What is the definition of "Good working order"

Unfortunately most real estate transaction contracts do not define “good working order”. It is then misunderstood when the time comes to prove that it is or is not in good working order.

The seller typically assumes that good working order means; “I haven’t had any problems”. The buyer is typically led to believe that as long as the tank gets pumped out and “checked” then it will work for them. So what is the real definition of “good working order”?

All septic systems that handle <10,000L /day are regulated under the Ontario Building Code. The code has specific sections outlining proper operation and maintenance of ALL existing septic systems.

The term "good working order" can only be defined as being in compliance with the Ontario Building Code Operation and Maintenance requirements. The following regulations are the most commonly referred to sections outlining proper opration and maintenance:

Must Be Pumped Before Total Amount of Solids In The Tank Reach 33% of Total Capacity.

8.9.3.4.  Class 4 Sewage Systems
(1)  Septic tanks and other treatment units shall be cleaned whenever sludge and scum occupy one-third of the working capacity of the tank.

The above code reference stipulates that all septic tanks and treatment units must be pumped out when the total solids are nearing or equal to 33% of the total volume. Septic tanks are always “full” of liquid. It is required to be pumped out when the solids within the liquid are nearing 33%. Unfortunately there is a misunderstanding that the tank only needs to be pumped out when the toilet doesn’t flush, or if a problem occurs, but that is not what the building code states. The septic tank is only able to efficiently prevent large solids from exiting the tank when the solids are less than 33% of capacity. It is the responsibility of the home owner to verify that the total solids within the tank are always less than 33%. This can only be achieved by checking the tank on an annual basis. If the solids within the tank exceed 33% then the treatment capacity of the tank will be reduced and excessive amounts of untreated sewage and solids will leave the tank which will lead to failure of the treatment/disposal bed.

Must Meet Predecessor Legislation That Was In Place At The Time Of Installation

8.9.2.2.  General
(1)  Every sewage system shall be operated in accordance with,
(a) the basis on which the construction and use of the sewage system was approved or required under the Act or predecessor legislation, as the case may be, and
(b) the requirements of the manufacturer of the sewage system.

8.9.3.2.  General
(1)  Every sewage system shall be maintained so that,
(a) the construction of the sewage system remains in accordance with,
(i) the basis on which the construction and use of the sewage system was approved or required under the Act or predecessor legislation, as the case may be, and
(ii) the requirements of the manufacturer of the sewage system, and
(b) all components of the sewage system function in their intended manner.

This section requires that the system must have been installed according to the legislation that was in place at the time of installation. All the components must also function in their intended manner. This is especially true when systems are backing up into the tank, but not into the house. The septic tank is no longer functioning in its intended manner and is therefore not in good working order.

Is the Treated Sewage Properly Discharging Into The Soil and Only The Soil?

8.9.1.2.  General Requirements for Operation and Maintenance
(1)  Every sewage system shall be operated and maintained so that,
(a) the sewage system or any part of it shall not emit, discharge or deposit sanitary sewage or effluent onto the surface of the ground,
(b) sanitary sewage or effluent shall not emit, discharge, seep, leak or otherwise escape from the sewage system or any part of it other than from a place or part of the sewage system where the system is designed or intended to discharge the sanitary sewage or effluent, and
(c) except as provided in Sentence (2), sanitary sewage or effluent shall not emit, discharge, seep, leak or otherwise escape from the sewage system or any part of it into a piped water supply, well water supply, a watercourse ground water or surface water.
(2)  Clause (1)(c) does not apply to the use of a sewage system designed and operated such that properly treated effluent is discharged into soil.

It is very important that the sewage leaving the tank is properly discharged into suitable soil and not onto the surface of the ground or directly into the ground water. Sewage leaving the tank is full of pathogens (such as e.Coli) and a lot of nutrients like ammonia, phosphorous, and carbon. Bacteria within the soil are responsible for removing the last remaining pathogens and nutrients before it enters the ground water. If the sewage is directly entering the ground water or discharging onto the surface of the ground, this will pose a significant health risk to animals and humans and is therefore not allowed.

Laundry Waste Is Considered Sanitary Sewage And Must Not Discharge Onto The Surface Of The Ground Or Into A Water Course

Sanitary sewage means,
    (a)   liquid or water borne waste,
               (i)   of industrial or commercial origin, or
              (ii)   of domestic origin, including human body waste, toilet or other bathroom waste, and shower, tub, culinary, sink and laundry waste, or
     (b) liquid or water borne waste discharged from a public pool to a drain.

Part of a thorough inspection is to ensure that the laundry waste is properly discharging into an approved greywater system or into an approved septic tank system. Discharging onto the surface of the ground or into a non-compliant system poses a health risk and is not allowed. Some people argue that it is not hazardous sewage, which poses the question; Why are we washing our clothes if it’s not hazardous? Why do we wash our hands?

Sump Pump And Other Storm Water Must Not Discharge Into a Septic System

8.1.3.1.  Discharge
 (7)  Storm sewage shall not be discharged into a sewage system.

It is very important that the sump pump and down spouts do not discharge into the septic tank. If it does, it will be putting too much water through the tank and will flush out the solids into the treatment/disposal bed which will create clogging and failure.

Areas On And Around The Sewage System Must Be Maintained Properly

(2)  The land in the vicinity of a sewage system shall be maintained in a condition that will not cause damage to, or impair the functioning of, the sewage system.

For the system to operate properly for many years, the environment on and around the system must be maintained to allow for proper treatment and disposal of the sewage. This includes but not limited to; only planting grass on top of the system, not planting water loving trees near the system (silver maples, birches, willows, etc), not driving heavy vehicles on top of the soil, providing easy access to the tank lids(don’t put decks or concrete walkways on top of the tank)

A Septic System Is Defined As:

Sewage system means,

(a) a chemical toilet, an incinerating toilet, a recirculating toilet, a self-contained portable toilet and all forms of privy including aportable privy, an earth pit privy, a pail privy, a privy vault and a composting toilet system,
(b) a greywater system,
(c) a cesspool,
(d) a leaching bed system, or
(e) a system that requires or uses a holding tank for the retention of hauled sewage at the site where it is produced before its collection by a hauled sewage system
where these,
(f) have a design capacity of 10,000 litres per day or less,
(g) have, in total, a design capacity of 10,000 litres per day or less, where more than one of these are located on a lot or parcel of land, and
(h) are located wholly within the boundaries of the lot or parcel of land on which is located the building or buildings they serve.

The last line of the above definition is also one to take note of. The system must be contained within the boundaries of the property. If the system crosses the boundary, it must be modified or an application to the MOECC (very expensive) would need to be initiated as a system like that is under their authority.

Dave Campbell