When should a septic system be inspected?
Smart buyers insist on a septic inspection
Septic inspections can help negotiations
Septic inspections are normally outside the scope of a home inspector
What is included in a typical home inspection?
Maintenance tips for septic systems
What is the role of a septic system?
Service areas for septic inspections
Renovating? Does your County require a septic inspection before they will give you the building permit?
Do you have the extra cash (to the tune of $25,000 – $45,000 or more) lying around to replace an old septic system?
Most people don’t. Especially when you are already at your limit of borrowing during a real-estate purchase, a surprise with a failed septic system after it’s been purchased can financially drown you.
Septic inspections, especially in the Calgary and surrounding areas, are becoming increasingly important. With the rising number of homes being bought and sold in the rural outskirts of the city, many of these homes have aging septic systems, septic tanks, and septic fields. Calgary is unique from many places – it’s growth has sprawled over the last several decades, engulfing all the farmland and acreages that used to be miles outside of city limits. These acreages are now prime real estate – for people that want the country life, but still only minutes away from a Home Depot or Costco.
There are two main reasons a septic inspection should happen:
Zone valves are common with pressurized systems, and
are prone to problems. An inspection should verify its proper operation
If you are a buyer, your due diligence must include a septic inspection. If you purchase the property, only to find out later that the septic system is failing, the costs to replace a septic system can be very expensive. Securing additional funds may be difficult if you are already near your borrowing limits.
Septic systems don’t last forever; so if you are looking at a home or property that is 15-20 years old or older, it is many times more important to get a certified septic inspection done to evaluate the status of this aging system before you buy.
A responsible and honest seller will disclose any issues with the septic system. However, not all buyers are fully aware of the limitations of their system. Let me give you an example:
Let’s assume we have a 4 bedroom home, and it is around 20 years old. The current occupants are elderly, and it is just the two of them (husband and wife). All the kids have moved out long ago.
While the septic system may appear to be handling the current load, a new buyer with a family of 6 people may move in and immediately have problems.
Most septic systems have a life span of 25-35 years before tanks and fields need to start being replaced. A qualified inspector should take into account the age of the system, the current occupants, the condition of the tank, the evidence (or lack thereof) of regular servicing and maintenance, to give you an idea of what to expect before you purchase the property.
Armed with the knowledge from the septic inspection and all other facts, a buyer and seller may negotiate on price if significant repairs or a new septic system may be needed.
Some people think that their septic system will be inspected by their home inspector…. But that is a slippery slope. Even if your home inspector says that he/she is qualified to inspect the septic tank and system, you need to ask them to present their certifications. In most jurisdictions in Alberta, at the time of this writing, full septic inspections are outside the scope of home inspectors. Remember, septic systems are governed under the Private Sewage Certification in Alberta; and most home inspectors do not hold a Private Sewage certification issued by Alberta Municipal Affairs. While they may feel confident in opening the lid on the septic tank and having a look, if they have never designed, installed, or serviced a septic system you might ask yourself how qualified can they be to actually perform an inspection and properly assess the functioning of such.
Most home inspectors have seen hundreds of septic systems and are able to complete a simple visual inspection – where they can spot any obvious failures. But for a more comprehensive and detailed inspection of the septic system, someone with a PSTS certification (minimum) should be performing the septic inspection. Laws vary by jurisdiction, but home inspectors should know and disclaim this information either before or during their home inspection.
A proper septic system inspection should include, but is not limited to, the following components and processes:
Septic systems can be a new concept to some people, especially if they are first-time buyers of a rural property. In a city, all of the sewer of a home or building is collected and sent to a main sewer line usually buried near the street out front. The sewage is transported through miles of underground pipe to a treatment plant where it is treated and then released back into the environment.
In a rural area, connections to the city sewer are not available. So the sewage must be treated “onsite”.
To keep it simple, most rural buildings or homes have a septic tank that collects all of the wastewater generated from the home (from toilets, sinks, showers, etc). The tank must be sized properly for the expected incoming flows from the house. If it is too small, there isn’t enough time for proper settling and separation to occur.
Once the proper settling and separation occurs, the effluent is ready to be sent to the “final treatment area” or FTA. The FTA can be a series of buried trenches, or a treatment mound, among other options. The effluent is distributed into the FTA where it slowly leeches back into the ground. The process of it moving through the soil removes up to 99% of contaminants in a properly designed system. The treated water eventually makes it way back into the water cycle; hence the importance of a properly sized and functioning septic system to ensure proper treatment.
I am happy to inspect septic systems in the Calgary and surrounding areas, and most of southern and central Alberta
Are you a realtor that specializes in acreage and rural properties? Please consider partnering with me to provide an easy, seamless service to your clients to be confident in the status of the septic system in your listing.