Inspecting the septic tank and field

For many of us living out side the city, we have had experience with wells and septic systems. These components are critical to every rural property yet they are often not inspected or under inspected. At Border Home Inspections we recommend the following. First of all the septic tank is difficult to inspect in most cases but there are some components such as the pump and electrical that needs to be looked at. Some times the septic system is a pump out (the grey water pumps on top of the ground). Other times the system is comprised of a field where the grey water is pumped to the lateral arms where the piping is perforated and the water is able to leach into the ground over a large area. Still there are other types of septic systems such as a bell and siphon,  gravity drain to a lagoon and simple holding tanks (near lakes). One thing every inspector should do is to try to make the system operate in order to evaluate if it is working properly.

In order to properly evaluate the system you need to make the pump run. This often can be done by by-passing  the float switch. Another way I do it is to run a garden hose into the top of the tank until the float is activated. In this way I can go to the field or pump out and verify if the water is pumping properly. Many inspectors do not do this so make sure to hire one that does.  It takes longer but it is necessary to properly evaluate the septic. Other things I check on a septic system is whether the tank lid is safe. A visual check inside the tank is also a must. Often the center wall is falling apart or there is excessive deterioration in the rings. Sometimes the tank is taking on ground water causing the pump to run more frequently. All these things should be checked or you may find yourself with a large repair bill. It is best to know ahead of time.

If you see a long black hose lying on top of the ground near the tank lid it is a good indication that there is a pump problem. Perhaps the pump is prone to failure from plugging up or maybe the pump out lines freeze in the cold weather. Trust me, you do not want this to happen to you especially when it is -40 outside and you can no longer flush your toilet. At border Home Inspections we check all this at no additional charge, its just part of a thorough inspection you should expect.


Shock Chlorination is preformed to kill bacteriological growth to prevent sickness and eliminate unwanted tastes and odors from your well. The process of shock chlorination is not that difficult but if the procedure is not completed properly it may be ineffective. There is more then one way to shock the well. The Saskatchewan Research council (SRC) recommends that you use a 1200 litre water tank to hold water that can be treated and re-released back into the well. SRC SITE This is a great way to do it but few of us have such a large water tank so I am going to explain how I do it.

First of all it is important to understand a few things before you start. Plan to save enough water to last about 12 hours. Chlorine such as household bleach will do the job but it also will negatively affect some water treatment equipment so be sure to turn all water equipment to bypass to keep the super bleached water from entering the filters. If you are unsure how to do this contact the supplier of the filter for more info. The other issue you can face after chlorinating the well might be chunks of debris coming off the pipes and plugging up the screens on your water spouts.  It is recommended that you turn off your hot water tank, you will later drain  the tank and re-fill it with fresh treated water.

The goal is to get the bleached water to all the fixtures in the home and the well. So here is how I do it. After I have completed the filter bypass I hook a hose to the hydrant (or outside tap) and begin running the water. I make sure my hose will easily reach the well head. I then add about 4 gallons of regular or extra strength bleach to the well through the top. Be sure not to buy scented bleach, you want the original brand. It doesn’t matter if you have a dug well or a bored well. Just make sure that the garden hose is in the well and let it run for at least two hours with the bleach in the water.

Next you want to turn off the hot water tank so it doesn’t fire up or turn on the element when you run the hot water. Then run all the cold and hot water taps until the smell of bleach is strong in each. Finally leave the system to work on the bacteria over the next 12 hours.

TIP: I start the whole process in the late afternoon so it can have a good 12 hours to kill and clean the unwanted bacteria in the water.  In the morning you will drain the hot water tank  into the floor drain and begin running the garden hose into an area that won’t kill any plants or trees to clear the well of the chlorine. Finally all the fixtures should be run to to clear the lines inside the home until the smell of bleach is gone. It often takes a day or so for the water to completely return to its natural clear color. Don’t for get to turn on the hot water tank again. You will now be able to turn the filters back into active service if the chlorine is mostly gone.

TIP: Often after the shock treatment there will be black slime and chunks of debris coming out of the spouts. I usually take the screen filters off the spouts so they don’t plug up.

Let me know if this all makes sense, if not I can rewrite parts to be more clear.

UPDATE: I recently shocked my well and caused problems with my pump because I stirred up the well too much. The sediment I stirred up partially plugged the screen in the pump causing it to overheat and trip the overload. Fortunately for me the pump is quite new and has the overload protection it needed to protect itself. When I released the 100 gallons from the above ground tank I should have let it go more slowly. The goal of the stored water is to force the bleached water into the formation by filling the well more then it is normally. So remember if you do this to slowly add the water to the  well.  Here is a site I came across that might shed some more light on the process as well. SHOCK CLORINATION


I have lived on an acreage for most of my adult life and have experienced different styles of wells and well water. I have even had to treat dugout water for household use because the well was a low producer. In any case I want to take a few minutes and explain a few different things you can do to make sure your water is safe regardless of its source.
The first line of defense is to take a potability test of the water. This test is not difficult to obtain but it must be done according to the instructions on the bottle provided by the testing lab. First you go to your health department and ask for the sample bottle. Next you take the sample and send it back to the lab. Once again I am not going to go into the procedure for taking the sample as this blog is going to be long enough without getting into specifics. If you want clarification go to This SITE. The potability test is to check to see if there is E.Coli or Coliforms and sometimes nitrates E.Coli and Coliforms are living organisms and the lab needs to have the sample within 24 hours to be able to properly report on their presence. E.Coli and coliforms can make a person sick. If they are present in the water the lab will report that the water is unacceptable for human consumption. So if you get a negative result you will need to shock your well, a topic I will address in another blog soon. Nitrates are considered unsafe for infants under 6 months of age if the levels in the water sample exceeds 45mg/l.
Water born illnesses are not just biological in nature. It is true that the above mentioned organisms will make a person sick quite quickly it is also possible to become sick from long term exposure to these organisms and certain chemicals such as Alkalinity; Aluminum; Arsenic; Barium; Boron;Cadmium; Chloride; Chromium; Copper; Fluoride; Hardness; Iron; Lead;Manganese; Nitrate; Selenium; Sodium; Sulphate; Total Dissolved Solids;Trihalomethanes; Uranium; Zinc; and pH. Once again these chemicals and organics can be naturally occurring or introduced to the water and may need to be filtered out if possible before you drink it if the levels are above the recommended safe levels as indicated by health department for your area. The list above was taken from the Saskatchewan water site – www.SaskH2O.ca
The most common problem with well water that I have experienced is HARDNESS and IRON, although there are other issues that come up from time to time such as TOTAL DISSOLVED SOLIDS (TDS) and contamination from ground water sources. In any of the above cases it is possible to buy a filter system that will cause the contaminant to become insoluble in water by using minerals such as salt. This new product is then back washed into the drain while the filtered water is ready to be used in the home.

Just a quick note to say that we will take the samples for you for a fee and send them to the lab with the proper paperwork. We also provide a free onsite analysis of total hardnes and iron in the water as part of every acreage inspection.


I recently inspected an acreage that is nicely set up for horses. Knowing how sketchy the water is in the area I convinced the buyer to have a flow test done on the 30″ bored well. As it turned out the well is only producing about 1/2 gallon per minute. This quantity of water obviously has been sufficient for the past 30 years but I would bet my bottom $ that the past inhabatants had to learn to conserve water. I personally know what it like to have a house full of company visit and to hear the water run like there is no end to it. The problem is you know the truth is that it will soon end if precautions are not taken but you don’t want to be the meanie that tells the city folk to smarten up. From my experience I will say that you will very quickly become attached to YOUR water. It soon consumes your every thought and you need to be aware of the options you have. Here are a few; you can cut back of course and lay down the law- meanie! You can plan ahead by installing a cistern inside or out that can be slowly filled with well water or rain water or water from the city. You can drill another well if the local experienced well driller feels you will have a good chance of hitting a better supply. Overall you simply need to be ready to adjust your thinking about what water means to you. A low producing well should not deter you from buying that dream acreage unless you cannot deal with the responsibility that goes along with such a purchase. I. Feel that an acreage without an adequate supply of water should be priced accordingly. I have lots more to say about this topic so bring on the questions if you have any!


Last week I got a call from a friend saying his well might be dry. I live close buy and was doubtful that he had run out of water. I went over and soon figured out that one of the fittings inside the well casing had rotted off and the pump had fallen away from the pitless adaptor. Having lived on an acreage for years I know what the problem was and it was just a matter of how to get the parts out of the well and replace them. The picture shows the diference between the three type of metal as it sits in a damp area like a well. The brass is in like new condition as was the stainless but the galvanized piece had rusted and corroded right through.
This confirms what most well drillers and plumbers always say, don’t use galvanize in and around water. Do you have galvanized piping in  your home, tell me about it.

t.Galvanized fitting failed