Septic Systems: What You Need To Know

Tell–tale signs of a malfunctioning sewage system: 1.      Slow draining of toilet flush or backup;

2.      Soggy patches or effluent ponding on your lawn in the drainfield area and, in some case,s foul smell;

3.      Deteriorated concrete tank, rusted steel tank, and leaking;

4.      Effluent breaking through the sides of a drainfield onto the surrounding surface of the ground.


On-Site Sewage Systems Maintenance Inspections (aka: Ontario Septic Re-inspections)

The Ontario Building Code was amended on January 1, 2010 through Ontario Regulation 315/10 to establish mandatory on-site sewage system maintenance inspection programs to be administered by principal authorities (i.e., municipalities, boards of health and/or conservation authorities) in certain areas of the province which are to be repeated every 5 years thereafter.

Septic systems located in “Vulnerable areas” such as in source protection high risk and sensitive areas such as within 100 meters from lakes, permanent rivers, creeks, watershed, wells, ponds and densely populated will be subject to re-inspection program. These inspection are only meant to verify that your septic system is operating safely and not harming the environment by discharging untreated sewage and pollute the groundwater aquifers.

Ontario Regulation 315/10 Mandatory on-site sewage system maintenance Inspection program

Municipalities or local authorities implementing the inspection program follow these steps:

First, available City records are reviewed and properties in the study area divided into 3 to 4 categories, based on their risk, to prioritize inspections;

·       High risk – these systems have no permit records on file at the local authority, or are system older than 20 years, or system that have received complaints,

·       Medium risk – these include systems which are between 10 – 20 years old;

·       Low risk – these systems are between 5-10 years old;

A program notification letter is sent to owners informing them that inspections are about to start and, in some cases, requiring them to provide background information about their systems.

Public Information Centres are organized to provide owners with the most up-to-date inspection information and scheduling.

Inspections start with a visual or walk-around observing the system’s components (non-intrusive) - if no concerns are identified, the inspector will assign a passing grade to the system.

However, if problems are found more detailed investigations, likely intrusive, will follow to provide a more thorough assessment.  The inspector will provide the homeowner with deficiencies list and inform them who to contact to remedy the system.

What should a homeowner do to get ready for an inspection?

1.      If you have received an inspection notification, start by getting to know where your septic system components are located including the tank and its cleanout hatch(s), and the drainfield;

2.      Check the drainfield for any soggy spots or effluent ponding especially during heavy use;

3.      Prepare a layout for your septic system components if you do not have a copy of the building permit layout;

4.      Ask your septic tank sewage hauler if observed any higher than normal sewage levels in the tank, if pumped lately;

5.      Save your septic tank pump outs receipts;

6.      If you know that your system is exhibiting signs of failure (toilet backup, soggy spots on your lawn in the area of the drainfield) call an engineering firm to complete an audit of your system and recommend improvements to bring it up to standard, most of the time it takes replacing failing or adding a new component improves treatment level, problem solved.

A word of caution...

Some homeowners have been asked to upgrade every component in their system to meet Ontario Building Code (OBC) requirements, which is unnecessary.  Some systems may only need  a new component introduced into the treatment train to meet requirements.  Others may only need replacement of the septic tank or the drainfield if showing signs of failure.  Of course, there will be systems that total replacement would be the most viable option.  An inspection carried out by professional accredited by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing  will tell you what exactly to change, repair, or replace to meet the OBC requirements – thereby saving you money.

Taking a proactive approach will save you money and get you a better solution, especially if system is old, failing, or if a foul smell is emanating from the drainfield.

Information provided courtesy of  ESS Inc.  Water and Wastewater treatment and recycling systems