WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN A SEPTIC SYSTEM INSPECTOR

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My thoughts are to look at this from a couple of different points of view. My training and experience normally make me look at things from a technical or logistical position. However, occasionally, I also tend to be somewhat emotional with my thought process (Maybe more than occasionally if you ask my staff but I will plead the 5th here). 

From a purely technical point of view, here is a description of what I would want in an Inspector: 

  1. Someone who is licensed! In NJ there are currently no licensing requirements for a Septic System Inspector!  The State does require either a Home Improvement Contractor License (HICL) for anyone performing most types of work on a home owners property to ensure that they are properly registered and insured. This leads to #2.
  2. Someone who is INSURED! The State does not require someone who performs a Septic System Inspection to be insured! However, I would absolutely require this before hiring someone to come onto my property, but more than that, I would also want a copy of their Liability and Workman’s Comp Insurance Certificate. Insurance is a requirement for someone who holds an HICL.
  3. Someone who is Certified! There are several organizations in the U.S. who hold training sessions for Septic System Inspectors. One of those is the National Association of Wastewater Technicians (NAWT). NAWT provides this training with a national viewpoint so that all inspectors across the nation, upon a passing test score, have the basic knowledge and understanding of general terms and procedures. Another organization is Pennsylvania Septage Management Association (PSMA). PSMA provides not only basic knowledge of core principles but also an Advanced level of training for Septic System Inspectors for a much deeper understanding of procedures and practical knowledge. Testing is done for both levels with a minimum passing score required for certification. The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) offers annual training for Septic System Inspectors through Cook College in New Brunswick but they DO NOT provide any type of certification nor licensing for this training (all that is required is attendance at the training and a self graded quiz).
  4. Someone who follows the Septic System Inspection Protocol! According to NJDEP, septic system inspections are not required by law. However, if you are going to perform a Septic System Inspection specifically for a transfer of real property and wish to have the inspection officially recognized as a NJDEP inspection, you must follow the procedures and reporting requirements provided by the NJDEP under N.J.A.C. 7:9A Appendix E (procedures) and Appendix F (reporting).   The procedure provides a standardized step by step process to maintain consistency between inspectors. 

The self interested side of me would want a few other things: 

  1. Someone who has access to the latest in technology (and knows how to use it)! This speaks for itself.
  2. Someone who can explain the findings in clear and plain English!  This is a must. The terminology used in the rules and regulations is very industry specific and sometimes needs to be further explained clearly and in context.  In particular how site conditions may affect the overall report outcome or report limitations.  These reports are designed to provide information valuable for the negotiations that happen between a buyer and seller (and of course their Agents).  At times the Health Department will provide their own perspective.  This is all important.  The more accurate and complete the report the more accurate the decisions that can be made.
  3. Someone who is prepared! I would want to see that the company inspecting my septic system has taken the time to look for Health Department records, called in an underground utility markout, has in their possession the NJDEP check list and reporting form and is prepared to perform the inspection.  Without the proper organization it is more difficult to provide an accurate assessment of a system without skipping steps.  Having a copy on hand during the inspection is a great place to start with finding all the system components. The legally required underground utility markout is also very important since the inspector may very well be digging in, on or near a gas line, cable line, underground electric line, etc.
  4. If you have a copy of your sprinkler system layout it can avoid damage to the piping during probing and digging.  You don’t want to have an inspector damaging a sprinkler line if it can be helped. Access to the house is critical in determining the exit points of sewer line(s) from inside the house. Permission for the inspector is important i.e. do we have permission from the seller or their agent to actually be on the property? 

This is basically just a “scratch the surface” list and is not meant to describe all necessary requirements for all people. Please share any and all opinions for this list and add any other personal choice requirements in the comments section below. I look forward to your thoughts and hope to continue this discussion. If you wish to message me privately, please email me at joe.garner@englishsewage.com anytime. 

My next post will delve into a recent septic system inspection for a real estate transfer. I know you’re on the edge of your seat for that!

 Until next time,

 

Joe Garner – General Manager   

Septic 101 for NJ Real Estate Agents

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Attention all Real Estate Professionals!! I’m sure you have run into that “stinky” situation when selling a property that has a septic system.  That closing date doesn’t look so close now, I bet.  Unfortunately, you can not control or avoid it when a system needs repairs, or even worse, needs to be completely replaced.  However, you can help yourself, your colleagues, and customers by being prepared and knowledgeable to handle these “stinky” situations.

As a certified CE Instructor of septic system inspections, English Septic offers a Septic101 class to all NJ Real Estate Agents.  This course is a FREE class that offers 2 Elective CE Credits towards your R.E. license renewal. This is a “MUST TAKE” for all Realtors!! This class helps you to fully understand the where, what, who, and how’s of a septic system and the inspection protocol. And we all know that the septic system can make or break your real estate transaction.  The FREE Septic101 course will review first the new changes to the Septic Code NJAC 7:9A; which, by the way, was 22 years in the making. We will discuss the necessary system components that can obviously get a little messy.  We also, review NJ DEP Permits, and the NJDEP standardized Inspection Protocol and Health Department reporting requirements.

Not only does this course give 2 CE Credits, it’s a very informative and knowledgeable class that will leave you with a better understanding of septic systems as a whole.  The course breaks down the NJAC 7:9A in simple descriptions which help you understand the purpose, procedures, and rules enacted by the NJDEP.  And I believe that you, as a Real Estate Professional, need to know the new “rules and regulations” that can affect you directly as an agent.  In addition to the New Code, the instructor explains the different legal types of “septic systems”, and those not considered legal systems since April 2012.

The second half of the course is usually where you as the agent get a little more involved since it reviews Health Department Permits and the Inspection process.  I’m sure you will have input and questions.  ALL questions are welcome!

I have failed to mention, up until this point, that the Septic101 course instructor is the General Manager here at English Septic and is a certified NJ Real Estate C.E. Instructor, certified NAWT Inspector and Professional Installer, a PSMA/NOF Certified Advanced Inspector, and NEHA CIOWTS-A (Certified Installer Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems – Advanced) Installer. Obviously, you want someone who knows what they’re talking about (someone who knows their sh*t!!)

If this is something you are interested in, contact us to set up a date and time to come to your office. You can schedule this class by calling 856-358-4771 or emailing Joe Garner joe.garner@englishsewage.com or myself melissa.smith@englishsewage.com, anytime.  If you haven’t decided by now that this class is important then feel free to contact me anytime with any questions. To agents, remember your next sale could depend upon the knowledge you have in septic systems! To buyers and sellers, keep in mind, the more your agents know the better they can help you!

Please stay tuned to our next blog on “What to look for in an Inspector/Company.”  This will provide you with some helpful tips when you choose to have an inspection. I look forward to your feed back!

Until next time,

Melissa Smith – Administrative Assistant

 

Prescription Drug Disposal

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The News Media recently reported that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, on Nov. 19, signed a bill that bans health care facilities from dumping unused prescription medications into public sewers or into septic systems.

Prescription medicines serve a specific purpose and do not belong in our drinking water.  Governor Christie signed this legislation to ensure that our drinking water is clean and healthy.   The safest way to make sure children aren’t at risk from pharmaceuticals in our drinking water is to stop dumping medicine into the water supply.  Medical facilities can lead the way by properly disposing unused drugs.

The law followed a Press report in 2008 that found traces of drugs in drinking water in 24 metro areas where 41 million people live.

The law requires health care institutions to submit a plan to the state Department of Health and Senior Services and the Department of Environmental Protection for disposal of unused prescription drugs. The plan must describe how the institution will properly dispose of medications.  Violations are punishable by fines up to $2,500.

Most hospitals and health care institutions probably already dispose of medicines safely. There has been ample publicity about concerns over the effects of pharmaceuticals in drinking water. A logical next step is what to do to make sure the rest of us do what we should with unused drugs.

Project Medicine Drop

Many communities have drug drop-off programs, but many do not. It would be great to see every community provide a medicine drop off program so that they are safely destroyed and do not end up in our drinking water.  Here is a link for current drop off locations in NJ from the  NJ Division of Consumer Affairs website http://www.njconsumeraffairs.gov/meddrop/locations.htm 

At English we have long recommended against disposal of medications into your septic system where it can be harmful to the bacteria and cause system failures.   Most homes with on site septic systems have well water too.  The decision to avoid introducing prescription drugs into your drinking water is in your hands.   Approach your community leaders to develop a drug drop-off program to protect the drinking water supply in general. 

Until next time,

Paul Behrens, Owner

English Sewage Disposal, Inc.

Personal View from a Home Buyer

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As a first time home buyer I have heard a lot of false information regarding the septic system servicing the home.  In my case I have heard several times that the septic has been updated in the “last five years”.  With my knowledge of septic systems it doesn’t take long for me to realize that an update in the last five years has not happened. 

It has occurred to me that a buyer who doesn’t have the knowledge of septic systems may believe the seller and be shocked towards the end of the settlement, or a few years down the road that the system was not up to par. Septic systems can be a large amount of money to fix or replace, therefore I believe buyers should have some basic knowledge of septic systems.   As a result, I am offering the following basic pointers. 

When you first look at a property, I recommend that you consider the following pointers while you are onsite and things you can do once you get home.

On-Site:

  • Ask the homeowner or agent where the system is located.
  • Look for any wet spots or areas where the grass is very lush and green.
  • Ask the home owner to show you any records that support what they are telling you – last pumping date, repair records.

By asking for the location of the system, it allows you to check out the area around the system.  Major signs would be puddles or areas of exposed sewage.  All of these signs will show that the Drainfield may be over saturated and no longer in proper use. 

At Home:

  • Everybody has the ability to request septic system records from the County Health Department.
    • Each HD is different on how they want the request but a quick phone call or a visit to their website can help you in your request.
    • The request is free.
  • Order a nonofficial septic evaluation.

The records request is very important because if there are records on file they can reveal the type, location and system age as well as help identify “undocumented system modifications” which may indicate a previous malfunction.  If there are no records it could mean many different things depending upon the age of the home.

It may indicate that the system is extremely old and installed at a time when the Health Department was not recording or saving installation documents. Perhaps that update or installation was done without a permit, proper oversight or legal design.

Without records, in NJ, you must have a new engineered design prepared and approved to bring the system up to current standards.  The only work that can be performed without septic records are small repairs (any work that does not involve an engineer).  Even with minor repairs a Health Department permit is required before replacement.  Examples of small repairs are; installing an effluent filter, bringing lids to the surface, distribution box repair, etc.  Any repairs or an alteration to a drain field does require an engineer.     

Realtors have a process and schedule that they follow for inspections and in a particular order.  The “official” septic inspection falls towards the end of the list.  Therefore, I believe, the evaluation can be the best possible thing you as a buyer can do.  Have the evaluation performed before you even put an offer in on the house or right after.  I say this because in many instances a month is not sufficient time to make corrections because of the need for permit approvals or designs.  The best advice is to not wait until the last minute or you may not make your closing date. 

Overall, it is better for everyone involved in a home sale to have the septic information up front so things can be scheduled accordingly. 

Please stay tuned to our next blog on Septic 101.  This is a class that buyer/seller agents can take to learn more about septic systems.  The more your agents know the better they can help you!

Until next time, 

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Jamie Wilson – Executive Assistant

English Sewage Disposal, Inc