ARE THESE INSPECTIONS REQUIRED?
Not by law in the counties we work in. However, they are a standard requirement in the purchase agreement. Which indicates the inspection is to be done by the county or a county approved inspector. In the counties we work in, there is NO SUCH THING as a county approved inspector. Kathleen Hill is a Registered Sanitarian. This means she has completed the extensive requirements of the State of Michigan to be deemed approved by the State of Michigan as a Sanitarian. Sanitarians, by definition, design, approve and inspect drainfields and wells. Who better to hire for this inspection?
WHY SHOULD I HIRE KATHLEEN HILL, R.S.?
When you hire Kathleen Hill, R.S. you receive the most thorough, professional inspection and report available. Kathleen Hill is a Registered Sanitarian who spent 10 years designing, permitting, and inspecting these systems with local health departments. We ONLY do well and septic inspections as these are our specialty. Home inspectors have very little training in well and septic inspecting and little to none in design or functionality. Furthermore, in the event that follow-up is needed, we are the company to have! We are always here for questions and as much conversation is necessary or desired. When you hire Kathleen Hill, R.S., you can be assured you are hiring the best!
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO GET THE RESULTS OF THE TESTS?
Bacteria results are ready 24 hours after they are dropped to the lab. Nitrate results are 48 hours. Lead results vary as the lab does not run these every day and they have to sit in the acid for 16 hours after collection. The septic report can be ready the same day of the inspection provided the pump card has been supplied and the health department records have been received.
HOW CAN KATHLEEN HILL, R.S. GET THE INSPECTION RESULTS IN 1-3 DAYS WHEN IT TAKES THE COUNTY WEEKS?
Local health departments are continually feeling the pain of huge cost cuts and are working with practically skeleton staffing levels and have many more programs than just loan evaluations. Kathleen Hill, R.S. only performs these evaluations and therefore can give personal attention as each result comes in. Furthermore, we have a relationship with each of the laboratories used. We receive all results via fax and send all reports via fax. Therefore, we save about one week in mailing time.
WHAT CAN I DO AS A HOMEOWNER OR REALTOR TO EXPEDITE THE INSPECTION PROCESS?
• Provide the address, lot number, owners name and year constructed in advance as much as possible to avoid waiting for the health department records. There is NO obligation to hire this company when you provide the address. It is a pro-active option which can save over one week. Furthermore, I will provide the information to any septic tank pumper you wish, to make their job easier and save you money. Realtors who use me consistently call me as soon as they acquire a listing on well and septic so we can have the records waiting when the call for the inspection.
• Have the home in proper condition for inspection i.e. power on; water on.
• Have a keybox on the home or be flexible with the time of day the inspection can be conducted.
• Be available for questions we may have regarding the home and the system.
• Have the pump card ready.
• Call MISS DIG and have the buried utilities marked, especially if the septic system is in the front yard. This is a free and easy process. (800) 482-7171. We cannot probe or auger in areas with suspected buried gas or electrical lines for obvious reasons.
WHY ARE HEALTH DEPARTMENT RECORDS NECESSARY?
These records contain very valuable information with regard to the size of the system; the size of the home it was designed for; the estimated location; and the date of final approval. This paperwork is reviewed and included with the final report. This information provides a great deal of reassurance to the buyer that the system was designed appropriately in the beginning and was approved by the governing agency. It is irresponsible to perform an inspection and issue a report without this information. If the county does not have records, every attempt will be made to estimate the above information. It can take an excess of 6 BUSINESS days to obtain this information. Therefore, it is advisable to call, with NO obligation and provide this office with the possible address as soon as possible.
WHAT IS A REGISTERED SANITARIAN AND WHY IS IT IMPORTANT?
This means she has completed the extensive requirements of the State of Michigan to be deemed approved by the State of Michigan as a Sanitarian. These include:
• a bachelor of science degree (1993, Ferris State University, Industrial and Environmental Health Management)
• at least three (3) years experience in public health (12 years experience; 10 with local health departments)
• passing a state approved and administered comprehensive exam on public health (1997)
Sanitarians, by definition, design, approve and inspect drainfields and wells. Who better to hire for this inspection?
KATHLEEN HILL, R.S., IS GENERALLY SLIGHTLY MORE EXPENSIVE THAN THE HEALTH DEPARTMENT, WHAT AM I GETTING FOR THE MONEY?
The health department is not in business to make a profit. Nor are they there to make your transaction is quick and painless. You receive the fastest, most thorough inspection available. While we can have the inspection conducted and the report completed in 24 hours, the health department can take up to 6 weeks. The longest you have to wait, provided all necessary documentation is provided, is 5 days with Kathleen Hill, R.S. Furthermore, Kathleen Hill is available morning, noon and evening to provide phone consultations at no additional charge – this includes weekends!
ARE YOU CERTIFIED TO DO THESE INSPECTIONS?
No matter what any home inspection company tells you, there is NO certification required to perform these inspections. Furthermore, there are several one day trainings which provide participants with a “certification”. Kathleen Hill, R.S. is a Registered Sanitarian. This is the ONLY State approved program which ‘certifies’ Sanitarians. So, the answer is as much of a YES as possible. It takes a bachelors of Science along with more than 3 years of experience in public health to become a Registered Sanitarian. No one day classes here!
HOW LONG IS THIS INSPECTION GOOD FOR?
County policies vary greatly with regard to this. However, Kathleen Hill stands by her inspections. In the event that the sale falls through, and the new buyer does not want to accept the original report, we will return to the site and conduct a re-inspection at no charge within 6 months of the original inspection. Water samples should be acceptable for 1 year. However, if the home is vacant, it is advisable to resample for bacteria only after a month.
WHAT IF THE BUYER OR THEIR AGENT HAS A QUESTION OR PROBLEM WITH THE REPORT?
Kathleen Hill is available almost every day, all day and evening to answer any questions or provide any explanation necessary to help all parties involved feel more comfortable with the well and septic systems.
WHY CAN’T THE HOMEOWNER OR REALTOR TAKE THE WATER SAMPLES?
It is a standard requirement that these tests be conducted by an independent, third party, such as Kathleen Hill, R.S. Furthermore, hiring us ensures the samples are not contaminated during collection.
CAN A SEPTIC INSPECTION BE CONDUCTED IN THE WINTER?
Absolutely! Especially if the home is occupied. Septic systems provide heat. They usually prevent the ground from freezing over the septic tanks and drainfield. Snow cover also helps keep the system cover from freezing. This is not the case in a vacant home or if there is an excessive amount of cover over the system. We do carry a pick axe in the event the ground is frozen but the system location is known. This way, a full inspection can be conducted, even if the cover is frozen.
WHAT IS A SEPTIC TANK AND WHAT DOES IT DO?
A septic tank is nothing more than a chamber, usually concrete, but sometimes plastic or fiberglass. All waste water from the home is plumbed to discharge into the septic tank. Once in the tank, the solids settle to the bottom, the light items such as grease and hair float to the top. The center of the tank is where the clearer water is. At the bottom of the tank, anaerobic bacteria (bacteria which do not require air to live) will perform some breakdown of the solids. Once a septic tank is full, it stays full. When 10 gallons is sent into the full tank, 10 gallons should discharge to the drainfield.
WHAT IS A DRAINFIELD?
A drainfield is the final disposal area. It usually consists of stone and perforated pipe with sand below it. The water, called effluent, from the septic tank enters the perforated pipe and discharges down into the stone and the sand below the stone. Aerobic bacteria (bacteria which require air to function) perform the work in this system. Furthermore, grass growth encourages transpiration (uptake of water from roots). Sunlight provides evaporation. As a system ages a biomat is formed. This is what eventually fails the system. It is a black, slimy substance often called sludge. When these form, the aerobic bacteria can no longer perform their job and the system can no longer function properly. Fortunately, this develops slowly.
WHAT IS A SEPTIC TANK PUMP CARD AND WHERE CAN I GET ONE?
A pump card is a sheet of paper the septic tank pumper provides. Most of the septic tank pumpers have a form that they use and we accept. However, this company does have one we can supply the pumper if necessary. This paper is essentially written confirmation from the pumper that there were no observed problems with the septic tank/s and it confirms the size of the tank. The paper also generally includes a drawing locating the tank/s.
WHY IS A SEPTIC TANK PUMP CARD NECESSARY?
The septic tank/s are an integral part of the septic system. The only time the tank can be properly inspected is when it is empty; therefore, the pumper does this. A lot of information is available with regard to the tank when it is empty only. Information such as: size of tank; is the tank in good condition, structurally; is the outlet baffle in place; was there flow back from the drainfield; and is the lid cracked or in need of replacement? A leaking septic tank can send thousands of gallons of water to the drainfield, and cause premature failure of a system. Since we are not onsite when the tanks are pumped, the pumpers fill out this card and submit the above information.
WHAT HAPPENS IF IT IS DETERMINED THAT MY DRAINFIELD IS IN A STATE OF FAILURE?
Only the local health department is permitted by law to design and issue a permit to replace a septic system. You will be referred to your local health department to apply for a replacement septic permit.
WHAT DIFFERENCE DOES IT MAKE IF THE CLEAR WATER DISCHARGE, SUCH AS A WATER SOFTENER OR A SUMP PUMP IS DISCHARGING TO THE SEPTIC SYSTEM?
A septic system is sized to handle the average amount of sewage produced in a home. It is NOT sized to handle any more water than that. Excessive water, which does not require treatment, is a waste of the system. Furthermore, water softener regeneration may be high in salt content. This can kill the bacteria in the septic tank, rendering its function to very little. Sump pump water can be excessive and overload the system, leading to premature failure. These two types of water are considered clear water and do not require treatment. It is best to save the septic system for water which DOES require treatment.
WHY ARE GARBAGE DISPOSALS NOT RECOMMENDED?
Garbage disposals grind organic material up and send them to the septic system. This will increase the frequency the septic tanks will require cleaning. Furthermore, the solids may not settle to the bottom of the septic tank, as they should, and may be sent to the drainfield, where they will accelerate the aging of the system, possibly leading to premature failure.
SHOULD I PUT SEPTIC TANK ADDITIVES INTO MY SEPTIC SYSTEM?
NO. Your body will provide all the “enzymes and bacteria” necessary for the system. These chemicals should be considered a waste of money. Root additives may be particularly dangerous. If you have roots growing into your septic tank, your tank requires replacement and that is all there is to it, as the integrity of the tank is now inadequate.
SHOULD TREES BE OVER OR NEAR THE SEPTIC SYSTEM?
No, especially trees and shrubs with aggressive root systems, such as fruit or flower bearing trees/shrubs. These roots may inundate the system, especially on seasonal locations where the vegetation is used to getting water, when the water supply stops, the roots may get into the pipes of the drainfield, or the septic tank and ruin the integrity of the system.
WHAT SHOULD I DO IF I WANT TO REMOVE A TREE OR SHRUB THAT IS OVER THE SYSTEM?
Wait for a dry season when surface water is minimal. Cut the tree/shrub down, but do NOT PULL THE STUMP. If the roots are in the drainfield, pulling the stump may do more damage as it could remove or unlevel a portion of the system, leading to failure. Leave the roots intact. It is ok to grind the stump down, but do not drive anything heavier than an average lawn tractor over the system – ever.
HOW LONG WILL A DRAINFIELD LAST?
While this is a very good question, there is NO good answer. We have seen systems last less than 5 years and more than 50. The key to the function of a system is based on the following:
• Proper design in the beginning
• Proper construction techniques at the time of installation (which cannot be determined after the system is in)
• Proper use once it is installed (fixing leaks, removing clear water discharge i.e. water softener and sump pumps)
• Proper maintenance (see tips to help the system last longer)
• Proper drainage (do not divert run off over the system)
When properly used, a properly designed and installed drainfield in normal conditions should last well over 20 years. (This is based on what we have seen in these private inspections.)
WHAT CAN I DO TO HELP MY SEPTIC SYSTEM LAST LONGER?
There are several actions which can be taken:
• DO get the tank/s pumped every 3-5 years
• Do NOT flush anything unnecessary into the system. i.e. sanitary napkins, condoms, oil, excessive grease, paints, paint thinner, excessive amounts of chemicals
• do NOT use septic tank additives
• do NOT run automatic sprinklers over the system
• do NOT cover the system with excessive landscaping which will result in more than 24 inches of cover over the drainfield
• do NOT drive over any portion of the system with anything heavier than an average lawn tractor
• do NOT plant trees/shrubs over the system
• do NOT put cement, such as basketball or tennis courts over the system
• do NOT park over the system
• do NOT build a building or deck over the system (if a deck is over the septic tank, be sure there is an access port for pumping and servicing)
• do NOT send water softener regeneration into the septic system
• DO install an effluent filter
• DO provide adequate grass growth over the system
• DO fix leaking fixtures ASAP
WILL THIS INSPECTION DAMAGE MY PROPERTY?
The inspection requires digging at least one hole to augur. Here at Kathleen Hill, R.S., we do our best to replace the area with the grass removed so you cannot tell where the hole was created. The evaluation requires the use of a soil probe to find the system and confirm its size. When underground, automatic sprinklers are present, the probe is used as little as possible. However, it is possible that the sprinkler line could be damaged. Kathleen Hill, R.S., will not know if the line has been damaged, nor are we responsible for any damage to lines which are not located and clearly marked by the homeowner.
WHAT IF I HAVE BACTERIA IN MY WELL WATER?
Provided it is Coliform bacteria, and not E. Coli, it is not a big problem. (NOTE: I have had only one sample in 12 years with E. Coli detected.) Provided the well is properly constructed, the first action is to simply flush the water for anywhere from 4 to 24 hours, depending on the homeowners willingness. Once the water is flushed, 90% of resampling results come back with the problem being solved – this is especially true with vacant homes. In the event that flushing the system is not effective, we move to superficial chlorination. It is recommended that this be performed by a well driller; however, the homeowner can attempt it if desired. This takes care of over 99% of the problem. Very rarely, bulk chlorination is required. I have run into this only one time in 12 years on an existing well (it is more frequent on newly constructed wells).
WHAT IF I HAVE NITRATES IN MY WELL?
Nitrates are a problem because they prevent oxygen from binding with the blood. In essence, one can suffocate from the inside. Just as it sounds, this is a serious public health threat. They are of primary concern for infants under 6 months of age; the elderly; and those with immune disorders. The only true correction for high nitrates is to drill a new well, in an uncontaminated aquifer. However, if the well is properly constructed, a reverse osmosis water treatment unit will bring nitrate levels down to undetectable measures. While it is not recommended, these units do bring homes with high nitrates into compliance with FHA requirements. NOTE: Water with high nitrates CAN be used for all other uses different than consumption (i.e. bathing, dishes, watering, etc).
WHERE DO NITRATES COME FROM?
Nitrates are usually traced back to the land being used for livestock. The waste from these animals is highly concentrated with nitrates. Generally, a clay layer below ground will suspend the nitrates and protect the water supplies below. As landscaping is more and more popular, high nitrates in wells are being found when the fertilizer is spread all over, including by the wellhead.
DO YOU COLLECT ANY OTHER WATER SAMPLES?
Coliform, E.Coli, nitrate and nitrite are included in the cost of the standard well inspection. Kathleen Hill will collect any water samples requested provided there is an accredited lab to do the analysis. This includes, but is not limited to LEAD, ARSENIC, FORMALDEHYDE, VOC’s, and more. The cost of this service is directly related to the analysis cost, which varies by item analyzed.
IS LEAD WATER TESTING RECOMMENDED?
Not by this company or most local health departments. Lead water tests evaluate lead in the plumbing, which is practically non existent in newer homes. Unfortunately, FHA rules require a lead water test. In order to be performed appropriately, the test should be what is called first draw. The water must sit in contact with the pipes for at least 6 hours prior to collecting the sample. Therefore, this test is not evaluating the well, but rather the water from the pipes, which should be lead free. We have only encountered elevated lead results a couple of times, when the home had galvanized water, and had been vacant with no water used in excess of a month. Standard procedure is to have the water in the home run for an hour or two and a second lead test taken the next day. In every instance we have encountered, this has taken care of the problem.
THEY FOUND RADON IN MY HOME, SHOULD I GET THE WATER TESTED FOR RADON?
NO. Radon has not been an issue in ground water, regardless of the radon levels in the home. The two are not related, mostly due to the inherent nature of radon as a noble gas. For more, nonbiased information regarding Radon, contact Sue Hendershot at MDEQ at (800) 723-6642 or email to: DEQ-WHMD-Radon@michigan.gov .
IS PUMP CAPACITY AND WATER PRESSURE THE SAME THING?
No. Pump capacity is the amount of water the well pump can produce in one minute. You can have low water pressure, but satisfactory pump capacity. We do not quantify water pressure as it is a function of plumbing, not the well. Pump capacity is a function of the well system and is therefore evaluated when a submersible pump is not present.
DO YOU ACCEPT CREDIT CARD PAYMENTS?
At this time, no.