Septic System Testing

Average Fee: $95 – $400

A conventional onsite wastewater system, which is also known as a “septic system” is an individual wastewater treatment system that uses the soil to treat small waste water flows. They are typically found in a rural area or in residential neighborhoods with large acreage lots (usually 3 acres or more) or other areas where public sewers are not available. All septic systems are individually designed for the specific site, but most are based on the same principles.

A conventional septic system is made up of a septic tank (with baffles and possibly an effluent filter), a distribution box, a soil absorption field (also called the drain field), and various connecting pipes and distribution connections. The septic tank allows the heavy solids and the lighter scum materials in the wastewater to separate from the liquids. The function of the tank is to hold the solid waste material and prevent it from reaching the soil absorption field. The solids in the tank are partially decomposed by bacteria and the rest is later removed by “pumping” the septic tank. Treatment of the wastewater occurs in both the septic tank and the absorption field.

Signs of Septic System Failure:

  • Do drains in the house empty slowly or not at all?
  • Does sewage back up into the house through drain lines?
  • Are there any wet, smelly spots into the yard or foliage?
  • Does the dishwasher or laundry drain into the yard or a “dry well”?
  • Is the septic tank effluent piped so it drains to a road ditch, a storm sewer, a stream, or is it connected to a farm drain tile?

If you answered yes to any of the above questions, you have a septic system problem. As in many states, it is illegal in Georgia to discharge domestic wastewater except into an approved community sewer or into an onsite wastewater system that is properly designed, located, and installed according to the state sanitary code, the city or county building codes and standards, and the Federal Clean Water Act.

Common Causes For Septic Problems:

  • A lack of maintenance (tanks should be cleaned by pumping every 3-5 years)
  • Improper design or construction (amateur installations not sized or designed properly
  • Physical damage (driving, paving, or building on top of the onsite wastewater system)
  • Excess water (sump pumps, downspouts, and foundation tiles should not drain
    to the tank
  • Altering the system or house (add-ons can change what the system was designed for)

The two methods used to conduct a septic inspection are visual and destructive:

  1. The visual septic dye test is combined with “pushing” the waste system. This test involves the running of 3 plumbing fixtures simultaneously for 30-45 minutes to see if there is any slow-draining fixtures, backups, or surface breakouts. It also involves flushing colored dye into the waste lines looking for leaks. This type of test is acceptable to most lenders and is the most affordable. Note that this test costs $75 if done at the same time as the home inspection.
  2. The destructive septic inspection involves excavating the tank, opening the access ports to look into the tank, opening the distribution box, using a rod to measure the levels of the scum and solid wastes in the tank, and in many instances, it involves pumping the tank if the baffles and filter are not visible. Many sellers will frown on this type of test and unless the buyer will pay for the test, it is rarely done. The cost of this test is about $400-$450.

The costs of repairing or replacing a defective septic system can be very expensive and can range from $1,500 (repairs to drain lines) to $6,000 (replacing a failed system). Do not take the inspection of the system lightly. Use only highly trained installers or inspectors that are either registered or licensed by their state or county.