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Septic Inspections: The Dirty Deed You Don’t Want to Think About (But Should)

October 20 2018
by Leisl Bailey

Hands of a man doing a septic inspection and pumping septic system.

Before purchasing a house, prospective buyers usually hire an inspector to complete an inspection. The inspection often includes inspecting the structure of the house and checking for any pests. One of the most important aspects of the house is the septic inspection.

Septic inspections are crucial for your health and that of anyone else living in your home, so homeowners should make sure to schedule them regularly. However, because septic systems are buried in the ground, they’re often the last thing on many homeowners’ minds—until something goes wrong.

Here’s everything that you’ll want to know about your septic inspection when you are looking to buy or sell your house.

What is a septic system?

One in five homes in the US has a septic system but you’d be surprised how many people don’t actually know what they are. A septic system is a system set up to remove the waste from your house.

In working condition, it takes the water and waste from the washer, sinks, showers, and toilets and filters that water. The system then redistributes it into the ground. The entire process helps to decrease water and soil pollution.

Here’s a quick overview of how it works.

The water and waste from the house goes into the septic tank. Once in the septic tank, the waste settles to the bottom where the natural bacteria breaks it down. The liquid rises to the top and goes through an absorption area. The absorption area is a series of pipes that run from the septic tank to the drain field.

Illustrated diagram of a septic tank and septic system. A layer of gravel acts as a drain field that filters the water enters the soil. As the water goes through the gravel and soil, minerals found naturally in the ground filter it so that it is usable once it hits the groundwater.

How often should you get a septic inspection?

According to most experts, you should get your septic tank inspected at least every three to five years. The inspection usually lands around the time that you should also have a professional septic tank pumping service pump the tank. Pumping the septic tank is necessary to keep your septic tank healthy and in satisfactory working order.

Despite what experts recommend, many homeowners wait much longer than five years to have their septic tank inspected. Many wait until something goes wrong to have the septic inspectors over. At that point, inspectors will often recommend you repair or replace your septic system, which can cost thousands of dollars.

If you need a new septic system, it will cost you on average between $6,000 and $12,000. Depending on the placement of the system and the terrain of the property they install the new system in, but, it can cost as much as $25,000.

Getting a regular inspection and pumping will not only save you money from needing a major repair, but it will also help deter any unwanted surprises if you decide to sell your house later.

How is a septic inspection done?

There are two types of septic inspections.

Visual Inspections

When buying or selling a house, the home inspector will usually complete a visual inspection.

A visual inspection involves asking a few questions, such as how old the house is, how often the owner pumps the septic system, and when the last inspection was. The inspector will then flush all the toilets and run all the water in the house to make sure the water pressure is up to par and everything is draining properly. Finally, the inspector will go out to the drain field to make sure there is no standing water, which can indicate a cesspool.

A visual inspection is helpful and quick, but a full inspection can really tell you the real story behind the health of the septic system.

Full Inspections

A full inspection includes everything a visual inspection includes, but it also goes the extra mile. This inspection is the one you’ll want to get done every three to five years.

In a full inspection, inspectors will remove the cover to the septic tank and check the water level. The water level can or show whether the water is draining properly. The inspector will then run water in the house to make sure it is properly flowing from the house to the septic tank, and to make sure the water level within the tank does not rise when they introduce more water.

The inspector may use what a dye test during this part of their inspection. In a dye test, the inspector will introduce dye into the water that is being drained to see how much of it enters the septic tank.

From there, the septic tank will get pumped and the inspector will check for any back flow from the absorption area. The back flow level tells the inspector if there is a problem with your drain field. The flow level is then checked again to make sure every aspect of the septic system is in working order and there are no blockages.

How much do septic inspections cost?

Septic inspection costs vary depending on the detail with which they inspect the tank and the size of the tank, but for a 1,000-1,500 gallon tank, a full inspection typically runs between $300 and $600. Make sure to check with your local health department to see if they do inspections at a reduced cost.

Keep in mind that the cost may vary based on the person or company inspecting your septic system. In some states (like Texas), you don’t have to have a license or certification order to inspect septic tanks. While this may reduce some of the cost, it also means you could get someone that doesn’t really know what to look for during the inspection.

The most qualified inspectors will have licenses in several areas through their state and on a national level.

How long do septic systems last?

Septic systems can last up to 25 years—or indefinitely. It completely depends on the maintenance of the system. If you get regular inspections and make repairs as needed, your concrete septic tank can last longer than a lifetime.

Should I repair or replace my septic system?

Here are a few things to look out for.

Puddles in Your Yard

If there is standing water in your yard over your septic system, it’s a good idea to get an inspector over there to check it out. Make sure to keep yourself and your animals away from the water, as it could be toxic.

Backups

If you are experiencing a high level of plumbing backups, it’s a sign that something is wrong with your septic system. It could be something as easy as a tiny repair, or as extensive as a tank replacement. Either way, you need an inspector to figure that out.

Healthy Grass

If your grass is greener over your septic area than it is in other parts of your yard, it’s time to check your septic system. When a septic system begins to fail, it puts more water out into the ground which can enrich your plant life, but be dangerous for people.

Results of an Inspection

If your inspection turns up contaminated well water or irreparable damage to the septic tank itself, you will probably need a new system.

How to Maintain Your Septic System

You can make sure your septic system lasts longer by making sure to never flush tampons, paper towels, baby wipes, or really any foreign objects that cannot break down easily in your septic system.

Use a garbage disposal, if you have one, to help break down any food that will clog the pipes. Make sure you never put grease down the sink, as that can clog up the septic tank.

Find a laundry detergent that’s safe for septic systems as well.

Small amounts of bleach are okay to have in your septic tank, but never flush medication, anti-freeze or harmful chemicals, as they damage the bacteria in your septic system which creates issues down the road.

If you have a sump pump, make sure that it is not hooked up to the septic system. Sump pumps put too much water into the septic system which can have adverse affects on how it breaks down the waste.

Selling a House with a Septic System

Some counties don’t mandate a septic inspection before a sale, while others require an in-depth inspection. To find out if you need to have a septic inspection before a sale, check with your county’s health department. Completing your own pre-inspection can also help you identify any issues. 

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If the seller knows of any issues with the septic system, the law requires them to disclose it to the buyer. If the seller doesn’t disclose the information and the buyer finds out, a pricy lawsuit could be in order.

Sellers and buyers alike wonder whose responsibility it is to repair damage to the septic system. It typically falls on the seller’s shoulders to repair the septic system, but you can negotiate costs as part of the deal.

Buying a House with a Septic System

If you are purchasing a house with a septic system, you’ll want to know the answers to a few questions:

  • How old is the house?
  • When was the septic tank last inspected and pumped?
  • Have you had any back-ups or standing water issues over the septic tank?
  • Have there been any repairs on the septic tank?

You’ll also want to make sure a third-party inspector completes a thorough inspection. It may be tempting to get an inspector that will go through the inspection quickly and sign off with a gold star. But that could result in you purchasing a house with a bunch of problems down the road.

If you need help finding a quality inspector, your agent can likely share some recommendations.

Septic systems are highly efficient, as long as you maintain them properly. Do your due diligence by getting regular, professional septic inspections and pumping your septic system regularly. You can also maintain it by not putting any non-biodegradable or hazardous chemicals down your drain.

 

Going through the selling process alone can be a daunting task. Why not go through it with an expert instead? Expert real estate agents (like those found at Clever) can help the selling process run smoothly for a low flat rate. Call us today at  1-833-2-CLEVER or fill out our online form to get started.