Wondering about a septic inspection? Local health departments at county or state levels oversee design, installation, and operation of private onsite wastewater treatment systems (OWTS), also known as septic systems. Regulatory bodies prohibit operation of systems that pose a threat to public health or create an environmental hazard. Failing septic systems contaminate both surface and groundwater, posing a health hazard to property owners, as well as create a nuisance to neighboring landowners. A U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Bulletin on protection of water sources states: improperly sited, designed, and constructed septic systems can contaminate ground water sources resulting in elevated nitrogen levels in drinking water. High nitrogen content can originate from inappropriately treated wastewater, which can cause methemoglobinemia. This medical condition affects the oxygen carrying capacity of blood in infants. Even more troubling are the potential health hazards in untreated wastewater particularly when raw sewage surfaces. A failed septic system may expose occupants, particularly children, to parasites, cholera, hepatitis, gastroenteric disease, giardiasis, cryptosporidiosis, and helminths causing symptoms and illness as mild as stomach cramps, to upper respiratory infection, and potentially life threatening illnesses such as dysentery. Assessing the condition and performance of a septic system is critical to public health.
Government Oversight of Septic System Inspections
In the Midwest region, Missouri state law RSMo 701.029, and Kansas Administrative Regulation K.A.R. 28-5-6 oversee onsite wastewater treatment. State legislation provides guidelines for system inspection. Both states offer inspection of septic systems at the time of sale for real estate transactions. According to a conference of the Soil Science Society of America the state of Missouri began authorizing state inspections for real estate transactions in 1998 with later revisions. The state of Missouri is a voluntary program, where some counties in Kansas, particularly Johnson County, are more prescriptive. Kansas State Law K.S.A. 19-3701 authorized the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) to establish septic system minimum standards including maintenance and inspection. Specifically, property owners operating a private onsite wastewater treatment system must apply for a “use permit”. All use permits require a system inspection. When property ownership changes, the buyer is responsible for requesting a system inspection and submitting a new application for use permit in their name. The Johnson County Environmental Sanitary Code requires inspection of septic systems within 60 days of a property being purchased.
Septic Inspectors Licensing for Real Estate Transactions
In both states, onsite wastewater treatment systems are to be evaluated by licensed professionals. In Missouri, and in accordance with CSR 19 20.3.070 inspection is performed only by a state licensed onsite wastewater evaluator. The inspection may be initiated by the potential home buyer, real estate agent, or lender. In Kansas, inspections are performed by an environmental health specialist and may be commenced by the buyer or seller. In the event an onsite wastewater treatment system is deemed malfunctioning or defective, the inspector will provide a list of necessary repairs to bring the system up to current construction standards rendering operations safe. Additionally, in Missouri, the state inspector must submit a copy of the inspection report to the property owner, the potential buyer, the local public health department and state department of health and human services. Oddly enough, Missouri statute does not compel property owners to make necessary repairs to failing septic systems, or initiate reinspection. The state inspection report is an informational tool only. Property owners use the report to make informed decisions. All remedies are left to the owner’s discretion. That being said, when a failed septic system poses a health hazard or nuisance to a neighbor or other aggrieved party, a complaint may be filed with the local public health department (LPHD). After a communicable disease investigation, if a violation of either state standards for safe septic system operation or clean water regulations are discovered, the public health authority will require necessary repairs be made to the septic system in order to eliminate any identified health risk.
Because the state of Kansas requires a “use permit” for property owners to operate private onsite wastewater treatment systems, property owners are responsible to contract for repairs by a KS county licensed septic contractor and reinspection by a KS county licensed health specialist. Depending on the jurisdiction, city or county, the homeowner generally has 14 to 30 days to take corrective action through repairs or installation of a new system.
Sub-Standard Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems
There are a number of scenarios that may render a system ineffective or potentially dangerous. Most first-generation septic systems do not meet today’s construction standards because they operate outdated technologies, found unreliable over time, or are deemed unsafe. Over time, through real world testing and experience, more consistent treatment techniques and construction materials have replaced old construction methods. Additionally, changes to a home, specifically the addition of bedrooms or bathrooms which modify the potential daily sewage flow can render a system sub-standard. Septic systems are designed based on the number of bedrooms in a home, which accounts for occupants. If additional bedrooms are added and therefore additional people, the septic system may fail due to the rate and quantity of sewage exceeding what the system was originally designed to treat. In the event of new property development in a previously sparse or rural area, the density of onsite wastewater treatment systems may affect the soils’ ability to successfully treat and disperse waste water. Depending on the available land per building lot, increasing the number of septic systems in a small immediate area may tax the surrounding soils. Therefore, changes in building development and OWTS density may render existing systems sub-standard. Obviously, a lack of maintenance may result in degradation of the system’s ability to safely filter, treat and disperse effluent into the ground. This is especially true for onsite wastewater treatment systems that operate pumps, aeration treatment units, or contain effluent filters and screens. Failing to pump any septic tank beyond a safe limit can lead to solids migrating into the absorption field clogging or otherwise failing the system. Unfortunately, many systems in both Missouri and Kansas were originally constructed with an inappropriate septic design given site soil conditions. Prior to 1994, septic systems did not require government permitting or inspection and therefore no licensing requirements for contractors or installers. A lack of knowledge and training led many individuals to install septic systems without the aid of a soil morphology report. Because basic systems are the cheapest and most ubiquitous option, lateral drain fields are the most common onsite wastewater system found in Missouri and Kansas. However, research by U.S Department of Agriculture (USDA), and Departments of Natural Resources have determined very little soil in either state is suitable for such a design. Inappropriate designed and installations make up the vast majority of existing sub-standard septic systems. Unlicensed and unpermitted septic system installation or repairs are often found to be sub-standard. The reasons are work is performed by an individual or contractor with little or no knowledge of onsite wastewater treatment concepts, soils, design or construction standards. This type of work is not documented and no governmental third-party reviewed the proposed design, or inspected the construction or repair for compliance. Finally, some systems are sub-standard because they were installed only as a temporary means of waste disposal and were never meant for permanent long-term use.
Saying nothing of the potential health hazards, or nuisance created by a sub-standard septic system, the EPA estimates the average cost to repair a failing onsite wastewater treatment system is between $3,000 to $7,000. In case of a system design that cannot be supported by the site soil, a new system will be required. Properly, decommissioning an existing septic system and installing a new system can be even more expensive. Through the real estate buying process, generally during the inspection period, a prospective buyer can request a septic system inspection by a licensed onsite wastewater treatment or environmental health professional. The inspection provides the buyer with a list of issues that may require attention prior to committing to a purchase. Additionally, in the state of Kansas, all changes of ownership require the new buyer to apply for a use permit to operate the onsite wastewater system. A use permit requires system inspection.
Benefits of Septic System Inspection
The genesis for government legislated septic inspections is to protect both home buyers and the banking institutions that lend money on the property. Prior to Missouri authorizing state assessments, and Kansas requiring county inspections, buyers purchased homes without any knowledge as to the condition of the septic system. This routinely led property owners to discover, after the fact, the need for significant repairs or in many cases a wholly new system. Needless to say, either situation is costly, which led many homebuyers back to their lending institution asking for additional monies to fund the repair or replacement. Many banks simply could not loan additional money, as the home was already mortgaged to government limits. This left the new property owner with a significant out of pocket expense and the bank with a property that, in the event of foreclosure, would not sell easily or for the expected price. Finally, if the new property owner could not secure the required funds, the existing septic system may be operated as is, creating a potentially dangerous health hazard to the family and neighbors. Therefore, through banking and real estate lobbying, both Missouri and Kansas legislated programs to provide government sanctioned septic system assessments for real estate transactions.
Home Performance Septic System Inspections in Kansas City
Dealing with a failed septic system, poor soil conditions, or an onsite wastewater treatment system that has failed an inspection? Consider hiring a licensed septic professional with advanced training to properly, assess, repair, design, size, and install both basic and advanced septic systems. An upfront investment in careful testing and design will prevent both health hazards and tens of thousands of dollars in future work.
At Home Performance Group we are both basic and advanced state licensed in septic systems installation as well as state licensed for septic inspections. We continue to invest in technical training so we can correctly design, specify, size and install septic tanks, septic laterals, low pressure systems, lagoons, and high-pressure drip systems. We have performed numerous septic projects for our clients.
If you are interested in a no-cost in-home consultation, schedule with a Solutions Advisor today.
Article by Larry L. Motley Jr., 24 January 2022
Larry is a graduate of both Wentworth Military Academy and Missouri Western State University earning a double bachelor’s degree in Economics and Finance. Additionally, he maintains six professional tradesman licenses in two states and advanced credentialing in green technology, project and program management, and process improvement. Larry is a three-time combat veteran having served in Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation New Dawn, and Operation Inherent Resolve. He continues to serve through a value-based building science company focused on providing clients the best design, highest quality installation, and most honest repair services in the community.
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