Septic Inspection: To Pump or Not to Pump

The state rules say we are required to tell our clients:

Client requesting this inspection has been advised that for a complete inspection to be performed the tank needs to be pumped.

And then give them the option to opt for a pump or to decline a pump.

Tanks should be pumped on a regular basis as part of the regular house maintenance. The general rule of thumb for a system that is being used appropriately and is functioning correctly is about every 3-5 years.

We recommend that buyers’ agents ask the list agent when the tank was last pumped (and for a receipt). If it has never been pumped or they don’t remember when it was pumped or it was more than 18 to 24 months ago, we *strongly* recommend pumping the tank during the inspection.

NOTE: Tank should NOT be pumped before inspection. Best practice is to have the company doing the inspection do the pump – that lets the inspector see how its working with stuff in it and then to see how it looks empty.

That being said there are pros and cons to pumping or not pumping and times when pumping may not be appropriate.

To Pump – Recommended Choice

Pros:

  • It gives the inspector the best view of the tank (see “Note” above).
  • You know when it was done.
We probably wouldn’t have been able to see this
if the tank was not pumped during the inspection.

Cons:

  • Adds to cost
  • The current homeowner should be doing it regularly as part of regular maintenance.
  • If you don’t buy the house, you’ve spent money on something that may or may not benefit you.

Not to Pump

Usually, this option is chosen if the tank has been pumped in the last 12 to 18 months (or if the buyer is leaning towards not buy the house).

Pros:

  • Less expensive up front. (See below)
  • May be easier to schedule.
  • Can ask the seller to pump it before closing or buyer can have it pumped after they are the owners

Cons:

  • If tank is overly full, the inspector may not be able to do a complete inspection (for instance: we may not be able to camera the lines or check tank condition).
    • If this is the case, we will do the report to the best of our ability and note that the tank needs to be pumped and note which items could not be inspected. (No discount or refund will be given.)
  • Could be extra costs if pumped later.
    • For example: our inspection includes digging up to 3ft deep for the lids. A stand alone pump includes digging up to about 1 ft deep for the lids and for 1 to 3 ft deep there is an extra charge.
This tank is too full – we can’t camera the line out and the contents are pretty thick so its going to limit the inspection of the tank condition.
Could probably inspect without pumping – we have
access for the camera and the contents are relatively clear – BUT we would probably not be able to see something like the first picture which is why Pumping during the inspection is highly recommended.

We often get asked “can’t we decided once the tank is open?” The simple answer is not always – if a septic inspection is ordered without a pump, the pump trucks may be booked on other jobs and not available.

Arranging access with the seller

If you are buying a house (or are a buyer’s agent) ordering services with us:

  • Please let us know if you have (or are) a buyer’s agent. Please let us know if you would like us to copy your agent on everything.
  • If it’s listed in Canopy MLS (Buncombe, Henderson, Haywood, Madison, etc) – we can use the showing service or get the list agent’s info for any questions, paperwork, access, etc that we need.
  • If it’s listed in with an agent in another MLS (Jackson, Swain, Macon, Mitchell, etc) or not in an MLS – please provide us with the list agent’s contact info for any questions, paperwork, access, etc that we need.
  • If it’s a For Sale By Owner, please let us know upfront and provide us with seller’s name, email, and phone numbers. We will contact them directly with any questions, paperwork, access info/permission, that we need.

In our experience, it has always been better for us to communicate with the listing side directly:

  • Scheduling & Access – we will of course keep our client (and their agent) updated about when it is scheduled for; but we have found it best for us to schedule in Showing Times or with the list agent/fsbo owner – that way the buyer/agent doesn’t have to go back and forth between us and the list agent with times and access info, nothing gets lost or missed in a game of “telephone”, and if something has to be rescheduled we can do so quickly and conveniently.
  • Questions – If we have questions about the property, systems, permits, etc, it is easier for us to communicate with the listing side directly since we know all the right questions to ask. (Of course, any questions or discussions about the services will be had with our client.)

Septic System: Uncovering & Recovering

There are a few different situations:

  1. Septic Pumping only – uncovering the lids is not included in our septic pumping service, but is available for an additional fee.
  2. Septic Inspection – our inspection includes uncovering lids if accessible and 3ft deep or less.
  3. Septic Repairs – there is a charge to uncover by hand or by small machine depending on the job. This will be listed in the repair estimate.

What you should know:

For septic inspections and septic pumping (and most repairs), the only thing we should need access to are the two tank lids. The whole tank doesn’t typically need to be uncovered. We typically leave it how we found it (if it was uncovered when we arrived, we leave it uncovered.)

NOTE: If you are going to uncover the lids prior to our arrival, PLEASE leave the lids on the tank and we will remove and return the lids.


Uncovering

Concrete Lids: The standard tank in this area is a 1,000 gallon concrete tank. These are usually buried and are about 5 ft tall and 4 x 8 ft. Newer tanks should have two lids: one over the inlet line and one over the outlet line (near the short edges of the tank). These are roughly 20 x 20 inches square, though older tanks may have bigger lids or lids in other locations.

Please do not remove the lids prior to our arrival: an open septic tank is a major safety hazard; additionally, the 20×20 inch lids are about 50 to 80 lbs each – our crews have tools to help remove them safely.

1st Picture: A tank completely uncovered, showing lid locations. We do not need the whole tank uncovered.
2nd Picture: A standard concrete tank with the two lids, uncovered. This is what is needed for pumping and inspections.
3rd Picture: An older tank with two lids in the standard location, but these older style lids are much bigger. For these type tanks, this is what is needed for pumping and inspections.

Plastic Lids: Plastic tanks are becoming more common. They should still have two lids on either end of the tank, but they are usually round plastic. Additionally, some concrete tanks may have round plastic lids due to the addition of risers (or one of each as pictured below)

Please do not remove the lids prior to our arrival: an open septic tank is a major safety hazard – plastic lids are not very heavy so please leave them screwed in until we arrive to prevent accidents.

1st Picture: Two plastic lids in place.
2nd Picture: Two plastic lids removed.
3rd Picture: A concrete tank with one riser/plastic lid, and one deep hole.


Recovering

If the lids were exposed (uncovered) when we arrived, we will put the lids back on, but we will not recover them.

If we uncovered the lids, we will recover them as neatly as possible:

  • We put the dirt on a tarp as we dig to help keep the yard tidy.
  • There may be slightly mound after we recover it. This is normal and it will naturally settle pretty quickly. We do not “pack” it down because that inhibits the regrowth of the grass/ground cover.
  • We do not reseed or sod. Most grass/ground cover, will grow back relatively quickly, especially in spring. There is no way for our crews to identify the kind of grass or keep seed for every possible type of grass on every truck (Is it fescue, bluegrass, zoysia grass, etc? What type of bluegrass/fescue is it? and so on).

1st Picture: Lids uncovered for inspection
2nd Picture: Same lids recovered after
3rd Picture: Lids (& pump tank) uncovered for inspection
4th Picture: Same lids recovered after
5th Picture: Recovered after inspection
6th: Picture Recovered after inspection

Does someone need to be there for the Septic Inspection?

We may need access to the inside of the house to help locate the system, flush an e-locator, and test parts of the system.

If the house is listed with an agent, we’ll arrange access with the list agent and no one needs to be there.

If the house is not listed with an agent, if there is a lockbox, door code, hidden key, etc to provide access no would need to be there.

If it is a shared system, please let us know upfront and we can work out access with the necessary people.

The property owner will be getting a form asking if they know where the components are and other system information. If you think there is something we need to know (septic tank location, system is overly complicated, etc), please feel free to drop us an email with the details and we can reach out if we have additional questions – sometimes we may request someone be present if the system sounds odd.

Do you need inside the house for a septic inspection?

We may need inside the house to help locate the system, flush an e-locator, or test parts of the system.

If the house is listed with an agent, we’ll arrange access with the list agent and no one needs to be there.

If the house is not listed with an agent, if there is a lockbox, door code, hidden key, etc to provide access, no one would need to be there.

If it is a shared system, please let us know upfront and we can work out access with the necessary people.

The property owner will be getting a form asking if they know where the components are and other system information. If you think there is something we need to know (septic tank location, system is overly complicated, etc), please feel free to drop us an email with the details and we can reach out if we have additional questions – sometimes we may request someone be present if the system sounds odd.