Photograph of a septic cleaning contractor opening a septic tank for inspection and pumping.Guide to Levels of Septic System Inspections & Tests
     

  • SEPTIC INSPECTION LEVELS - CONTENTS: Guide to types of septic system inspection & testing by level of depth & detail. Guide to levels of septic inspections: visual inspections, loading & dye test septic inspections, & Level 0, 1, & 2 Septic System Inspections
  • POST a QUESTION or READ FAQs about levels of septic system inspection and testing - what are the different approaches to septic system inspection and testing and how far should you go in testing?
  • REFERENCES

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This article describes the parameters of different types and levels of septic system inspections, including pre purchase home inspections of a septic system that rely on visual inspection alone, septic loading and dye tests, and more thorough septic system level 0, 1, and 2 inspections.

We give in-depth information about conventional septic tanks, drain fields, septic pipes, and septic waste handling. This septic system inspection article provides additional links to complete details about septic system inspection, test, repair, and design articles, including our online septic systems book.

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Levels of Septic System Inspection and Testing

Sketch of a failed septic system on a difficult steep rocky site.Watch out: Anyone inspecting septic systems MUST be familiar with the hazards and safety concerns discussed at SEPTIC SYSTEM SAFETY WARNINGS [Above photograph shows the start of a septic dye test.]

Our term "septic system inspection level" refers to the thoroughness of the septic system inspection ranging from level 0: very basic to level 3: about as much inspecting and testing as can be achieved without compeltely digging up the entire system.

Each higher septic system inspection / testing level adds information about the condition of the septic system and increases the confidence in its assessment.

The septic inspection level system is cumulative: that is, each septic system inspection or test level presumes that the steps in the lower level(s) have also been performed.

Article Contents

LEVEL-0 Septic Inspections - Basic Visual, Loading & Dye Test - Home Inspection Procedures

  • This level of inspection is typically provided during a "home inspection" for real estate transactions.

  • A VISUAL ONLY Septic System Inspection Includes: Basic visual inspection and reporting of information (Performed by home inspector or other expert) (Some municipalities require this test be performed only by specifically licensed septic contractors or engineers.) Notice that the photo demonstrates that an astute septic system inspector can detect evidence of failure from site conditions alone in some instances.

  • A VISUAL PLUS LOADING DYE TEST Septic System Inspection Includes: - Visual + Dye test and system loading. Warning: using an inadequate amount of tracer dye or an insufficient volume of water for this test will make it meaningless.

    Therefore ordering a "stand-alone" septic loading and dye test of a system should be expected to cost considerably more than such a test which can be performed overlapped in time with other Building inspection services. Beware of quick, minimal tests which place only a small volume of liquid into the system (perhaps 50 gallons over 10 or 15 minutes).

The minimum quantities of water and septic dye needed are discussed in a separate chapter
at Septic Loading and Dye Test Procedure Details - a chapter of "Inspecting, Testing, & Maintaining Residential Septic Systems".

ADDITIONAL LEVELS OF INSPECTION for real estate transactions and for problem diagnosis and bidding prior to actual repair work.

Photograph of septic dye test - You are at the (C)Copyright Protected 2006-1986 Septic System Information Website - Septic Tanks, Septic Fields, Septic System Repairs, Septic System Design - this sketch is a Septic tankLevel 1 Septic System Inspections - Visual, Open Covers, Inspect Equipment, Loading & Dye Test

  • A Level 1 Septic System Inspection is comprised of the following:

    1. The steps in a Level 0 inspection which we described above

    2. Additional visual inspection steps to open accessible covers & inspect equipment.

    3. Septic Dye Test: This inspection usually include a septic loading and dye test. If a dye test is to be performed it must be done before the system is pumped or further inspected - otherwise the loading test cannot test the absorption system.

    4. Septic Tank Pumping: In some states such as Pennsylvania, a Level-1 Septic Inspection may include requiring tank pump out and inspection.

A level 1 Septic Inspection can be performed by a home inspector or other expert. Some municipalities require this test be performed only by specifically licensed septic contractors or engineers. This is the Pennsylvania PSMA definition for level-1.

If septic tank pumping is required, such as in PA, the inspector should be present before, during, and after tank pumping in order to observe important indications of septic system condition such as damaged or missing baffles, baffle overrun, abnormal septic tank levels, or backflow into the septic tank during pumpout.

Also see our Inspecting, Testing, & Maintaining & Designing Residential Septic Systems - Septic Systems Online Book

septic tank being pumped in winter in New YorkLevel 2 Septic System Inspection Includes - Visual, Open, D-Box, Pump & Inspect Septic Tank

  • A Level-2 Septic System Inspection is comprised of:

    1. The steps in a Level 0 septic system inspection and

    2. The steps in a Level 1 septic system inspection and also

    3. Septic Tank and D-boxes: The following additional steps to:
      • Inspect the septic tank: locate, excavate if needed, open, inspect the septic tank
      • Determine the septic system capacity & tank conditions, scum thickness, baffle condition, etc.
      • Pump and inspect the emptied septic tank and septic tank baffles
      • Distribution Boxes: locate, excavated if needed, and inspect the distribution boxes

  • A level-2 septic inspection is performed by septic pumping contractor since tank pumping is needed, or another septic expert may order the tank pumping and should be on-site to inspect the conditions described above

  • Some municipalities require this test be performed only by specifically licensed septic contractors or engineers.

Because a Level-2 septic inspection requires septic tank pumping, the inspector should be present before, during, and after tank pumping in order to observe important indications of septic system condition such as damaged or missing baffles, baffle overrun, abnormal septic tank levels, or backflow into the septic tank during pumpout.

Also see our Inspecting, Testing, & Maintaining & Designing Residential Septic Systems - Septic Systems Online Book

wet drainfieldLevel 3 Septic System Inspection Includes - visual, open, pump, soil percolation, site engineering

  • A Level-3 Septic System Inspection is comprised of:

    1. The steps in a Level 0 septic system inspection and

    2. The steps in a Level 1 septic system inspection and

    3. The steps in a Level 2 septic system inspection and also

    4. Drainfield or Leachfield Evaluation & Soil Conditions: Additional site excavation to make test openings in leaching area, other test holes to observe soil conditions, test the soil percolation rate, and if needed, perform other engineering work necessary to certify an existing system or to permit specification of system replacement.


  • Performed by septic pumping contractor, engineer, or other expert.

  • Some municipalities require this test be performed only by specifically licensed septic contractors or engineers.

This article series answers just about any question you might have about buying or owning a house with a septic system. Septic system inspectors should also see the septic inspection and testing details found
at SEPTIC DYE TEST PROCEDURE. Septic testing class presentations, photos, sketches, tables, links to products and consultants are provided.

 

Continue reading at SEPTIC SYSTEM INSPECTION WORK SHEETS or select a topic from the More Reading links shown below.

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SEPTIC INSPECTION LEVELS at InspectApedia.com - online encyclopedia of building & environmental inspection, testing, diagnosis, repair, & problem prevention advice.

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