Septic System Inspection for Real Estate Transaction

If you are buying a house with a septic system, your best defense against preventing a septic system failure is to get the system inspected. With the average septic system only lasting 20 years and costing between $10-25,000 to replace, a septic system repair is not something you want to take a gamble on. There is a lot of misunderstanding of the term "good working order". A common expression is "We've never experienced any problems", or "We've never had to pump it out" and therefore it is in "good working order". That mentality is like saying you've never had problems with your car and therefore never checked or replaced the oil. Septic systems need to be checked on a regular basis. If you wait until the septic system shows signs of visible failure above ground, then it could be too late. A septic system relies on properly functioning bacteria in the tank AND in the treatment/disposal bed area. Inactive bacteria (potential failure) can be detected and corrected to prevent catastrophic failure.

Septic Tank Inspection:

All septic inspections start at the septic tank. We always recommend NOT pumping the tank before the inspection. We want to see the health of the existing sewage to determine if the tank is functioning properly. If the system does need to be pumped before completing the inspection then everything will be postponed until that time at no additional charge.

Most companies offer a basic visual inspection of the septic tank combined with a septic tank pump out. This service is fine if you only want to know if the system HAS backed up in the past. Not if it is GOING to fail or if there are other issues. The septic tank, even if it is functioning properly is only physically capable of treating up to 60% of the sewage. Reference - Purdue University - Wastewater Biological Oxygen Demand in Septic Systems.

Things that we look for in the tank are as follows:
- Proper baffle operation
- Inlet and outlet pipes are free of obstructions
- Depth of sludge and scum
- Foreign objects in the tank such as cigarette butts, paper towels, feminine hygiene products, etc.
- Excessive corrosion of concrete caused by hydrogen sulphide coming out of the sewage
- The pH of the sewage
- Lots of pictures are also taken of the interior of the tank to be reviewed on a large screen for further analysis

A septic tank inspection is a great first step to understanding how the system has functioned in the past. However, if you want to know if the system will continue to function properly, then a more thorough biological inspection of the treatment/disposal bed is necessary. 95% of the time it is the leaching bed that needs to be replaced, not the septic tank, so don't waste your money on an inspection that is not checking the real area of failure.

Complete Septic System Inspection: 

The most accurate means of determining if the septic system is working properly is to take a look at the biological activity within certain key areas of the treatment/disposal bad.

We start by using a sewer camera and locator to find out where the main pipe goes between the tank and the treatment/disposal bed. Once the location of the trenches are found then we select the best location to perform an inspection. This will typically be near the middle of the treatment/disposal bed where the majority of the sewage is going. 

Once a prime location is identified, we then carefully remove the grass and dirt and put it on a tarp so it can be easily put back in place when finished. Once the stone in the trench is exposed we carefully remove some of the stone below the pipe to inspect for healthy bacteria cultures. ALL septic systems require healthy bacteria to be able to convert the sewage to water, co2, nitrogen, etc. If the bacteria are not healthy they will slowly go dormant and fall behind in consuming the sewage. A septic system never fails instantly. The bacteria continually try to recuperate if they are experiencing unhealthy conditions. Eventually though they can not function properly due to poor conditions such as air flow through the soil, and the system starts to fail. The average life expectancy of a septic system in Ontario is 20 years and the major contributing factor to such pre-mature failure is due to poor bacteria health in the treatment/disposal bed.

What we look for in the treatment/disposal bed:

- Where the trenches are located
- What type of materials were used
- Any strong odours
- Distribution box / header pipe
- Trees in close proximity
- Bacteria at the bottom of the trench
- Amount of sewage buildup at the bottom of the trench

A complete inspection also includes a full detailed report with lots of pictures and explanations on the current state of the system and if it is in "good working order". It also includes recommendations to improve the efficiency and prevent possible failure. A septic system user guide is also provided while on-site.


The septic tank inspection costs $275+tx, which includes a report with pictures and explanations on how to make the tank work more efficiently.

The full inspection costs $375+tx, which includes the septic tank inspection and a full report of the tank and treatment/disposal bed area.

Another service that can be added to the above full inspection report is a full diagram and layout for an additional $75+tx. The full layout includes precise measurements of the system components for future reference.

It is not mandatory to commit to the full inspection before the site visit. We always start at the septic tank and allow the decision to be made while the tank inspection is in progress.

A typical full septic inspection will take between 2-3 hours on-site, plus up to 24 hours to put the report together. We can not put together a report on-site because it is important to look at all the pictures and sewer camera videos on a large screen for further analysis.

If the septic inspection can not be carried out due to landscaping features or excessive depths (greater then 2') then a minimum charge of $100 applies or an additional hourly charge of $100/hour will apply over the initial 2-3 hours.

Our goal when conducting septic inspections is to educate and inform. Septic systems are small waste water treatment plants and with the right knowledge and maintenance you can easily learn how to operate it effectively.