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Septic System Inspection Basics

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Inspections are an integral part of making sure that a septic system is operating properly. Homeowners often overlook having a septic inspection done since systems are located underground and out of sight. However, regular inspections help to make sure that everyone in the household is protected from getting sick due to leaks or any other issues from the septic system. A routine inspection schedule will help to prevent the necessity of expensive repairs to the system and to avoid a sewage backup in the home. Septic system inspections should be done every 1 to 3 years for as long as you own your home.

What to expect in a typical septic system inspection? In general, an inspection will involve the following:

  • Review of the system permit, design, and installation records (including system age)
  • Review of the septic tank pumping and system maintenance records
  • Opening and inspecting all tanks (septic tank, pump tank, distribution box)
  • Evaluating the septic tank sludge and scum levels and determining the need to pump
  • Assessing the condition of the septic tank effluent filter (if installed)
  • Looking for signs of leakage, such as low water levels in the tank
  • Looking for signs of backup, such as staining in the tank above the outlet pipe
  • Evaluating the integrity of the tank, inlet and outlet pipes and looking for signs of corrosion
  • Verifying all electrical connections, pumps, controls, and wiring are intact
  • Possibly using a camera to look at solid pipes and leach lines for blockages or collapsed piping
  • Evaluating the drainfield for signs of system failure, such as standing water (surfacing) or unequal drainage
  • Possibly excavating parts of the drainfield to look for signs of ponding in the system or groundwater impacting the drainfield
  • Examining the distribution box for structural integrity and to make sure drain lines are receiving equal flow
  • Reviewing other available records on water use and required inspections, monitoring, and reporting to ensure system compliance with local regulations regarding function and permit conditions.

EPA’s Quick Tip Video walks through a typical inspection:

Contact your local permitting authority (i.e., local health or environmental department) for a list of professional inspectors in your area.