FCPH: Septic inspection Q&A


By Eric Newcomer, O&M Coordinator - Fayette County Public Health



Many of you in Fayette County have septic systems on your property. Most of you are probably subject to an inspection of that septic system and I am sure you also have some questions about the inspection and its process. Well, I am here today to walk you through the septic inspection process and answer a few of the frequently asked questions we receive on a daily basis here at Fayette County Public Health (FCPH).

Why do I need an inspection of my septic system?

All septic systems in Fayette County are subject to an inspection. The Ohio Administrative Code 3701-29-23 states “The Board of Health may at any reasonable time inspect any STS, part thereof, or proposed STS site, to conduct sampling, collect data, or perform other activities necessary to assure compliance with this chapter.” “(2) Boards of health shall work with interested stakeholders to develop a timeline and process for phasing in O&M management for prior installed systems and should consider risk factors such as system age, complexity and risks to public health when establishing the criteria and process for phasing in prior installed systems, except as provided in paragraph (B) of this rule.”

Septic systems can be quite complex depending on the type. Some are gravity fed, going from the septic tank to a leach field, others contain aeration motors, ultraviolet lights, lift pumps, and other mechanical parts. These parts need to be inspected in order to make sure they continue to work to avoid a system breakdown, thus causing an environmental nuisance.

Why do I get inspected every year and my neighbor does not?

One of the most common questions I receive on a weekly basis is “Why does my system get inspected, but my neighbor doesn’t? This ties into the previous question, it all comes down to what type of system is on your property, the parts that it has, and if the system is discharging.

If your system has an aerator system, you will have to have your system inspected once a year due to the complex mechanical parts that the system has. An aerator system has a motor that provides oxygen to beneficial bacteria which break down the solids in a septic system. If the bacteria do not have the oxygen, they will die, and the solids will not break down, and eventually, you will have an environmental nuisance and a very costly repair.

Other systems have lift pumps, which pump sewage to a leach field, or to a discharging site, an area that allows clean treated sewage to empty into the environment, usually a body of water. These systems get checked every other year. This is because, unlike an aerator system, the motor of a lift pump is not continuously working. These systems are usually timed, or activated when sewage levels reach a certain point. If the pump fails, the sewage will back up and you will have an environmental nuisance.

Now in case you’re asking, “Hey I don’t have any mechanical parts, but I get inspected every other year, why?” If your system discharges into any body of water, it is to be inspected to ensure there is no environmental nuisance being spilled into the water.

If you have a system that runs conventionally, septic to leach bed, your system is to be inspected once every ten years.

How does FCPH conduct a septic inspection?

If you choose to have FCPH conduct your inspection it will cost $40. Having FCPH conduct your inspection is the cheapest way to have your inspection done; however, FCPH will not do any routine cleaning or maintenance to your septic system. This is only an inspection, if you want your system serviced or cleaned, we recommend a service provider conduct your inspection, I will touch on service providers during the next question.

The inspection process is done quickly. The inspector arrives at the property and has a detailed drawing of where your septic system is located on your property including where the leach lines or where the system discharges. The inspector will find the septic tank and look it over for any sewage on the surface of the ground. Then if the system has an aerator system, the inspector will check the aerator to ensure it is working properly.

After looking at the tank, the inspector will travel to where the leach lines are located to make sure is no sewage coming onto the surface of the ground. Sewage will be black foul-smelling water with muddy-looking discharge, do not touch it. If the system discharges, the inspector will walk down to where the system discharges. This is in a lot of cases into a wooded area with a body of water. The inspector will look to make sure the discharge is clear and clean and not the foul-smelling black tinge that was stated earlier.

After that, if there are any inspection ports or boxes, those will be inspected as well. After that, the inspection is over, a report will be written and sent to the owner of the property as well as the bill. It’s short, sweet, and to the point.

Can I have someone else inspect my system?

If you want to have a more extensive inspection including cleaning, sampling, and overall maintenance done to your system, I recommend having a registered service provider conduct your inspection. These inspections are more expensive but, they can keep your system in good working order. We cannot recommend any service providers specifically, but we can provide a list of all the service providers for Fayette County. If your system is an NPDES, Mound, or DRIP system, you will be required to have a service provider do the inspection. These systems require a much closer inspection, and some require samples to be collected, and FCPH does not provide that service at this time.

What do I do if my system isn’t working properly?

When it comes to septic systems, it’s not a matter of if, but when the septic system will fail. All septic systems have a shelf life like everything else around a home be it roofs, AC units, or furnaces. Septic systems have a life span of around forty to fifty years, they are bound to have issues, breakdowns, and all-out failures.

If your system is having issues and you have a contract with a service provider, contact them ASAP. If you do not have a service provider, and you are having any issues with your septic system, please call FCPH and we can assist you in finding a solution to your problem – everything from finding a service provider to fix your aeration system, to assisting with the process of obtaining a new system. If your system is failing do not put it off.

If you are worried about the cost of a system, there are grants that can be provided to you from the EPA if you meet certain parameters. These grants can help towards the cost of a new system from fifty to one hundred percent!

I hope I have answered some of your questions that you have in regard to the septic inspection process. I know that many of you may still have questions about your septic system. If you have questions, feel free to call the environmental health division at FCPH (740-333-3590) and we will do our best to answer any questions you have.

Also, if you see me out inspecting your system and have a question, please feel free to ask me and I will do my best to answer your question. Have a great day, and don’t be afraid to come to say hi if you see me in the field.

Eric Newcomer is an environmental health technician and he is the operation & maintenance (O&M) program coordinator at Fayette County Public Health. For more information, call Eric at 740-333-3590.

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By Eric Newcomer, O&M Coordinator

Fayette County Public Health