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Septic System Compliance

Septic system compliance inspections are becoming a very important part of most property transactions.  Point of sale inspections are usually required by counties and townships, but more buyers and lenders are requiring them as well. 

Many homeowners are confused by inspections especially if there is a failure, when the system has never had any backup functional issues in the past.  That is because some of the compliance criteria is found below ground and unseen without digging into it deeper.  There are four main components of a septic system inspection.        

  1. Is the septic tank(s) water tight?  MN state septic code requires all septic tanks to be water tight below the normal operating level.  Any tank that is cracked or is hand built out of block can leak untreated sewage into the ground, and would therefore be deemed non-compliant.  Pumping a septic tank and visually inspecting the inside of the tank is the only way to truly verify if it is compliant. 
  2. Is the drainfield at the proper elevation?  Soils develop rusty or grey colors after many years of saturated conditions which is an indicator of the seasonal high water table.  A compliant drainfeild requires at least 3 feet of elevation difference between that layer of seasonal saturation to the bottom of the drainfield.  This requirement ensures that the wastewater entering your drainfield will be properly treated before entering the groundwater at all times of the year.   An inspector will complete soil borings around the area of the drainfeild to determine the elevation of the seasonal high water table.  The drainfield would fail if there is less than 3 feet of separation.
  3. Does the system function hydraulically?  Overtime drainfeilds become plugged from the by products of treating sewage.   If a system shows signs of plugging or ponding in the drainfields, it may indicate the drainfield is not functioning properly and would require a repair or replacement.  The sewer lines must also flow properly from the home to the tanks in order to pass this part of the inspection. 
  4. Operating permit:  Some residential and commercial properties have systems that are on a local county operating permit.  An operating permit is basically an annual permit for property owners with systems that require more attention and oversite. The permit requires the property owner to hire a septic professional to maintain or sample the system more frequently.  All criteria in the operating permit must be meet for it to pass a compliance inspection. 


Septic system inspections include more than checking if the toilets flush, they verify that our groundwater is protected by ensuring septic systems are installed at the proper elevations and that they do not allow untreated wastewater to enter our precious water supply.