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.