A septic system inspection is probably one of the more important things you can do before purchasing an existing property, with a "septic system" or "septic tank".
We have two former regulators on staff, who can spot issues with a thorough inspection.
Basically, you have no history of the system on the property. There are many types of systems, and while they all work well, they only work well if they have been properly cared for, used for the purpose for which they were designed, and were properly designed.
Visual Inspections are a "walk over", and just see what is there. These reports are frequently issued by firms purporting to know all about systems, but in reality, they just go and look at things on top of the ground. They don't really check to see if a system is actually functioning. Got a report? What kind of report is it? Did they check the full operation of the system, or just "look at" the system?
What are the Professional Qualifications of your inspection company? Do they hold the highest professional license (Licensed Professional Engineer)? Do they hold the highest Installer's License (Class 2)? Do they hold both of the highest type of licenses? If not, how can they possibly understand complex hydraulic and engineering principles that are utilized to design such systems, without the technical training and design theory? Can they spot a potentially costly operational issue by just looking at the system, without such training or experience in installing, maintaining and trouble-shooting such systems? Do you allow your car mechanic to operate on you if you have a broken bone? (me, neither). It costs no more to get the best person on the job. Facebook polls or opinion polls mean very little, when you're faced with a $25,000 replacement repair bill on a system that had an "inspection" (with lots of legal qualifications as to what their inspection means). Hire the most qualified person or company - it costs no more to do it thoroughly and correctly.
The State of Texas requirements for a Licensed Professional Engineer are here (5 year engineering degree, plus National Engineering Exam, plus a minimum of 8,000 hours of active practice, before license is granted) : http://engineers.texas.gov/lic_basic.htm
Systems that have been underutilized may have unforseen problems. Many newer systems on small lots, have aerobic septic systems with drip irrigation. These systems work very well - but only if they have been properly maintained. It is important that the drip tubing be periodically flushed out. Unseen abuse (like running over with a vehicle) can damage subsurface tubing, causing it to eventually clog. The average repair cost of replacing a tubing system is about $4500.00, so it's important to ensure it works - BEFORE YOU BUY the problem.
Our firm is an Engineering, Design, and Construction firm, and we have been in the business for over 35 years. We carry all of the licenses to design and install any type of system, from the most basic, to the most complex. Our fees run from $300 to do a "visual" check, to around $750.00 to do full visual, operational, and flow testing for a week, ensuring each component is fully functioning (for a typical residential system).
Remember, if you have a failed system, or one that is progressively failing (old, gravity flow systems with only one field generally do not last more than 25 years), you may be facing full replacement cost. Give yourself peace-of-mind by doing a full-blown inspection up front, whether you are buying, or selling. What you do now can save you tens-of-thousands of dollars later.
Many homes built in the 1970's and early 1980's have systems that would not meet current design criteria, due to soils, disposal field sizes and types, and tank conditions. If you are buying or selling a home that has a septic system more than 20 years old, please be aware that a system replacement is coming at some point in the future.
Did you know, that sewage combined with water vapor eats destroys concrete? So your concrete tank that is over 20 years old may have a structural problem and require replacement. So if you're a buyer or seller, just know that your system has a finite life on some components. On the bright side, you aren't paying $90 per month for a sewage bill, either.
If you are buying a property that "used to be" something else, be very, very careful. The reason, is that any OSSF (aka "septic") system that has a change in use, must be re-permitted.
What does this mean?
It means that if you are buying a property, or "converting" a property that used to be a residence, and you now want to use it for a business, the regulatory authority requires the system have a new permit, with new operating conditions calculated. This includes the amount of flow (how many gallons per day), as well as the sewage "strength".
This means something that served as a residence cannot automatically be converted to a small restaurant. Extensive, costly repairs or retrofits may be required. All restaurants require a grease trap, and these cannot be easily added to an existing system that was a residence. If someone tells you this isn't true, take your business elsewhere.
The State Law requires systems to be re-analayzed. If you have an aerobic system that you are converting, the State Law requires you hire only a Professional Engineer to do such work.
So beware, and be careful in such endeavors!!!
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