A septic inspection is an important part of maintaining your septic system. But how long does it actually take to inspect a septic system? The answer depends on several factors.
What is a Septic Inspection?
A septic inspection is when a professional examines the components of your septic system to ensure they are functioning properly. The main components inspected are:
- Septic tank – This is where wastewater flows into from your home. Solids settle and separate from the liquids here.
- Distribution box – This splits the flow of wastewater evenly into the drainfield lines.
- Drainfield – The wastewater exits the distribution box and filters into the soil here through a series of pipes and gravel.
The inspection determines if these components are working effectively or if any repairs or maintenance is needed.
Why Inspect Your Septic System?
Getting your septic system inspected regularly is important to keep it functioning properly. The Washington State Department of Health recommends inspecting your septic tank and drainfield every 1-3 years.
Key reasons to get inspections include:
- Identify any failures or issues before they become big problems.
- Determine if the septic tank needs to be pumped.
- Ensure the drainfield is not clogged or overloaded.
- Avoid costly repairs down the road.
Regular inspections can prevent system failures and expensive issues like sewage backups or need for full system replacement.
What is Checked During an Inspection?
A standard septic inspection is visual and non-invasive. The inspector will check key components like:
- Condition of inlet and outlet baffles
- Buildup of solids in tank (measure sludge and scum layers)
- Signs of leaks or damage
- Condition of access lids
- Equal flow to drainfield lines
- Standing water or surfacing sewage (signs of clogging)
- Condition of soil over drainfield
- Plant growth over drainfield
- Signs of backups or flooding
- Record pumping frequency
- Check maintenance records
The inspector will also note the size of the tank and drainfield, location, and type of system.
What is the Process of an Inspection?
Here are the typical steps during a septic inspection:
- Locate access lids for tank and distribution box.
- Uncover and open access lids if buried.
- Insert a “sludge judge” probe into tank to measure sludge and scum layers.
- Flush dyed water down a drain while observing flow through system.
- Check for signs of clogging or damage.
- Note any leaks, odors, or issues.
- Take measurements and record findings.
- Provide full inspection report.
- Recommend any necessary pumping, repairs, or maintenance.
Inspectors may use specialized cameras to assess the interior condition of the tank and pipes if needed.
How Long Does the Inspection Process Take?
A standard septic tank inspection usually takes 1-2 hours on average. Here are some factors that can affect the time required:
Type of system – More complex alternative systems (like pressure systems) take longer than basic gravity flow systems. Inspecting the additional pumps and controls adds time.
Accessibility – Finding and uncovering buried access lids adds time. Difficult access to the tank or drainfield extends the inspection.
Site conditions – Deep snow cover or flooded areas can hamper inspection and add time.
Size of system – Larger systems with bigger tanks and more drain lines take longer to inspect fully.
Camera inspection – Using a sewer camera to inspect pipes and tank interior adds about 30-60 minutes.
Experience of inspector – New inspectors may take longer as they learn the process. Experienced inspectors can inspect efficiently.
Thoroughness – Some inspectors may take longer to provide a more detailed inspection. Rushed inspections are shorter but may miss things.
Other Types of Septic System Inspections
Besides the standard inspection, there are more in-depth inspections that may take longer:
Dye flooding test – Dyed water is flooded into the system to check function. Takes 3+ hours.
Drainfield exploration – Probing or digging test pits to assess field. Takes 3-5 hours.
Water loading test – Deliberate stress test by adding water to see how well the system handles high volumes. Takes 6-12 hours.
These tests help assess the overall performance and can locate hidden issues. But they take more time due to the extensive procedures.
How to Prepare for Your Septic Inspection
You can help the inspection process go smoother and faster by being prepared:
Locate system components – Know the location of your tank, distribution box, and drainfield area. Provide any diagrams to inspector if available.
Clear access – Remove debris, vehicles, or other obstructions from the tank and drainfield area. Uncover any buried lids.
Allow full access – Ensure gates are unlocked and dogs are secured so inspector can access all areas needed.
Don’t overuse water – Limit water use before inspection so plumbing fixtures are available for dye testing and system is not overwhelmed.
Be available – Try to be home during the inspection in case inspector has any questions.
Factors That Increase Inspection Time
Some situations cause septic inspections to take longer:
- Can’t find tank or components
- Buried or missing inspection caps
- Blocked access to tank or drainfield
- Heavy sludge/scum in tank requiring extra pumping
- Drainfield covered by structures or pavement
- Densely rooted vegetation over drainfield
- Extreme weather conditions
- Older failing systems with issues
- Homeowner not available to answer questions
In these cases, inspections can take 2-3 hours instead of the typical 1-2 hours.
Hiring a Septic Inspector
When hiring a septic inspector:
- Ask how long inspections typically take.
- Inquire about their experience and expertise.
- Request they follow official inspection guidelines.
- Ask what is covered and provided (written report, photos, recommendations for maintenance, etc).
- Compare multiple inspector fees and service offerings.
- Avoid companies that conduct rushed inspections.
Taking the time to hire a thorough qualified inspector is important to get a comprehensive inspection and avoid potential septic issues.
Inspecting your septic system regularly is essential to keep it running properly for decades. A standard septic inspection usually takes 1-2 hours. The most important thing is to get a quality inspection from a reputable company, even if it takes a bit more time. Rushed inspections can easily miss developing problems. By understanding what is involved and being prepared, you can help make sure your septic inspection is completed efficiently.