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   

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

Septic System Inspection Results for 2013

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All 2013 Septic Inspection results have been catalogued and I am ready to present those results to you along with what the results mean.

            “Septic system inspector means a person who performs inspections of systems in accordance with N.J.A.C. 7:9A-12.6 for inspections during real property transfers.” 7:9A-2.1

Let me begin by stating that all of the 2013 Septic System Inspections have been completed IAW N.J.A.C. 7:9A-12.6 along with the inspection protocol and reporting requirements found in Appendices E & F.   Greek to you – Right?  Basically this is a standard process provided to inspectors to allow everyone to evaluate or report on septic systems using the same methodology. 

Here is a basic breakdown of the results:

Satisfactory

Unsatisfactory

Total

87

103

190

 I know most people understand what satisfactory means but just for definition purposes:

sat•is•fac•to•ry (ˌsæt ɪsˈfæk tə ri, -ˈfæk tri) 
adj.

  1. satisfying demands, expectations, or requirements; adequate.

Random House Kernerman Webster’s College Dictionary, © 2010 K Dictionaries Ltd. Copyright 2005, 1997, 1991 by Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. 

I do want to take a closer look at the “Unsatisfactory” category and describe some examples of what is considered an unsatisfactory septic system.  (Keep in mind that the Inspection Procedure describes certain conditions of a system and which may place the system in Satisfactory, Unsatisfactory or Satisfactory with Concerns categories.)   One automatic Unsatisfactory is: Cesspool.

  1. 20 of these systems were found to be “Cesspools” (“Cesspool” means a covered pit with open-jointed lining into which untreated sewage is discharged, the liquid portion of which is disposed of by leaching into the surrounding soil, the solids or sludge being retained within the pit.)  According to the septic code – 7:9A-3.16 Other sanitary sewage disposal units

     (a)    “Cesspools, privies, outhouses, latrines, pit toilets or similar sanitary sewage disposal units are not systems. When an administrative authority discovers a privy, outhouse, latrine, pit toilet or similar sanitary sewage disposal unit, or any cesspool that serves a structure and that is in need of repair or alteration, it must order these units be abandoned and a conforming system installed…”

     (b)    Effective June 2, 2012, … “all cesspools, privies, outhouses, latrines and pit toilets that are part of a real property transfer shall be abandoned and replaced with a system in accordance with (a) above.”

   2.      The rest of this category is mix of reasons. Most had multiple reasons for being unsatisfactory. Many of the systems (more than 50) were older systems (built before 1990 according to tax records) where either the Health Departments had no records or when they did have records the systems were found to be undersized, the soil was saturated and/or other components were physically falling apart or had deteriorated completely.  (I do need to point out here that the age of the system alone does not make a system unsatisfactory.)

   3.      We found a lot of broken distribution boxes and septic tank lids.

   4.      We also found several instances where overflow lines were installed to “help” the system drain better and a few where that “helper” line flowed directly to a stream or creek.

   5.      There is some good news here even with the unsatisfactory group.  35 of these required only minor repairs costing between $500 and $1,500 to get back to a satisfactory condition. Many of these minor repairs included replacing broken or missing baffles and installing new tank and distribution box lids where they were found to be cracked or broken. In some cases we only needed to replace only a distribution box or connecting piping.

All in all the inspection results we had in 2013 were typical and similar to our statistics going back to 2010.   Not every system will be satisfactory and an unsatisfactory system is better found during the sales process rather than after closing.

At the end of the day, the inspector follows a specific guidance document and reports his findings to the Health Department who makes the final decision as to the acceptability of the system.   Some are more forgiving than others, some more strict interpreters of the code.   We all have to follow their guidance.

If you are looking to buy or sell a home and you have a septic system, hire a reputable company; one that has, at a minimum, liability and workman’s comp insurance and one that been certified to inspect your septic system the correct way by following the NJDEP Inspection Protocol.  I can discuss the various organizations providing the necessary training for inspectors in a later Blog.   

Please feel free to comment below and/or email me directly with any questions, comments or concerns at joe.garner@englishsewage.com .

Until next time, 

Joe Garner

General Manager – English Sewage Disposal, Inc.