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When you’re searching for your dream home,  you’re typically thinking about the perfect kitchen island,  the German schmear brick, and which wall will fit your flat screen television,  not it’s septic system. However, ensuring the home you have your eye on has a properly functioning septic system will save you a lot of time (and unpleasant smells) later.  Hiring a professional to do a complete septic inspection is the first step in the right direction. So, what exactly is involved in a septic inspection?

Let’s start from the beginning.. What is it?

Still not sure what a septic system is or if your house has one?  These systems are found in areas not easily served by municipal utilities,  so mostly rural or older development. According to the EPA, more than one in every five households in the United States is served by some type of septic system.  

A septic system receives, treats, and disposes of all of the household’s waste water.  Every time you brush your teeth, flush the toilet, or do your laundry, the septic system goes to work.  Simply put, pipes take this water from your home into an underground tank where the water is separated from the solids and other waste and then put through a natural filtration process that eventually puts it back into the groundwater.

Why should you have it inspected?

As a homeowner,  it’s recommended to have your septic system inspected every 3-5 years, even if there are no backups or weird smells being emitted.  These systems aren’t meant to last forever, and lack of regular maintenance greatly decreases their life expectancy. However, most people only have it done when they smell trouble. (See what we did there?)  This is one of the many reasons buyers purchasing a property with a septic tank should have it inspected during the due diligence period. Replacing or repairing a septic system can be expensive and stressful, so save yourself the trouble and make sure you’re getting one in good working order before buying the property (or at least get the repair money negotiated into your deal).

Other things you can do as a buyer are:

  • Ask for any maintenance records regarding the septic inspections or repairs
  • Check the seller’s disclosure for any problems indicated
  • Run the water while you’re at the house to check for any backups. Look for any pooling, excess water or extra green grass around the location of the tank.

What does a septic inspection involve?

When it comes to the inspection,  you want more than a visual inspection where the inspector just walks around the yard and flushes a toilet or two.  You need someone to inspect the entire system from the tank to the distribution box and drain field. A good inspector will be looking for any cracks in the tank,  low or very high tank levels, and any excess water in the yard around where the tank is located. They will also use a tool to measure the amount of sludge, ie solids,  in the bottom of the tank and make sure each pipe is taking on an equal amount of liquid.

What does it cost?

According to Thumbtack,  a thorough septic inspection can cost anywhere from $200-$600 depending on the size and depth of the tank.  For a potential home buyer, this is more than a chunk change, but well worth it when you compare to the cost of replacing an entire septic system, which can cost up to $10,000.   

In most areas where the inspection is being ordered as part of a real estate transaction,  it is the buyer’s responsibility to fork over the payment for any inspections they want done.  However, everything in a contract is negotiable, especially when the inspector finds that the tank needs to be pumped or repaired.

How long does it take?

Depending on the intricacies of your particular system,  the inspection generally takes anywhere from 1-3 hours. If additional testing is needed,  it may take longer.

It’s time to inspect

If the thought of a septic tank hasn’t scared you away from that dreamy kitchen island yet,  it’s time to think about finding a qualified inspector. Now that you know what is involved in a septic inspection,  you know why it’s so important to make sure the system is in good working order before committing yourself to the house. Check with your buyer’s agent for a list of reputable inspectors in your area. Better to be in luck than knee deep in muck.

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