septic dye breakout at a basement entry from a failed septic system buried below a driveway during conduct of a septic loading and dye test
- an expert can find clues and perform tests that reduce risk of a costly surprise Septic Loading & Dye Test Step 1
Do This Before Starting the Test
Septic system testing procedure


  • SEPTIC TEST PRE-CHECKS - CONTENTS: How to conduct a septic system inspection & test properly: what to inspect, document & what else to do before starting the septic loading & dye test. What to ask the property owner about a septic system & its history. Obtaining permission for a septic inspection and test. Warnings about pumping the septic tank before a septic test
  • POST a QUESTION or READ FAQs about preparing for a septic loading & dye test

Septic loading & dye testing, step 1:

This article provides details the first step of the Septic Loading and Dye Test procedure for testing the function of septic systems, focused on condition of the effluent disposal section, also known as a leach field, seepage pits, drainfield or drainage field.

Green links show where you are. © Copyright 2015, All Rights Reserved.

WHAT TO DO BEFORE - the Septic Inspection and Test

Septic system inspection procedure - bad tank (C) D FriedmanHere we describe key steps to take before actually beginning the onsite septic system inspection and test procedure.

Our photo (left) shows a home-made septic tank abutting the building wall (upper left in the photo). We saw a septic effluent pump on the ground, above ground piping, and concluded that the entire system was home-made and very doubtful.

On flushing a toilet in the home, the effluent pump sprayed sewage through the air and on bystanders - needless to say this was an unsanitary event and not much of a septic system.


Septic pump above ground (C) D FriedmanOur photo (below left) shows the septic effluent pump in its makeshift installation.

It was evident that the system was not functional, not sanitary, and really unsafe for bystanders. A system like this should not be tested nor operated without taking steps to protect the inspector and others.

  • Questions To Ask the Property Owner About the Septic System
    • Where are the septic tank and other system components located? (For help locating septic tanks see Tank Location - How to Find the Septic Tank)
    • What is installed? (Steel tank, concrete tank, drain field, seepage pits, drywells, galleys, etc.)?
    • What is the maintenance and repair history of the system? (Last pumped, what repairs have been done, pumping history and frequency, backups, etc.)

Helpful information is provided by answers to septic system questions, even if the answer is "I don't know"

Septic system by a river (C) D FriedmanThe septic information questions about the history of a septic system we list above are deliberately a bit vague and open ended to permit a property owner to volunteer what information they may have about the condition of the septic system.

Our photo (left) shows a home with a septic system very close to a river - you can see the river in the center of the photo. The property owner had no idea where the septic tank nor drainfield were, and we couldn't see much space for these components on the small lot that was mostly driveway and parking area.

We inserted septic dye into the system and began running water, running down to the river to watch for our dye appearing in that body.

Our septic dye never made it to the river, and we were quickly called back up the bank by our clent who pointed out the red dyed sewage effluent that came flowing out of the driveway and towads the basement entry door.

Septic dye breakout in the basement (C) D FriedmanThe septic system consisted of a tank and leachfield located under the driveway - too close to the river, too compacted and destroyed by vehicle traffic, and really, too awful.

Because an owner may not recall the septic system maintenance history or may not be familiar with onsite waste disposal terminology, the inspector and client should obtain and consider but should not blindly rely on simple oral statements about the type of equipment installed.

These questions can be given to the inspector's client well before the site inspection, to permit the client or real estate agent to present them to the property owner, particularly if the owner is not going to be at the site at the time of the inspection.

  • Obtain Permission: by informing the real estate agent and through agent an owner, or if owner is present, ask the owner's permission before performing this test.

  • Do Not Pump the Septic Tank Before the Test - an owner who offers to provide this service for a prospective buyer may be (inadvertently) preventing a valid septic loading and dye test.

    We want the system to be in-use or at least the septic tank to be at its normal level of liquid and waste (its normal condition) at the time of testing. More details about the problem of septic tank pumpouts as a cover-up of a septic problem or failure are at Don't Pump Before Testing Septic Systems: warnings for home buyers about septic tank pumping.

  • Confirm that the septic tank has not just been pumped before starting a loading and dye test, by visual inspection and by asking the septic system maintenance history. If the inspector sees fresh excavation in a likely septic tank location it is possible that the tank was pumped recently.

    If the system has not been used sufficiently since pumping the septic loading and dye test should be postponed until the tank has first been filled. Otherwise the "loading test" is simply filling the tank rather than pushing any liquid test volume into the drain field.

  • Septic system records: Are there written records of septic system installation, repair, or maintenance? Home inspectors performing a septic loading and dye test are not required to review written records nor to perform offsite research at a health or building department facility. Some inspectors may elect to offer that service for an additional fee.

These pages are part of our SEPTIC DYE TEST PROCEDURE for testing septic system function. Technical review by industry experts has been performed and is ongoing - reviewers are listed at REFERENCES. Comments and suggestions for content are welcome.


Continue reading at OUTSIDE SEPTIC PRE-TEST INSPECTION or select a topic from the More Reading links shown below.

Suggested citation for this web page

SEPTIC TEST PRE-CHECKS at - online encyclopedia of building & environmental inspection, testing, diagnosis, repair, & problem prevention advice.

More Reading

Green link shows where you are in this article series.


Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Click to Show or Hide FAQs

Ask a Question or Search InspectApedia

Use the "Click to Show or Hide FAQs" link just above to see recently-posted questions, comments, replies, try the search box just below, or if you prefer, post a question or comment in the Comments box below and we will respond promptly.

Technical Reviewers & References

Publisher's Google+ Page by Daniel Friedman

Click to Show or Hide Citations & References