Septic Trouble

organic_rosefaerieMarch 6, 2011


We have lived in our current house for almost nine years. We have the septic pumped every 1-2 years and have never had any problem. The previous owners installed a new septic before we moved in, but we don't know exactly when it was installed.

We have an accepted offer on our house and the inspection turned up a problem with the septic. The inspector said that he thinks the absorption system has failed based on the hydraulic load test he conducted. He said it could also be that a lateral is clogged and needs to be cleared.

The in and out take baffles are not there, they may never have been there or they may have fallen off, we don't know.

Hopefully this won't scare off the buyer, and we want to fix whatever we should fix, but we have a dilemma.

How do we know what the inspector is saying is true? How do we know if the results of his test point to a failure of an absorption field or something else? He doesn't do the work, but his brother could (two halves of the same company).

Would it be kosher for us to have someone else look at his report and give their advice as to what needs to be fixed? How do we know he is advising us to make the most financially conservative solution?

Any septic help would be greatly appreciated!!


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Why dont you just have the company that pumps your septic come out and take a look? The previous owners could have very well put in a new septic tank but not new fields.

    Bookmark   March 6, 2011 at 4:44PM
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The problem is that if we have someone come out and do their own testing and they find something else wrong with the septic we have to disclose it.
That's why I was thinking that it would be best to have someone in a consulting role interpret the existing test and recommended solution on our behalf.

    Bookmark   March 6, 2011 at 5:27PM
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I would hire my own inspector and get a second opinion. I would not go on the word of someone who has a financial interest in the inspection results as this guy does.

    Bookmark   March 6, 2011 at 7:23PM
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Many municipalities require a permit for the replacement of a septic system. This is usually handled by the Board of Health. If that is the case in your area, check the permit on file, as it should outline everything that was done as well as final approvals.
That said, check to see if septic inspectors have to be licensed or somehow certified; if so, ask for the septic inspectors credentials. If they are operating illegally, you can rightfully ignore their findings, and require the buyer to use the services of another firm that is in compliance.
Absent the above, it would be worthwhile to have the company that has been pumping also inspect the system and document their findings....especially since the buyers inspector is not even sure what the problem is with the system.

A second opinion is not only warranted, but necessary.

    Bookmark   March 6, 2011 at 9:07PM
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You need a professional in there not a home inspector. A home inspector can only look at things and make a educated GUESS as to what he thinks is going on. Very often they error to the far extreme to cover their butts. The only way to know for sure what is going on is to have someone who is well versed in the field you are having troubles in come out and look.
It's annoying and sometimes costly but it's part of doing business. Chances are it's not going to be as bad as you think. If it is and it's not taken care of and this buyer passes on your house chances are you are going to get snagged again on it by the next buyer. So one way or another it's got to be addressed. Nobody in their right mind is going to buy a house with septic and not have it checked out completely.
The company you've been using for clean outs should be able to tell you about your system and what if anything is wrong with it. If they say it's fine and are willing to put it in writing you should be good. Now if the buyer won't accept that then you can counter with them paying to have the system checked out on their dime and see where things go from there.......tho in this market maybe that logic no longer applies. It's a whole new ballgame these days and much depends on your area and the number and types of houses on the market.

    Bookmark   March 6, 2011 at 9:43PM
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"Hopefully this won't scare off the buyer?" Are you under contract now? I'm assuming the buyer will react in some way, either by insisting on repair and retesting, refusing to move forward with the deal, or a dollar amount reduction in their offer. I suppose they could conceivably accept it as is. But, don't count on it. I suspect you will know their reaction soon and then you'd be in a better position to know how to proceed.

I don't know of any reason why consulting your own professional of preference isn't acceptable. I don't think I'd move forward with any remediation solely on the say-so of a potential buyer's inspector. Your own inspection may very well agree entirely with their's, and probably shall if it were done correctly. But your own professional may have widely different ideas of the potential cost to fix it.

I'm not so sure you'd be able to claim ignorance of a potential problem on a disclosure in the future after the red flag of a failed hydraulic test has gone up......if that is why you are reluctant to seek your own inspection.

    Bookmark   March 6, 2011 at 11:39PM
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The above advice is correct, call the place which cleans your septic. They could put it in writing and if the buyers are not happy with that, they could pay for another inspection from a septic company. A home inspector is not the expert.

When we were selling, the home inspector noticed a crack on the facing of our fireplace. He proceeded to tell the buyers this was dangerous and his recommendation was to reline the chimney and regrade the ground outside the house, as that was causing the chimney to shift. He gave the buyers a card of a chimney company which his brother owned. I was present during the inspection and was shocked that the inspector was recommending his brother for the job.

I knew this was baloney because we bought the house with that crack 30 years ago and used the fireplace frequently. We also had it cleaned out each year by the same chimney company.

We called the chimney service and he was shocked at what the inspector said. Came to the house and showed me how the brick was just on the outside and didn't go through. There was no reason to reline as the chimney was fine.

He put it in writing and I gave it to the buyers. They accepted that and the sale went through.

Call your septic company. They are the best people to speak on your behalf.


    Bookmark   March 7, 2011 at 12:23AM
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FYI, if you live in NJ, and a home inspector performed the septic inspection, it is invalid unless he is a licensed Professional Engineer or holds a Registered Environmental Health Specialist certification/license.

    Bookmark   March 7, 2011 at 12:31AM
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Does your county require code/permits from both the building dept and health dept.? If so, that should be on file. Also talk to them. Sounds like the inspector wants his relative to do some work that may or may not be necessary. Just talked to hubby, and he said in LA county only the health dept can do the inspection. You need to find out how old the system is and if it how long it has been in and what permits and inspections were done at that time. Hubby is retired inspector from CA.

    Bookmark   March 7, 2011 at 10:01PM
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Hi- I have an update.
The inspector is a certified septic inspector. The buyer has requested we pay to fix the whole thing. We are doing a second test and getting estimates for a new septic system... ouch!

County requires a health dept. person come to the site and inspect the new well and sign-off on it.

Official diagnosis is saturated seepage bed.

Guess it needs to be fixed sometime just wish it wasn't on my dime!

    Bookmark   March 11, 2011 at 7:43PM
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Well, that is the price of owning a home. At least you are doing it right and don't have to worry about getting sued down the road for non-disclosure. I had a home in FL with a 34 year old septic system, never had a problem with it. But I did get the field/box blown out every 5 years. Lots of sand build up.

    Bookmark   April 6, 2011 at 9:31PM
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