Just completed a home inspection in Gibsons BC of a solid 1970’s rancher. The style is that of a raised rancher, which means, rather than having a basement in the ground, you build a slab-on-grade and then raise what would have been the basement to become your first floor. The living area then becomes the second floor. This architectural style is used when there is a high water table or bedrock near the surface.
When I drove up to the property for my appointment, I saw the septic tank pump truck already there. The technician was using a bore scope to look into the leach field. His inspection revealed that the distribution pipe was flooded. We had torrential rains the past three days and that certainly contributed to the situation. In fact, it was still pouring the day of my inspection. The technician then proceeded to pump-out the septic tank. Once the sludge was removed from the tank, the backflow from the field began! It was a fast and furious deluge - imagine 100 meters (300 ft) of 4 inch diameter pipe plumb-full, flowing backwards into the tank. On the plus side, the tank appeared to be in good condition.
However the septic system was not in my scope of work, so I left the technician to carry on with the home inspection. At the end, I did a walk-through debriefing with my clients and prepared to leave the site to write-up the report, back at the home office. As I was leaving, there began an earest discusssion with my clients, their agent, the sellers, their agent... all about the flooded septic system and if was a deal breaker or not.
Now the day after my inspection and final report I decided to consider how I would handle this situation if I was the buyer. Would I walk away from the deal or not? As a professional engineer and property inspector I love to solve problems, even if I’m not asked. So here are my thoughts on the issue.
- I found no floor drain in the house. Usually the floor drain trap is dry so sewer odours are readily detected or, worst case, you have solid evidence with a sewer backup spilling out of the drain. Hmm. Was it sealed over on purpose because of past problems or was it serendipity that it was never installed? Vote - undecided.
- The seller claimed that they never had a problem with the septic system. The tank was being pumped out as part of the sales agreement. Surely they would not have exposed this issue under the worst possible circumstances! Vote - undecided.
- There were no soft spots, water ponding or evidence of recent excavations anywhere in the area of the leach field. Vote - for purchase.
- The nose test around the perimeter of the leach field passed. No odours. Also no evidence of a blow-out or overflow. Vote - for purchase.
- Excluding the recent heavy rains, if the leach field is above the groundwater table some of the time, then it's certainly a health issue and must be corrected, either by remediation or replacement. Regardless, it will be costly. Vote - against purchase.
- The property was developed in the 1970's. If the septic system was never touched, then that's old age and I'd have concerns going forward if it would meet my needs. Vote - against purchase.
So we have 2 undecided, 2 for the purchase and 2 against. So what is it going to take to swing my vote to a buy decision? That's easy, just buy my vote - discount the cost of a new septic system from the asking price of the property.