Protect public health and the environment by using a standard septic tank inspection checklist.
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A septic tank inspection checklist is a document used to effectively inspect septic tanks and create reports that will be submitted to the respective environmental agencies. Environmental agencies will then review these septic tank inspection reports and give recommendations for improvements or penalties if there are violations. Depending on the state policies and local regulations, penalties may vary from expensive fines to years of imprisonment.
Why are the sanctions for faulty septic systems so severe? It’s because it involves the protection of public health and the environment. When household wastewater is directly released into the soil without treatment, bacteria and chemicals in it will negatively impact the soil and bodies of water. To prevent pollution, septic tanks are used to treat household wastewater.
The inspection of a septic tank involves checking 7 key points: scum, sludge, odor, tank, baffle, distribution box, and the drainfield. The information below is referenced from Washington’s Department of Health and should be all checked with your septic tank inspection checklist.
Before proceeding with the inspection, carefully consider safety. To do so, wear proper protective equipment (PPE), always work with a partner, be alert for fall hazards, and always remember to sanitize.
Before opening up the septic tank maintenance hole, it is important to carefully smell the surrounding area if there is a foul odor.
If there is a foul odor present, then it indicates there is a septic tank failure. It could be a crack in the tank or a wastewater overflow. Whatever the failure case may be, it is not a good sign and needs to be addressed immediately.
In the context of septic tanks, scum refers to liquid substances lighter than water as well as any floating solid waste. That’s why scum is at the topmost layer of the septic tank.
Scum mostly consists of grease, oil, and fats disposed of in sinks and drains. When irresponsibly disposed of, scum will cause soil and water pollution. Septic tanks treat scum through aerobic digestion of bacterias, breaking down the grease, oil, and fats into simpler substances.
Upon opening the septic tank maintenance hole, the baffle pipe should be completely visible above the scum. If not, this could indicate it’s too full. And if the level is too low, it could indicate that there are tank leaks.
Use a scum stick to measure the scum level. Then, record the measurements. And if the calculated scum layer is more than 6 inches, then pumping of the septic tank is recommended.
Sludge is a substance that settles at the bottom of the septic tank. The sludge is where most of the bacteria involved in digestion lives, as well as pathogens and other harmful substances.
When inspecting, use a sludge stick to measure the sludge depth inside a septic tank. According to standard guidelines, when sludge depth is more than 12 inches pumping the septic tank is recommended.
Another important guideline is when the total measurement of scum and sludge layers is more than 18 inches, then pumping is recommended.
When inspecting the septic tank, carefully check for cracks or any sign of damages. Cracks or damages will cause leaks and seepage of untreated wastewater into the surrounding soil, which causes foul odor and growth of bacteria and other pathogens.
One good sign of a septic tank leak is the low level of wastewater inside. Use the baffle as a reference, and if it’s way below it, there is a high chance of a tank leak.
Baffles are the inlet and outlet of a septic tank and can be made up of varying materials like concrete and PVC.
When inspecting, check if the baffles are completely visible above the scum layer. If not, it could indicate that the septic system is too full or there is a clog.
For concrete baffles, check if there are signs of corrosion. This is crucial since a faulty baffle can cause a discharge of scum or sludge.
There are types of baffles that have filters in them. Check these filters carefully and decide whether they need replacement.
The distribution box and drainfield are where the treated wastewater flows and gets diffused into the surrounding soil.
When inspecting the distribution box and drainfield, check if there are visible damages or clogs. The surface area above the drainfield and distribution box should also be clear and not used as a parking space.
Septic tank inspection reports should include 4 key points. All of which are referenced from a document of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Oregon State’s Septic System Evaluation Report.
On the first page of the inspection report, it is required to put in all necessary information about the owner and the inspector like name, address, e-mail, and other contact information.
Other required information on the owner side is septic ownership details, the septic tank's last pumping, and the septic permit. For the inspector doing the evaluation, it is required to give the company name and the certification number. Both parties will sign off all the given information.
The following information needed is the design of the septic system. First and foremost, the inspector will ask for the permit and septic system design.
If both documents are not available, then the inspector will ask the owner for necessary details like capacity, materials used, and distribution used. If the owner doesn’t know the details, it will be duly noted on the inspection report.
During the inspection, the inspector will conduct a flush test. This test will be flushing every toilet to check if all are functional and don't cause any backflows.
On stricter evaluations, inspectors will also conduct dye tests. This test involves mixing a fluorescent dye into a bucket of water and pouring the colored water into every toilet, drain, and sink. Then, they will observe if the dyed water will end up in the septic tank or if it seeps into the soil nearby.
For the findings and recommendations, it includes the scum and sludge levels, parts that need repair, and if the septic tank should be pumped.
In the septic tanc inspection report, usually on the last page, a sketch or site plan is created of the area where the inspection takes place.
In this site plan, it is required to accurately reflect the measurements in scale and the locations of the septic tank, property lines, easements, existing structures, driveways, and water supply.
Maintaining septic tanks and writing, submitting, and managing inspection reports is an important task protecting the environment and public health. However, documenting and scheduling septic tank inspections can be difficult and time-consuming. With a digital solution like Lumiform's app and desktop software, inspectors can simplify this process and make it more efficient. The days of losing documents and information are over with this innovative tool. Lumifom enables property managers, home inspectors, and licensed contractors to easily perform septic tank inspections by giving them the following options: