InspectAPedia tolerates no conflicts of interest. We have no relationship with advertisers, products, or services discussed at this website.
Septic loading & dye testing, step 1:
This article provides details the first step 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.
We also provide a MASTER INDEX to this topic, or you can try the page top or bottom SEARCH BOX as a quick way to find information you need.
WHAT TO DO BEFORE - the Septic Inspection and Test
Here we describe key steps to take before actually beginning the onsite septic system inspection and test procedure.
Our photo shows a home-made septic tank abutting the building wall (upper left in the photo). We saw a septic effluent pump on the ground, above ground piping, and concluded that the entire system was home-made and very doubtful.
[Click to enlarge any image]
On flushing a toilet in the home, the effluent pump sprayed sewage through the air and on bystanders - needless to say this was an unsanitary event and not much of a septic system.
Our photo ( shows the septic effluent pump in its makeshift installation.
It was evident that the system was not functional, not sanitary, and really unsafe for bystanders. A system like this should not be tested nor operated without taking steps to protect the inspector and others.
Questions To Ask the Property Owner About the Septic System
Where are the septic tank and other system components located? (For help locating septic tanks see Tank Location - How to Find the Septic Tank)
What is installed? (Steel tank, concrete tank, drain field, seepage pits, drywells, galleys, etc.)?
What is the maintenance and repair history of the system? (Last pumped, what repairs have been done, pumping
history and frequency, backups, etc.)
Helpful information is provided by answers to septic system questions, even if the answer is "I don't know"
The septic information questions about the history of a septic system we list above are deliberately a bit vague and open ended to permit a property owner to volunteer what information
they may have about the condition of the septic system.
Our photo (left) shows a home with a septic system very close to a river - you can see the river in the center of the photo. The property owner had no idea where the septic tank nor drainfield were, and we couldn't see much space for these components on the small lot that was mostly driveway and parking area.
We inserted septic dye into the system and began running water, running down to the river to watch for our dye appearing in that body.
Our septic dye never made it to the river, and we were quickly called back up the bank by our clent who pointed out the red dyed sewage effluent that came flowing out of the driveway and towads the basement entry door.
The septic system consisted of a tank and leachfield located under the driveway - too close to the river, too compacted and destroyed by vehicle traffic, and really, too awful.
Because an owner may not recall the septic system maintenance
history or may not be familiar with onsite waste disposal
terminology, the inspector and client should obtain and consider but should not blindly
rely on simple oral statements about the type of equipment installed.
These questions can be given to the inspector's client well before the site inspection, to permit the client
or real estate agent to present them to the property owner, particularly if the owner is not going to be at the site
at the time of the inspection.
Obtain Permission: by informing the real estate agent and through agent an owner, or if owner is present, ask the
owner's permission before performing this test.
Do Not Pump the Septic Tank Before the Test - an owner who offers to provide this service for a prospective
buyer may be (inadvertently) preventing a valid septic loading and dye test.
We want the system to be in-use or at least
the septic tank to be at its normal level of liquid and waste (its normal condition) at the time of testing.
More details about the problem of septic tank pumpouts as a cover-up of a septic problem or failure
are at WHEN NOT TO PUMP A SEPTIC TANK: warnings for home buyers about septic tank pumping.
Confirm that the septic tank has not just been pumped before starting a loading and dye test, by visual inspection and by asking
the septic system maintenance history. If the inspector sees fresh excavation in a likely septic
tank location it is possible that the tank was pumped recently.
If the system has not been used
sufficiently since pumping the septic loading and dye test should be postponed until the tank has first been
filled. Otherwise the "loading test" is simply filling the tank rather than pushing any liquid test volume
into the drain field.
Septic system records: Are there written records of septic system installation, repair, or maintenance? Home inspectors performing a
septic loading and dye test are not required to review written records nor to perform offsite research at a health or
building department facility. Some inspectors may elect to offer that service for an additional fee.
These pages are part of our SEPTIC DYE TEST PROCEDURE for testing septic system function.
Technical review by industry experts has been performed and is ongoing - reviewers are listed at REFERENCES. Comments and suggestions for content are welcome.
Septic System Inspection, Loading & Dye Test Articles
Mark Cramer Inspection Services Mark Cramer, Tampa Florida, Mr. Cramer is a past president of ASHI, the American Society of Home Inspectors and is a Florida home inspector and home inspection educator. Mr. Cramer serves on the ASHI Home Inspection Standards. Contact Mark Cramer at: 727-595-4211 mark@BestTampaInspector.com
John Cranor is an ASHI member and a home inspector (The House Whisperer) is located in Glen Allen, VA 23060. He is also a contributor to InspectApedia.com in several technical areas such as plumbing and appliances (dryer vents). Contact Mr. Cranor at 804-747-7747 or by Email: email@example.com
Pennsylvania State Fact Sheets relating to domestic wastewater treatment systems include
Pennsylvania State Wastewater Treatment Fact Sheet SW-161, Septic System Failure: Diagnosis and Treatment
Pennsylvania State Wastewater Treatment Fact Sheet SW-162, The Soil Media and the Percolation Test
Pennsylvania State Wastewater Treatment Fact Sheet SW-l64, Mound Systems for Wastewater Treatment
Pennsylvania State Wastewater Treatment Fact Sheet SW-165, Septic Tank-Soil Absorption Systems
Document Sources used for this web page include but are not limited to: Agricultural Fact Sheet #SW-161 "Septic Tank Pumping," by Paul D. Robillard and
Kelli S. Martin. Penn State College of Agriculture - Cooperative Extension, edited and annotated by
Dan Friedman (Thanks: to Bob Mackey for proofreading the original source material.)
Books & Articles on Building & Environmental Inspection, Testing, Diagnosis, & Repair
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.
Carson, Dunlop & Associates Ltd., 120 Carlton Street Suite 407, Toronto ON M5A 4K2. Tel: (416) 964-9415 1-800-268-7070 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. The firm provides professional home inspection services & home inspection education & publications. Alan Carson is a past president of ASHI, the American Society of Home Inspectors. Thanks to Alan Carson and Bob Dunlop, for permission for InspectAPedia to use text excerpts from The Home Reference Book & illustrations from The Illustrated Home. Carson Dunlop Associates' provides extensive home inspection education and report writing material.
The Illustrated Home illustrates construction details and building components, a reference for owners & inspectors. Special Offer: For a 5% discount on any number of copies of the Illustrated Home purchased as a single order Enter INSPECTAILL in the order payment page "Promo/Redemption" space.
TECHNICAL REFERENCE GUIDE to manufacturer's model and serial number information for heating and cooling equipment, useful for determining the age of heating boilers, furnaces, water heaters is provided by Carson Dunlop, Associates, Toronto - Carson Dunlop Weldon & Associates Special Offer: Carson Dunlop Associates offers InspectAPedia readers in the U.S.A. a 5% discount on any number of copies of the Technical Reference Guide purchased as a single order. Just enter INSPECTATRG in the order payment page "Promo/Redemption" space.
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.
Special Offer: Carson Dunlop Associates offers InspectAPedia readers in the U.S.A. a 5% discount on these courses: Enter INSPECTAHITP in the order payment page "Promo/Redemption" space. InspectAPedia.com editor Daniel Friedman is a contributing author.
The Horizon Software System manages business operations,scheduling, & inspection report writing using Carson Dunlop's knowledge base & color images. The Horizon system runs on always-available cloud-based software for office computers, laptops, tablets, iPad, Android, & other smartphones