water quality program can be contacted at 811 South Ave, Portland OR 97204, 800-452-4011 or see http://www.oregon.gov/DEQ/
Thanks to reader Michael Roth for technical link editing 6/29/09.
EPA, Washington, DC 20460, original source: http://www.epa.gov/owm/septic/pubs/homeowner_guide_long.pdf [Copy on file as EPA_Septic_System_homeowner_guide.pdf ]
NSFC, Septic Tank Inspection and Troubleshooting,
Lake, Andrew, Septic Tank Inspection, NSFC, 800-624-8301, web search 5/17/12, original source: http://www.nesc.wvu.edu/pdf/ww/septic/inspection_sfq_w04.pdf [Copy on file as NSFC_Septic_Tank_Inspection.pdf]
Vogel, Michael P., "Septic Tank Inspection and Troubleshooting", Montana State University Extension Service, MT 199403 HR, rev 2005, web search 5/17/12, original source: http://msuextension.org/publications/HomeHealthandFamily/MT199403HR.pdf [Copy on file as MSU_Septic_Tank_Inspection.pdf]
Septic System Inspections, Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, Mass DEP, One Winter St., Boston MA 02108, 617-292-5500, original source: http://www.mass.gov/dep/water/wastewater/inspects.htm,
Supplement Existing Septic System Inspection Report, 1 May 2001, Connecticut State Department of Public Health,
(860) 509-7296.original source: http://www.ct.gov/dph/lib/dph/environmental_health/environmental_engineering/pdf/supplement.pdf [Copy on file as Septic_Report_CT.pdf ]
The Home Reference Book - the Encyclopedia of Homes, Carson Dunlop & Associates, Toronto, Ontario, 25th Ed., 2012, is a bound volume of more than 450 illustrated pages that assist home inspectors and home owners in the inspection and detection of problems on buildings. The text is intended as a reference guide to help building owners operate and maintain their home effectively. Field inspection worksheets are included at the back of the volume. Special Offer: For a 10% discount on any number of copies of the Home Reference Book purchased as a single order. Enter INSPECTAHRB in the order payment page "Promo/Redemption" space. InspectAPedia.com editor Daniel Friedman is a contributing author.
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Advanced Onsite Wastewater Systems Technologies, Anish R. Jantrania, Mark A. Gross. Anish Jantrania, Ph.D., P.E., M.B.A., is a Consulting Engineer, in Mechanicsville VA, 804-550-0389 (2006). Outstanding technical reference especially on alternative septic system design alternatives. Written for designers and engineers, this book is not at all easy going for homeowners but is a text I recommend for professionals--DF.
Builder's Guide to Wells and Septic Systems, Woodson, R. Dodge: $ 24.95; MCGRAW HILL B; TP;
Quoting from Amazon's description: For the homebuilder, one mistake in estimating or installing wells and septic systems can cost thousands of dollars. This comprehensive guide filled with case studies can prevent that. Master plumber R. Dodge Woodson packs this reader-friendly guide with guidance and information, including details on new techniques and materials that can economize and expedite jobs and advice on how to avoid mistakes in both estimating and construction. Chapters cover virtually every aspect of wells and septic systems, including on-site evaluations; site limitations; bidding; soil studies, septic designs, and code-related issues; drilled and dug wells, gravel and pipe, chamber-type, and gravity septic systems; pump stations; common problems with well installation; and remedies for poor septic situations. Woodson also discusses ways to increase profits by avoiding cost overruns.
Country Plumbing: Living with a Septic System, Hartigan, Gerry: $ 9.95; ALAN C HOOD & TP;
Quoting an Amazon reviewer's comment, with which we agree--DF:This book is informative as far as it goes and might be most useful for someone with an older system. But it was written in the early 1980s. A lot has changed since then. In particular, the book doesn't cover any of the newer systems that are used more and more nowadays in some parts of the country -- sand mounds, aeration systems, lagoons, etc.
Design Manuals for Septic Systems
US EPA Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems Manual [online copy, free] Top Reference: US EPA's Design Manual for Onsite Wastewater Treatment and Disposal, 1980, available from the US EPA, the US GPO Superintendent of Documents (Pueblo CO), and from the National Small Flows Clearinghouse. Original source http://www.epa.gov/ORD/NRMRL/Pubs/625R00008/625R00008.htm Onsite wastewater treatment and disposal systems,
Richard J Otis, published by the US EPA. Although it's more than 20 years old, this book remains a useful reference for septic system designers.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Water Program Operations; Office of Research and Development, Municipal Environmental Research Laboratory; (1980)
"International Private Sewage Disposal Code," 1995, BOCA-708-799-2300, ICBO-310-699-0541, SBCCI 205-591-1853, available from those code associations.
"Manual of Policy, Procedures, and Guidelines for Onsite Sewage Systems," Ontario Reg. 374/81, Part VII of the Environmental
Protection Act (Canada), ISBN 0-7743-7303-2, Ministry of the Environment,135 St. Clair Ave. West, Toronto Ontario M4V 1P5 Canada $24. CDN.
Manual of Septic Tank Practice, US Public Health Service's 1959.
Onsite Wastewater Disposal Books
Onsite Wastewater Disposal, R. J. Perkins;
Quoting from Amazon: This practical book, co-published with the National Environmental Health Association,
describes the step-by-step procedures needed to avoid common pitfalls in septic system technology.
Valuable in matching the septic system to the site-specific conditions, this useful book will help you install a reliable system in
both suitable and difficult environments. Septic tank installers, planners, state and local regulators, civil and sanitary engineers,
consulting engineers, architects, homeowners, academics, and land developers will find this publication valuable.
Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems, Bennette D. Burks, Mary Margaret Minnis, Hogarth House 1994 - one of the best septic system books around, suffering a bit from small fonts and a weak index. While it contains some material more technical than needed by homeowners, Burks/Minnis book on onsite wastewater treatment systems a very useful reference for both property owners and septic system designers.
Septic Tank/Soil-Absorption Systems: How to Operate & Maintain [ copy on file as /septic/Septic_Operation_USDA.pdf ] - , Equipment Tips, U.S. Department of Agriculture, 8271 1302, 7100 Engineering, 2300 Recreation, September 1982, web search 08/28/2010, original source: http://www.fs.fed.us/t-d/pubs/pdfimage/82711302.pdf
Septic System Owner's Manual, Lloyd Kahn, Blair Allen, Julie Jones, Shelter Publications, 2000 $14.95 U.S. - easy to understand, well illustrated, one of the best practical references around on septic design basics including some advanced systems; a little short on safety and maintenance. Both new and used (low priced copies are available, and we think the authors are working on an updated edition--DF.
Quoting from one of several Amazon reviews: The basics of septic systems, from underground systems and failures to what the owner can do to promote and maintain a healthy system, is revealed in an excellent guide essential for any who reside on a septic system. Rural residents receive a primer on not only the basics; but how to conduct period inspections and what to do when things go wrong. History also figures into the fine coverage.
Grass is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank, Bombeck, Erma: $ 5.99; FAWCETT; MM;
This septic system classic whose title helps avoid intimidating readers new to septic systems, is available new or used at very low prices.
It's more entertainment than a serious "how to" book on septic systems design, maintenance, or repair. Not recommended -- DF.
US EPA Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems Manual Top Reference: US EPA's Design Manual for Onsite Wastewater Treatment and Disposal, 1980, available from the US EPA, the US GPO Superintendent of Documents (Pueblo CO), and from the National Small Flows Clearinghouse. Original source http://www.epa.gov/ORD/NRMRL/Pubs/625R00008/625R00008.htm
Water Wells and Septic Systems Handbook, R. Dodge Woodson. This book is in the upper price range, but is worth the cost for serious septic installers and designers.
Quoting Amazon: Each year, thousands upon thousands of Americans install water wells and septic systems on their properties. But with a maze of codes governing their use along with a host of design requirements that ensure their functionality where can someone turn for comprehensive, one-stop guidance? Enter the Water Wells and Septic Systems Handbook from McGraw-Hill.
Written in language any property owner can understand yet detailed enough for professionals and technical students this easy-to-use volume delivers the latest techniques and code requirements for designing, building, rehabilitating, and maintaining private water wells and septic systems. Bolstered by a wealth of informative charts, tables, and illustrations, this book delivers:
* Current construction, maintenance, and repair methods
* New International Private Sewage Disposal Code
* Up-to-date standards from the American Water Works Association
Wells and Septic Systems, Alth, Max and Charlet, Rev. by S. Blackwell Duncan, $ 18.95; Tab Books 1992. We have found this text very useful for conventional well and septic systems design and maintenance --DF.
Quoting an Amazon description:Here's all the information you need to build a well or septic system yourself - and save a lot of time, money, and frustration. S. Blackwell Duncan has thoroughly revised and updated this second edition of Wells and Septic Systems to conform to current codes and requirements. He also has expanded this national bestseller to include new material on well and septic installation, water storage and distribution, water treatment, ecological considerations, and septic systems for problem building sites.