.The septic inspection is the most challenging and physically demanding of all real estate inspections--it’s no wonder that professionals in our industry joke that it’s a ‘crappy’ job. A good inspector should have a sharp eye, a strong back, and a robust stomach. Today’s inspectors need deep pockets as well because technology exists that allow us to inspect underground pipes with the use of expensive equipment like our Ridgid push camera and pipe locator—in our opinion this equipment is a requisite tool for the job. Conventional gravity-fed septic systems are not too complex and the inspection itself can be straight forward, as we discuss in further detail below, but gaining access to the tank and its components is the most difficult part of the job:
Challenge #1: Locating the tank.
It is common for homes in our area (even newer ones) to have missing septic permits. When permits are found they are helpful, but they only provide a hand-drawn diagram that can be mis-leading or just wrong. Most tanks haven’t been pumped in ten years or more let alone the recommended 3-5 years (some tanks haven’t seen the light of day in decades). Over time tanks and drain fields can get buried under decks, patios, additions, outbuildings, fill/garbage/etc. or they become overgrown with shrubs and trees. We begin our search for the tank at the downhill side of the home and look for clues and start probing until we hit something flat and hard. When this fails, we look for a clean-out where we can use our sonde and pipe locator to find the tank. Clean-outs are usually found in the basement, crawlspace or outside. When no clean-outs are found we flush an transmitter (about the size of a small egg) down the main waste line until it finds its way to the tank and then use our locator to track it down—as you can imagine, some transmitters we never see again (money flushed down the drain).
Challenge #2: Digging to the tank
After locating the corners of the tank we dig over where we assume the lids might be. Most tanks have two compartments—each with its own lid. Typically, we dig 2 holes for the tank and sometimes a third for the ‘d-box’ or distribution box. We may run into rubble and roots which make the digging difficult. Most tanks are between 1.5’ and 2.5’ underground-- we charge extra for extra deep tanks (between 2.5’ and 4’). Tanks below 4’ we do not inspect because heavy machinery and other gear/precautions are needed (per OSHA). Using our depth sensor, we have found tanks over 8’ deep in the ground! The digging part of the job can take hours- sometimes in rain, snow or the hot sun.
Challenge #3: Opening the lids
Most septic tank lids are made of thick concrete and are not easily opened. Special tools and techniques are needed to tease them open. Many lids are cracked or damaged when we arrive. We carry standard sized lids in the truck for replacement so we can continue with the inspection and prevent hazards to the occupants. Some older tanks have over-sized concrete lids known in our industry as ‘coffin lids’—they can be as large as 3’x5’ (over 100 pounds) and may require the use of a hoist to hold them open. Most of the time the only thing that escapes when we ‘pop’ a lid is the sweet smell of victory but occasionally we experience a backed-up system where raw sewage comes flooding out-- never a pleasant outcome.
(And finally…) The Inspection:
Once we have access to all the components we can perform the actual inspection. Most septic systems are simple in concept and the design has not varied much in decades. There is a main plumbing line to and from a 2-compartment tank—the system is gravity fed so everything must slope gently downhill. The first compartment is designed to ferment the bulk of the ‘solids’ and the second compartment breaks down smaller solids into a clear liquid. The baffle wall, sanitary tees and a filter are designed to keep solids from clogging the drain field (earlier tanks do not have these). The drain field disperses the clear effluent to soil organisms near the surface for the final phase of fermentation. Sometimes when home sites do not ‘perc’ well, or accept effluent well, more complex systems are installed. Lift stations pump waste to other locations off site where the soil is more accommodating. Some systems look like what you might see under the hood of a diesel Mercedes Benz—manifolds, timers, valves, control boxes, sensors/alarms etc… these are designed to simulate the fermentation process that would ideally take place in a conventional drain field.
For a conventional gravity fed system we use our action camera equipment to take photos and video of the inside the tank— we verify that the inlet, outlet, sanitary tee, tank and baffle wall are intact and functioning properly. We take a core sample from each compartment to verify they are fermenting properly. We scope the main line to and from the tank into the d-box or drain field-- taking video/photos along the way. We are looking for bellies/roots in the line, clogged/crushed lines, cracked/leaking/over-full tanks, missing/damaged filter/sanitary tees, and more. We verify that effluent is entering and leaving the tank and check the grading and clearances from the home, well, property line and water sources.
The result of all our work is a HTML based Homegauge report with expandable photos and video and clickable links to resources. We consider ourselves educators and pride ourselves on our presentation. See a sample report here. After the inspection we bury the lids and carefully replace the sod over the dig-site. We cover the disturbed area with wheat straw to help the grass recover. We provide same day or next business day reports and are available for follow-up emails or calls.
On pumping the tank: Emptying the tank allows us to inspect below the effluent line to look for more defects in the tank and can help inform us how the drain field is accepting effluent. Pumping allows a more complete inspection, but it also effectively doubles the cost for our clients which is why we offer it as an option. For those who are interested in pumping the tank, we schedule, coordinate, and pay the pump company and upload the receipt to the Homegauge dashboard as a service to our clients at no additional cost. Pumping starts at $275. Travel fees apply outside of the Asheville area. A $75 charge is applied to over-full tanks. Some of our partners offer estimates for repairs at no additional charge. Pumping the tank is also recommended every 3-5 years.
Why order additional Tests/Inspections?
What are some examples?
This guide is intended to help inform buyers how to make the most of their due diligence time and money. Everyone knows that a Home Inspection is a must when buying a house but what about some of the lesser known tests and inspections? The lender may require the buyer to order them but what if they don't? Read on to learn more about Well/Septic/Sewer Inspections, Radon/Water Testing, and more...
Recommended for all homes with a private or shared well system. Using a state of the art well sounder (sonar) and flow meter we run a 200 gallon pump test to verify pump flow and well yield (gpm)- the report includes a graph of the results. We inspect the well head (grading, clearances, cover, insulation, etc...), the pressure system (pressure tank including air pressure and draw-down, pressure switch, pump start/run amperage, and other components) and the water filtration equipment (water softener, uv filter, filter tanks, etc...).
SEPTIC SYSTEM INSPECTION
Cost: $289 additional $275-$400 with pump depending on location and condition of tank (pump is optional)
Recommended for any house with a septic tank system- especially recommended for older systems or when there recent inspection records aren't provided or found.
Components inspected: main waste line before and after tank, septic tank (we access both lids), distribution box, drain field, and related components if present (pump tank, control panel, etc...)
SEWER SCOPE INSPECTION
Cost: $149 with inspection includes push camera with sonde and locator. Includes report with photos/video.
Recommended for any house with older sewer lines to the street or main- older materials are cast iron, clay, Orangeburg or older plastic. Also recommended when problems are suspected or there are mature trees/shrubs between the homes and the street.
RADON TESTING (Certified, Independent testing)
Most home buyers order a radon test with a home inspection. because radon gas is a concern in our region- it comes from decaying naturally occurring Uranium in our mountains. Radon is a heavy radioactive gas that seeps up into our living area and emits alpha particles. Almost all houses in our area have some level of radon gas in the home but we are looking for a high average-- we are seeing that about 13% of the results are high. The EPA says that radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer after smoking. The repair usually costs between $1100-1500 and it is generally a good negotiating item-- the seller pays for it. We are seeing that all foundation types can have high radon but houses on slabs or with basements tend to be higher. Testing is highly recommended if children, elderly or persons with a history of lung disease will be living in the home.
The test will be performed by us-- an insured, independent and Certified Radon Testing Technician. We do not do repairs and our results and recommendations are unbiased. We conduct the radon tests using a RadStar Continuous Monitor device. The testing equipment is placed in the lowest habitable space of the home for 2-4 days and takes readings every hour. One of the advantages of the continuous monitor is that it produces 48-96 readings instead of just one with the charcoal/cartridge tests. The additional information is used to produce graphs that show radon spike and tampering events. Results are back in 2-4 days after home inspection.
MOLD TESTING (Certified, Independent Testing)
Testing Cost: $349 ($75 per add'l sample)
Mold testing is recommended when we suspect that moisture/fungi is located in hidden areas or inside the walls/framing-- especially finished basements. Our mold testing basic package includes an outdoor air sample (as the control) and typically a main level and basement air sample. Add'l air samples may be needed for larger homes. Add'l tape lifts are taken if mold is visible. The samples are sent to an independent laboratory for analyses. A color report with graphs are provided. We do not sell repairs-- our results and recommendations are un-biased. For best results mold testing is done with a home inspection.
WOOD DESTROYING INSECT INSPECTION (WDIR)
Cost: $120 with home inspection
Most buyers order a pest inspection with a home inspection. Recommended for all wood framed houses. This includes houses with brick and stone veneer. Highly recommended for older homes, or homes with wet basements/crawlspaces, discolored/damaged/stained sub-floors or when insect damage is suspected.
The WDIR inspector produces reports that may also contain a treatment plan and estimate. These inspections are performed by a 3rd Party. Reports are back the same or next day after inspection.
Cost: $75 for Bacteria-only $195 for Full Scan with home inspection
Recommended for any house with a well, spring or rain catchment system that supplies water to the house. The Bacteria-only screening is the most basic test. The Full scan screening tests for bacteria, metals, pesticides and more. Highly recommended for older wells/older equipment or when no filtration equipment is present.
WE DO NOT SELL WATER TREATMENT SYSTEMS OR REPAIRS and our results and recommendations are unbiased. We use an independent laboratory for analysis. Results are back in 1-2 days after home inspection.
Have more questions? Contact Builder Buddy: Inspections and Testing
828 335 3930
Still have questions? Send us an e-mail!
Yesterday in the Shiloh neighborhood of Asheville I inspected another unique house. The owner, as you can see from the pics, had a thing for trains.
Imagine how all this looked in it's full glory? Dioramas were built at the front and back yards and on custom soffits in all of the living areas inside the house.
When I was a kid my Great Uncle Chuck built a similar train world up in his attic. He'd get in full uniform and would drive that train with as much seriousness as any real conductor-- more smoke billowing out of his tobacco pipe than his model train engine. As a kid this was pure magic.
I wonder how many children's lives this guy affected with his creations? Those children are probably adults now like me. And how many of them are going to carry on this tradition? Speaking for myself it's tempting.
How calming it must be to check into a miniature world of order where the train only goes forwards or backwards and the Ticket Inspector is always smiling at the station. We are in political turmoil right now but imagine what was going on during their time? Vietnam, Cold War, Gas shortage, Nuclear Arms race... When news from the world got crazy they probably just turned on the ballgame, fired up the wood stove and started painting a new tree for the meadow. Train dioramas are like the Western version of the Japanese Bonsai tradition- it's Zen, and I completely respect it.
Realistically i will probably never have the patience and discipline for this kind of work but it was nice to inhabit this space yesterday even if just briefly.
Just as a fun exercise let's take a look at the house on Zillow's mobile app splash screen. Do we see any potential issues? I'm seeing a yellow flag at the foundation area. If we zoom in a little (see photo below) we see a concrete slab sticking out beyond the siding. The foundation is not supposed to stick out this way, so what is happening here? Evidence suggests this slab was an old porch/patio and the owners decided to build an addition into this area--peeking through the window it looks like it was renovated into a large open plan kitchen and dining area. I would look for confirmation of this in the crawlspace/basement- there probably isn't any access under this area. Here are a few reasons why this is an important observation:
1. Typically siding should be installed to direct water away from the framing but in this case the siding terminates right at the foundation slab. The slab is level and not sloped away from the house and water will sit there decaying the siding, sheathing and framing. I would scrutinize the outside and inside perimeter for water damage.
2. Patio slabs are usually not adequate for addition foundations. Patio surfaces are often sloped, thinner and do not have water proofing, insulation or conduits/chases for electrical/plumbing and ductwork. We do not know for certain this is the case but I would be looking for more evidence to support this theory (based on experience there is a high probability this is the case) Depending on what other defects I find I may ask the buyer to verify the construction permits for this addition.
3. I would be looking closely at how heating/cooling, electricity, and plumbing is provided to this area. I would also be looking at the framing, insulation and ventilation of the attic area. If the general contractor was careless enough to build a kitchen/dining room on a patio slab they probably made other amateurish errors and I would be looking closely for them.
Feel free to send me any other high profile house pictures that may have issues- this was fun! As always, if you are buying, selling, or maintaining a home be sure to hire a Home Inspector with renovation experience that can recognize patterns like this.
These FAILS are all from my home inspection reports, Many of these situations look harmless from the outside but in at least one example in every Fail the related damages in the finished walls, basements and crawl spaces caused the buyers to back out, In most cases the sellers lowered the asking price, sometimes by tens of thousands of dollars. All of these issues could have been prevented for cents on the dollar. If you are buying, selling or maintaining please read on and if your home is within 40 miles of Asheville consider calling us for an inspection.
FAIL #9: Splash blocks, perforated drain pipes and other fails:
Run-off should be directed at least 6 feet away from the house and splash blocks are inadequate for this purpose. An exception might be at a concrete or asphalt patios/driveways that are well-sloped away from the house. Downspout drain pipes should slope downhill and away from the house. The downspout drain pipes should not have any holes in it. The perforated types are for French drains only.
In Asheville rain catchment systems are a popular and eco-friendly way to capture and use rainwater- primarily for irrigation. The main advantages are that the water doesn’t contain chorine/fluorine added by county treatment plants and the homeowner can reduce their public water consumption and expenses.
Unfortunately most of the installations that I see while performing home inspections in the Asheville area are defective and can, if left un-repaired over many years, cause structural issues, water penetration, mold, rot, and air quality issues in the crawl space/basement. Before installing a rain catchment system homeowners should understand that they are modifying important components of the house drainage system- the downspouts and sub-surface drains- which are designed to protect the home from water damage. It’s not enough to run downspouts into a barrel because they will inevitably overflow during big rain events. Improperly installed systems will negate any water savings by causing expensive foundation repairs which is why a licensed landscaper and/or a rain catchment specialist should install these systems. Owners of these catchment systems should budget for regular maintenance and repairs and they should inform gardeners/maintenance workers, and renters/occupants about how the system works so they don’t move or damage the components.
The picture was taken at the Asheville Earth Fare at the Westgate Mall (a local institution and one of my family’s favorites).
According to the most recent U.S. Census Bureau's data, an American's median net worth at age 70 is $225,000, but excluding home equity that number drops to $69,000. As the graph shows, Home Equity is, by far, the largest contributor to our net worth across all age categories.
This is why Buying, Selling and Maintaining a home are the most important financial decisions we make in our lifetime.
A house is a sanctuary and can also be a vehicle to real wealth if we take care of it. Unfortunately homes with undiscovered issues can lead to financial calamity. For example, un-checked water penetration and structural issues in a finished basement can lead to repairs in the 6 figures (quite common in our area). These costs could wipe out a homeowner's entire retirement savings.
Beyond considering location, valuation, timing, and cash flow Americans should consider the 3 Don'ts of Real Estate to enjoy the full financial benefits of home-ownership and minimize risks:
The 3 Don'ts of Real Estate:
Before buying or selling a home, or letting another year go by without a maintenance inspection, a home owner should hire a qualified Home Inspector to prevent and anticipate expensive issues When it comes to an objective and knowledgeable evaluation of a house, the independent Home Inspector is the homeowners best ally. Not all home inspectors are the same-- a good home inspector has real renovation and construction estimation experience and can recognize the difference between easy fixes and costly repairs.
Once defects are discovered, the home owner should work with a qualified general contractor to help prioritize, budget and to generate a repair plan.
It's hard to put a price tag on the enjoyment we get from our home but statistics also show that more than any other asset class every dollar and drop of sweat invested in our homes will pay us huge dividends later in life, especially for those that buy, maintain and sell well.
An Asheville area Real Estate Agent and Home Inspector tackle the question