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Septic Inspections In The Calgary Area -
What You May Not Know

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.  

When Should A Septic System Be Inspected?

There are two main reasons a septic inspection should happen: 

    • As part of regular maintenance/service.  This type of inspection normally happens as part of an annual service to your septic tank and field.  Most owners have a qualified professional do an annual service to clean filters, check alarms, check water levels and control panels (if applicable).  The septic inspection happens “naturally” as the professional moves through the servicing of the system.  Any irregularities or failures can be caught early before you have sewage backing up into your home or building.
    •  As part of a real estate transaction.  When a home or property is put on the market for sale, a dedicated report and septic inspection should be done.  Many financial institutions are making this a requirement before they will offer lending.  If you are the seller, a septic inspection enhances the home’s value and helps to avoid any potential liability issues associated with a malfunctioning septic tank or field.
Zone-Valve.jpg

Zone valves are common with pressurized systems, and

are prone to problems.  An inspection should verify its proper operation

Smart Buyers Should Insist On A Septic Inspection

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.

Septic Inspections Can Help Negotiations

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.

Septic Inspections Are Normally Outside The Scope Of A Home Inspector 

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.

What Is Included In A Typical Septic Inspection?

A proper septic system inspection should include, but is not limited to, the following components and processes:

  1. Location of the septic system components:  septic tank(s), septic field, septic mound, LFH At-grade, or Open Discharge location
  2. Setback distances from septic system components (from a well, water source, basement, property line, structure, etc)
  3. Integrity of the lid(s):  lids must be 65lbs, or mechanically fastened so as not to allow children or animals accidental access
  4. Integrity of the septic tank:  baffle wall, cross-over, filters, pumps, internal connections, watertightness, risers/manways
  5. Tank burial depth
  6. Approx tank size
  7. Dosing type (siphon or pump)
  8. Sludge/Scum layers – evidence (or lack of ) proper maintenance
  9. Expected Peak Flows from the property
  10. Current flows from the property
  11. Components: high level alarms, filters, pumps, floats, controls
  12. Integrity of electrical components and connections
  13. Evidence of failure (in tank or field)
  14. Evidence of abuse or misuse (in tank or field)
  15. Evidence of water infiltration into the tank
  16. Improper smells, colors, or other evidence in the tank/field from overuse of chemicals or other products
  17. Equal distribution to all laterals in the field
  18. Water levels in the field (if monitoring ports are present)

Maintenance Tips For Septic Systems

A septic inspector will recognize if a septic system has been misused.

  • Only toilet paper should be flushed down the toilet.  Items like paper towels, tampons, diapers, cigarette buts, condoms, plastic wrappers, cardboard can be very damaging to a septic tank and field.  “Disposable” or “Degradeable” wipes are also very damaging and should never go down the toilet.
  • Chemicals should never be sent down the drain.  Paint, gasoline, antifreeze, pesticides and other industrial chemicals are dangerous for a septic system as they can damage the bacterial action.  Medications should never be dumped down the toilet.
  • Cleaning products, disinfectants and bleach should be used sparingly.  Again, remember that the septic system relies on bacteria to break down the solids and “clean” the effluent in the system.  If you kill the bacteria, your system will be upset.
  • Septic additives are also not recommended.  Although there are many products out there with strong marketing, as long as you are using the toilet regularly, you are sending regular doses of bacteria into your system every day and additives can disrupt the normal bacteria already in your system.
  • Do not plant trees on top or near your system.  Roots can be disastrous for clogging trenches and pipes.
  • Do not drive over your system with vehicles.  A small lawn mower tractor is OK.
  • Keep the grass mowed over your septic field; this enhances oxygen transfer into the trenches
  • Do not place structures, decks, or driveways over any part of the septic system.
  • Direct all groundwater away from the septic system ;  downspouts, sump pumps, etc should never enter nor be directed towards any part of the system.
  • Avoid using a garburator (garbage grinder) as this puts extra stress on your septic tank and septic system.
  • Fix leaky fixtures –  this can add hundreds or thousands of gallons of water every month to your septic system and cause unneeded hydraulic stress.

What Is The Role Of A Septic System?

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.

Dangers Of A Septic System

The role of a septic system is to collect and treat dangerous waste that poses serious health hazards to humans, animals, and the environment.

  • Never enter a septic tank.  Poisonous gases inside can kill within seconds.  Only professionals with proper equipment should enter a septic tank
  • Always make sure the lid(s) are secure on a septic tank
  • Only use a qualified septic pumper to remove solids from the septic tank
  • Never allow the discharge of a septic system to enter a body of water, water course, well, or other water source, unless the system has been specifically designed to do so.  If your system contaminates water and humans or animals get sick, you are liable
  • If you notice any part of your septic system is failing, you are ultimately responsible.  Get it fixed immediately, and keep it serviced and maintained to avoid future failures.  Failures can lead to serious health hazards or death

Service Areas For Septic Inspections

I am happy to inspect septic systems in the Calgary and surrounding areas, and most of southern and central Alberta

  • Calgary
  • Bearspaw
  • Springbank
  • Cochrane
  • Okotoks
  • High River
  • Black Diamond
  • Millarville
  • Airdrie
  • Bragg Creek
  • Rockyview and Foothills Counties
  • Red Deer
  • Innisfail
  • Sundre
  • Lethbridge

Septic Inspections For Realtors

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.