Q: There is a drilled well and septic in place on a plot of land I’m interested in, in upstate NY. It had served a home that had since burnt down. Is there a way to test the conditions of these without an existing structure? — Jason
A: Yes, both the existing well and septic can be tested.
A well driller can do the same type of yield test that is done on a new well prior to completing the well system.
He can use the existing pump if it is still functional. Otherwise he can use a temporary pump or compressed air for the yield test, which measures how much water the well can produce for an extended period of time.
The driller or you can also send a water sample to a lab for testing the water quality. Most towns offer this service for a modest fee. Check with the local health department. Standard water tests typically screen for nitrates (evidence of contamination from a septic system), bacteria, and other contaminants as well as pH (acidity).
You can add other tests for hardness, iron, and other minerals that might affect taste or cause plumbing problems, and may want to add specific tests if there are known pollutants in the area.
Septic System Inspection
For a septic system inspection, you should hire a licensed septic system installer, pumper, designer, or service company. The local health department, or whoever handles septic system permits, can usually provide you with names.
A full inspection will cover the septic tank, distribution box, and leach field, as well as the underground connections and any other equipment such as pumps, if used. It will require some minor excavation, which could be an issue for the current owner.
The town may also require a new perc test depending on local regulations and how long the system has been out of use. Again, check with the local health department.
I’m not sure how long the system has been unused, but a long pause can help a clogged system recover due to the natural breakdown of the biomat that forms in the drain field trenches. However, if heavy equipment was brought in for fire-fighting or other work, that could have damaged the tank or underground piping, or the leach field itself by compressing the soil.
A complete inspection, which may cost $500 or more, can tell you if a septic system is working properly at the time of the test, but it can’t tell you how long the system will last.
To estimate the septic system’s remaining lifespan, you will need to know the installation date of the system, how heavily it was used, how frequently it was pumped, and how well it was maintained. Even then, you will be making, at best, an educated guess as there are too many variables to make an accurate prediction. – Steve Bliss, BuildingAdvisor.com
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