Septic Inspection


While no septic inspection and test can guarantee 100% that all septic defects have been found, they can reduce the chances of a dangerous or costly surprise on a property after closing.

When buying a home with a septic system, septic tank and leachfield, you should consider the following steps:

Step 1: Ask About The System 

Ask the seller the following questions.  Don't worry if the seller says they don't know the answers. "Not knowing" is also important information.

  • How old is the property?
  • Is the property occupied or vacant? If occupied, for how long and by how many occupants? If vacant, for how long?
  • How long has the seller owned the property?
  • Where is the septic system? ( If the owner has been at the property for years and does not know where the septic tank is located, they have never pumped it. On the other hand, if they know exactly where it is and if it has an easily-opened access cover, it might mean it is being pumped unusually often .)
  • What is installed? (How big is the tank, is it concrete or steel, etc)
  • What is the service or repair history of the septic system

Step 2: Visual inspection

Once the locations of the septic tank and leaching fields are known, walk over the entire area and observe whether there is any evidence of a sewage overflow condition. Greener grass in the leaching area may not necessarily indicate a system problem. If, however the area is completely saturated and odorous you should be very concerned. It most likely indicates a system failure.

Try to get a sense of how natural conditions are affecting the capacity of the property to drain water.

Step 3: When To Have The Tank Pumped

Pumping a septic tank prior to purchasing a home may or may not be necessary, depending on the age and service history of the system and the results of the visual inspection . But pumping the tank can be helpful in any case. Important additional information, available when the tank is pumped, can tell you if it was past-due for pumping (risking damaging the drain fields) and if it is damaged. You'll also know exactly where the tank is, if it's concrete, steel, fiberglass or homemade, if it has been damaged, if the baffles are broken, if the tank has been flooded (indicating a blocked drain field), and if the tank has a safe cover.

Even if there are no signs of trouble from the visual inspection - if nothing is known about the system history, or if it is known that the system has not been opened and pumped in 3 years or longer, this step is strongly advised. If the septic tank has been pumped quite recently, you should call the pumping contractor to ask if, at the time of pumping, the contractor observed any indications of system problems or upcoming system repairs.

The above steps are recommended for a traditional tank and leachfield system.

Aerobic Septic System

If you are purchasing a home with an aerobic septic system ask the seller the following questions:

  • How old is the system and when was it last pumped? (It should be on a similar schedule as a traditional system)
  • Do you have a regular maintenance contract in the system?
  • Who installed it?
  • Have you ever had to replace any sprinkler heads or other parts?
  • What kind of chlorine do you use in the chlorinator and how often do you add chlorine?

Being informed about the type and condition of the septic system in the house you are purchasing will help you be aware and perhaps minimize surprises after you move in.

Reference for information above:
Lesikar, Bruce. Agricultural Communications, The Texas A&M University System. Aerobic Treatment unit. Publication L-5302. 26 Jul. 2000. http://www.inspectapedia.com/septic/buyguide5.htm