The Operating Systems, Lower Level, Interior and Exterior Inspection sections are EXTREMELY condensed versions of those found in our home inspection book: Home Inspection Business From A to Z
Real Estate Appraisers are not required to be home inspectors. However, I will include these sections anyway to give you some basic details about home inspections.
The main components of a septic system consist of the drainage lines, the holding tank and the leaching fields or seepage pits. The life expectancy of a septic system is about 30 years depending upon the type of construction and the maintenance given it. Try to get as much information as you can about the septic from the owner or Realtor. Use the preinspection questions that I mentioned earlier for a guideline but don't be afraid to ask any other questions for further information. Don't be surprised if they don't know very much about the septic system. Unfortunately, this is often the case.
I'll tell you another war story that ought to jar you a little bit. I did an inspection once and the client, the Realtor, the seller, and the real estate listing all stated that the house was connected to the municipal sewer system. I always tell my clients that they need to confirm this with the town hall records since there is no way for me, or any inspector, to see underground to verify that the house is connected to the city sewers. (I'm not Superman with X-ray vision). Later during the backyard inspection, the client mentioned to me that he was thinking about putting a swimming pool in the backyard after he bought the house. So, as always, I told the client to check town hall to make sure he could get the approvals to install a pool and get price estimates BEFORE losing on the house.
Well, about four months later, I got a letter from this client's attorney. The letter stated that the client went to town hall to find out about installing a pool in his backyard - AFTER he bought the house. He was awfully surprised to find out that the house had a septic system and was not connected to the city sewer system! As a result, the client not only couldn't put a swimming pool in his yard, but he had to deal with a septic system that hadn't been maintained for who knows how long!! If the seller of the house didn't even know he had a septic system, then obviously he didn't call any septic contractors to clean out the tank and inspect it internally every few years. So the probability of having to pay to replace a decayed and neglected septic system and leaching fields, just added insult to injury for my client! I told this client and his attorney that they were "barking up the wrong tree" if they were even thinking about complaining to me. The seller, the Realtor, and the real estate listing, and even my client, all gave me incorrect information when they told me the house was connected to the city sewer system. Moreover, the client chose on his own to not follow my advice to check town hall records before he closed on the house. I also had a copy of this client's written inspection report that I had sent him. I explained to the client's attorney to read specific pages in the report which clearly stated my advice to this client before he closed on the house. As a result, I never heard a word from that attorney or client again about this complaint or problem. They realized the client himself was to blame and they could only consider suing the seller and Realtor - but certainly not me.
There's no way to tell for sure if a main drainage line leads to a septic system or a city sewer system because they're identical. The point I'm trying to make, is that there's no way to know for sure whether or not the house is connected to the municipal sewer system. So you want to mention to the client that the only way for him to determine this is to check with the local building or health departments at town hall. Now do you see what I mean about being thorough and Covering Your Assets. This is why you need to ask the owner the preinspection questions and be up front and honest with your client.
Septic systems must be pumped out clean and inspected internally every two to three years at least. It should be more frequent than every two years if there are many people in the house or they do a lot of entertaining. I know a septic cleaning contractor in my area who has one customer that gets their tank cleaned every 3-4 months because they have a very high water usage.
You will encounter some homeowners who think you don't have to pump septic tanks clean. They believe in the fairy tale myth that the bacterial action inside the septic tank decomposes all the solid waste away. There are some products sold that claim to help the decomposition in septic tanks. Some homeowners think you merely have to use these products instead of pumping the tank periodically. You must tell your client that this is totally incorrect and the client needs to have the tank pumped and internally inspected. When this occurs you'll often have a third party say, "If it's not broken, don't fix it. " My response to that is, "Should you wait until you're terminally ill before going to the doctor for a physical?"