Getting a septic system inspection is an important part of maintaining your septic system. A thorough inspection by a professional can identify any issues or problems early, before they become big and expensive to fix. Here is a step-by-step guide of what to expect during a typical septic system inspection:
Scheduling the Inspection
The first step is to call a professional inspector to schedule the septic system inspection. Most inspectors recommend getting your system inspected every 1-3 years. When you call to schedule, have the following information ready:
- Your address and where the septic tank and drainfield are located on the property.
- Any previous issues or repairs done on the system.
- The approximate age of the system if known. Older systems may need more frequent inspections.
- Number of people living in the home and general water usage. The more wastewater put into the system, the quicker it will need to be pumped.
- Date of last inspection and maintenance. Pumping frequency depends on usage.
- Any visible signs of problems – wet spots, sinking soil, slow drains, etc. Let the inspector know of any issues.
- Type of system if known – conventional, alternative, aerobic unit, etc. The inspector will check all components.
Once a date and time are scheduled, mark it on your calendar. Prepare for the inspection by clearing any debris, mulch or plants from the tank lids and access ports so the inspector can access them easily.
When the inspector arrives, greet them and let them know of any issues you may have noticed with your system. Walk them through your property, show them where the septic tank and drainfield are located.
The inspector will bring the necessary equipment and tools for the inspection, such as a tank probe, shovels, flashlights, mirrors and gauges. They may have an assistant or trainee with them as well.
The inspection starts above ground, with a visual check of the property and system components. The inspector will look for any visible signs of problems:
- Wet spots or soggy soil – can indicate a leak or broken pipe in the system.
- Surface ponding or pooling of water – the drainfield may be clogged or failing.
- Grass growing greener or faster over the drainfield – a sign of nutrient-rich water leaking from the system.
- Sinkholes or depressions in the ground – potential cave-ins over the system.
- Odor – a sewage smell may mean an open vent pipe or a leak.
- Pipe issues – damaged, disconnected or improperly directed pipes.
The inspector will also check the lids, tanks, pumps/aerators, vents and valves. Any damaged components will be noted.
After the visual inspection of the property, the inspector will check the septic tanks.
First, the lids or access hatches are uncovered. The condition of the lids and hatches is checked – any cracks, damage or inability to open may indicate tank issues.
Next, the inspector will insert a tank probe through an access port. The probe is used to measure and check:
- Scum layer – floating solids at the top. Too thick of a layer can clog outlet tees.
- Sludge layer – settled solids at the bottom. If too deep the tank may need pumping.
- Water level – should be about 6-12 inches below outlet tee. Higher may mean a clogged drainfield preventing wastewater from draining out.
- Baffles – screens between tank compartments. Missing or damaged baffles can allow solids into the drainfield.
- Tank integrity – corrosion, cracks or holes in the tank itself.
The condition of the tank, sludge/scum levels and all components are noted on the inspection report.
The underground drainfield is more difficult to access and inspect. The inspector will check it in a few different ways:
- Inserting a long probe into the distribution box and pipes to check for obstructions or buildup.
- Uncovering an observation port (if one exists) to examine the gravel, pipes or soil.
- Digging down with a shovel to check the soil for signs of wastewater backup or measure gravel depth.
- Examining the soil for signs like odors, color changes or saturation.
- Checking surface vegetation for excessive growth and greenness.
Any obstructions, clogs or backups in the drainfield will be identified and noted on the inspection report.
Some newer or alternative septic systems have additional components like pumps, aerators, screens, sand filters, disinfection units, compressed air injectors, etc. The inspector will check each component following manufacturer guidelines and note their condition.
For aerobic treatment systems, the aerator’s air pump, alarms, control panel and maintenance records will be checked to ensure proper operation. Any damaged or malfunctioning parts will be pointed out.
Once the visual inspection, tank evaluation and system check is complete, the inspector will review their notes and measurements and put together an inspection report.
The report will detail the condition of all septic system components and note any issues found. Recommended repairs and maintenance will also be included, such as:
- Pumping the septic tank if needed
- Replacing damaged or missing tank components
- Repairing leaks or clogs in the drainfield
- Aerating or treating the drainfield if it is showing signs of failure
- Adjusting water use habits to reduce strain on the system
The report will give you a complete summary of your system’s health and what steps should be taken to keep it maintained. Follow any recommendations to prevent costly breakdowns down the road.
Some inspectors provide the report on-site after finishing, while others will compile and send the full report within 1-2 days of the inspection. This gives them time to analyze results and provide detailed recommendations. Review the report closely and contact the inspector with any additional questions.
Follow Up Maintenance and Repairs
Use the septic system inspection report as a guide for any needed maintenance or repairs for your system. Follow all recommendations:
- Schedule septic tank pumping right away if sludge and scum levels are too high. Don’t delay, as ignoring a full tank can ruin your drainfield over time.
- Replace damaged components like tank lids, baffles, vents, valves, etc. Use the proper replacement parts to match your tank.
- Repair leaks, clogs or backups in the drainfield per the inspector’s recommendations. This may involve resting the field, aerating, treating, replacing gravel or digging new lines.
- Adjust water usage if overloading is taxing your system. Repair any leaky faucets, spread laundry throughout the week, install low-flow fixtures, and avoid garbage disposals or excessive cleaning product usage whenever possible.
- Plant only grass over and near the drainfield to avoid roots damaging pipes. Don’t pave or build anything over your system either.
- Keep detailed maintenance records of the inspection results, pumping dates, repairs and any service work done on the system. This will help identify any ongoing issues.
A system inspection every 1-3 years is highly recommended by septic professionals. More frequent inspections may be advised if you have an older tank, advanced treatment system, or issues were found during the checkup. Follow your inspector’s advice on when to book the next inspection.
Over time, comparing past and present inspection reports will provide a good history of your system and how well it is aging. Any deterioration or component lifespans will be identified through regular re-inspections.
Don’t wait until major issues arise – be proactive about system maintenance. Scheduled septic inspections along with following recommendations on repairs and maintenance is the best way to get long, trouble-free operation from your system.
- Inspection steps include a visual check of the property, evaluating the septic tank and probing the drainfield. Additional system components will also be examined.
- The inspection looks for visible issues, leaks, clogs, improper sludge/scum levels, damage and any system malfunctions.
- At the end, a detailed inspection report is provided, listing system condition and any recommended repairs or maintenance.
- Always follow recommendations from the report, like pumping the tank or fixing drainfield clogs. This prevents costly problems down the road.
- Regular re-inspections every 1-3 years enable you to monitor your system’s health over time before problems arise.
A professional septic system inspection every year or two provides peace of mind that your system is operating properly. Any minor maintenance needed is identified so it can be addressed promptly, before leading to major system failures. Be proactive and schedule inspections regularly.