Testing On Site Sewerage Disposal Systems

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Septic system testing goes beyond the inspection industry standard of determining if "functional drainage" exists, yet you'll see from the next few paragraphs it isn't rocket science. "Point of sale" is the most common time for a septic system test to be requested. In some cases testing is required. Requirements range from those demanded by lending institutions for financial reasons or regulatory requirements, for example in Massachusetts the law requires septic systems to be inspected by a duly licenced inspector prior to the sale of any property with an on site sewerage disposal system. There are two basic septic system tests conducted at point of sale; leach field dye test (also known as "septic system loading and dye test") and detailed invasive testing. Invasive testing can be further broken down to three levels of reconnaissance. Detailed invasive testing can include removal of tank covers, measurement of contents, pumping and entering tank as well as test pits and percolation tests. Invasive testing can cost from $350 to $1,500. Performing these reviews can require more training and sometimes licencing. Training can be acquired from a number of sources including universities, state agencies like extension services, departments of health, etc. or organizations listed in the service directory of this magazine. Appraisers or home inspectors who don't have the requisite skills now can still begin profiting from this service by organizing multi disciplined groups and serve as the coordinator. Leach field dye testing is the most common septic system review performed during a real estate transactions. Very little training is required to perform a leach field dye test and most states do not require licencing. To meet the standards of practice for this method of testing some basic equipment is needed; florescent tracing dye, your senses (eyes and nose) and a battery powered ultraviolet light. Prior to conducting the leach field dye test you should advise your client of the protocols you will use and the limitations accompanying this type of review. This can make for happy clients and eliminate unnecessary litigation. Accomplish this by providing a brief oral discourse and hand delivering preprinted material on the subject. Commence your testing at the subject site with inquiries of seller, broker or other parties of the transaction. Try to determine: the type of system; the size of the septic tank and material it is constructed of; the location of the various components of the systems; maintenance history; the location of the well and any streams or ponds proximate to the septic system. Comments by the seller like, " We put this system in 35 years ago haven't pumped it once and never had a problem. I don't know why you want to test it?" are red flags. Systems should be pumped every 3-5 years. If not pumped the sludge accumulates in the septic tank leaving inadequate space in the "clear water" area for bacteria to digest and convert solids into effluent. This can cause solids to be forced into the leaching field causing it to clog, reduce its performance and ultimately causing failure. Also be on the alert for tanks that have been pumped within 7-10 days of your inspection. Subject to the estimated water usage by the subject property the tank may not be full enough that for your septic system loading and dye test to be significant. Example: If a thousand gallon septic tank servicing a 3 bedroom home was pumped 2 days ago it will have only 450 -700 gallons of waste in it. Introducing an additional 150 to 200 gallons of water into the system will not fill the tank adequately to push fluids toward to the leach field, rendering the test useless. In a case likr this you should recommend conducting the test at a future date when you are comfortable the septic tank will be filled with sewerage. In trying to calculate the inspection date use 100 gallons per day per bed room in your equation unless data indicating other water usage is available. The procedure for performing a leach field dye test is fairly simple. The protocols involve running a known volume of water (150 to 200 gallons typically) into the system from the all plumbing fixtures at the house being serviced by the septic system. Immediately introduce an appropriate amount of florescent tracing dye into the system by flushing it down the toilet. Travel outside to begin using your senses of subjective observation, sight and smell to find "breakout." When looking for "breakout" be sure to look at the edge of streams, ponds or catch basins proximate to the leach field area. Pay special attention to any standing pools of water or wet areas on the leach field. This may signal system failure. If any of these conditions exist take a small sample of the water from this area and smell it. If it smells like sewerage it is. Next, even if no odor exists trains your ultraviolet light over the wet areas. You must look for traces of the florescent dye, some dyes are designed to glow under ultra violet light even at concentrations as low as 1 part per million. If it begins to glow this indicates the presence of your dye and that's right "breakout." Recommend additional invasive testing and repairs as needed. If break out does not occur report your results as follows; list facts gathered during your interview with parties of the transaction; list the volume of water and dye introduced into the system; the time elapsed during the septic system loading; any mitigating factors like previous rainfall or snow coverage; and finally that no breakout occurred in the areas reported and assumed to contain on site sewerage disposal system components. This form of testing while provides a good preliminary indication of the general condition of the septic system it is not a replacement for a more detailed invasive test which we recommend for all on site sewerage disposal systems. Preprinted forms can really expedite this and the other parts of the inspection. They can also enhance your professional image when properly layed out. Through educational outreach marketing make your potential clients aware of the tremendous expense that can be incurred when a septic system fails. When they realize the fee for inspecting is comparatively small, expect requests to come your way. Frequently these assignments will be "piggy backed" with another service you provide. Break out might be described as where the affluent meeting the effluent! Best of luck!

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