Featuring America's Home Inspector: Nationally Syndicated Columnist, Barry Stone

The House Detective by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: We purchased our home 10 months ago and had it professionally inspected. The septic system was included in the home inspection, but our inspector missed some major problems. During the inspection, he was unable to find the D-box where the septic pipes are connected or the seepage pit where the wastewater drains into the ground. All he found was the holding tank, and he said that it looked fine. Now that we’re selling the property, the buyers hired a septic specialist, in addition to a home inspector, and the septic guy found major problems. The buyers are now demanding that the system be replaced, and the bid for replacement is nearly $25,000. How could our home inspector have failed to see these problems? Susan

Dear Susan: My answer to your question will arouse indignation among those home inspectors who offer septic inspections as part of their services. The truth, however, is glaring: Home inspectors are not equipped to inspect septic systems and should not mislead homebuyers in the belief that they are able to do so. There, I said it. Now the flood of irate email from those home inspectors can begin.

The reason for my firm position on this issue is simple: A home inspection, by definition, is a visual inspection only. Home inspectors report conditions they can see and nothing more. This eliminates septic systems from the scope of a home inspection because septic systems are not visible or accessible to home inspectors. In order to inspect a septic system, it is necessary to locate the tank, to excavate the top of it, to remove the lid, and then to pump out all of the wastewater and sludge. Once the tank is empty, the true inspection begins. The walls and baffles can be inspected for damage or deterioration, the capacity can be considered relative to the wastewater output from the home, and the rate of flow into the seepage system can be tested.

The reason that home inspectors cannot inspect a septic system is because they do not have the equipment necessary to expose the components that need to be inspected. Only someone in the business of installing and servicing septic systems is likely to have the tank truck and pump equipment that is needed to expose the bowels of the system. Anything less than this, as a means of inspection, is totally inadequate and reveals nothing about the true condition of the system. Home inspectors who purport to inspect septic systems, but do not pump the tanks, need to face this reality and to refer septic inspections to qualified specialists.