Septic tank inspections are an often overlooked item when purchasing a rural property. Typically the seller pumps the tank prior to closing but rarely is the system itself inspected. The majority of purchasers pay too little attention to their septic tank and are most likely unaware of the possible costs of a replacement system.
When I am hired to inspect a rural property with a septic system I always advise my clients to hire a Certified Septic Tank Installer to pump their tank, which is being done by seller anyway, and get a written report on condition of system. Certified installers are registered with the MMAH and possess a Building Code Identification Number (BCIN#) as certified On-Site Sewage System Installer/Inspectors and have experience in defect recognition, investigation of malfunctioning systems, and detailed knowledge of the Ontario Building Code (OBC) relating to on-site wastewater treatment (septic) systems.
Beware of inspectors who have an online certificate for septic inspections and are not registered and insured to perform septic inspections in Ontario.
The primary function of the septic tank is to settle out solids from the wastewater. Solids are allowed to settle out by holding the sewage in a quiet environment within the tank. Typically, 24 to 48 hours of settling is required. A four-bedroom home might have a daily flow of 480 gallons per day (assuming 120 gallons per bedroom per day). In a 1,000-gallon tank, this provides two days for solids to settle. But as the solids build up, there is less room in the tank for the liquid and thus less settling time. The accepted maximum level of
solids in the tank is 1/3 of the liquid depth. Once the 1/3 level is reached the tank should be pumped.
In the USA over half of the inspected septic systems inspected under new EPA testing regime have failed the test. Some of the common reasons for failure are: tanks need to be de-sludged, ineffective operation and maintenance of tank; rainwater entering tank and leakage from tanks.
Maintaining your septic tank
The lack of septic tank maintenance can cause sewage to back up into your house or solids to overflow to the drainfield. Once solids overflow and leave through the tank outlet, they can quickly clog a drain field to the point that a new one is required. Most septic tanks need to be pumped every three to five years, depending on the tank size and the amount and type of solids entering the tank. The inspection of the sludge and scum levels is the only way to determine when a tank needs to be pumped. This is not necessarily a pleasant task, but can be done relatively easily. Septic tank pumping firms are available to perform the inspection.