This topic is near and dear to my heart and is definitely worth blogging about! Over 10 years ago, septic inspections weren’t recommended as strongly as they are in today’s real estate market. I purchased my very first home in 2002 – a rural property with a private septic system, which is commonplace in rural areas. Don’t let the name frighten you – a private septic system is simply a small, private sewage treatment plant right on your property, which you do not share with anyone else in your neighborhood. Maintaining them doesn’t have to be difficult, but you do need to have them inspected properly prior to purchasing your home, and periodically thereafter.
Ten years ago, the common way to inspect a septic system was to do a “Walk Over” inspection. This is where a septic technician, typically an owner of a septic pumping company, walks over the drain field in the yard of that lovely new home you’re contemplating buying. He is looking for signs of a malfunctioning drain field, which is an important part of your septic system. Wet, soppy ground may be a sign of sewage leakage, which is a potential health hazard and very unpleasant! The technician may even probe the lines of the drain field to look for signs of potential issues. Although this is a good start to a septic system inspection, this technique is by no means fool-proof.
In addition to a walk over and probe of the drain field, the best way to inspect your septic system is to also inspect the distribution box (d-box). The technician typically digs down a foot or two in the ground, and pulls the lid off the distribution box, located between the septic tank and the drain field. He then runs water in the home and watches the lines in the d-box as they take on water. If all lines are open and taking water evenly, your septic system is working properly.
I have seen d-boxes full of tree roots where you cannot even see the lines. This can cause damage & failure of your septic system. Without a d-box inspection, one cannot determine whether or not roots may be hindering the function of the system.
Some time ago, I sold a home and ordered a septic system inspection. We dug up the d-box (as I do on all homes I sell to my buyers) and found that at one point the lid had been damaged… so the previous owner made a makeshift lid out of a Tupperware lid, plastic, and car floor mats. This makeshift lid caused the d-box and other boxes to deteriorate. If we hadn’t inspected the d-box, we would not have known that and it could have resulted in the need for an entirely new septic system! Instead, the makeshift lid was found and the owner/seller replaced all three distribution boxes. This cost him thousands of dollars, but saved my clients thousands in the future!
As for the home I purchased in 2002? At the time I only did a walk over inspection, because I was not a Realtor at the time and did not know any better. When I became a Realtor in 2009, I chose to have a d-box inspection while I was getting my scheduled pumping done, and found that I only had one line working. I had an older home with only three old, outdated clay lines. As a result, I was ordered by the state of Virginia to install a new drain field, which cost me about $6,000.00, but could easily have cost thousands more. This fateful day had me in tears, and as a result of this life lesson I always recommend when buying rural property, inspect your distribution box, it could cost you thousands if you don’t!