Choosing a Septic Inspector in BC

Tank cameras are required equipment when choosing a septic inspector

Choosing a Septic Inspector in British Columbia can be a confusing process. While an individual must demonstrate competency through training and experience to be registered as a septic system Planner, Installer or Maintenance Provider to comply with the BC Sewerage System Regulation, there is no requirement to be registered to offer inspection services. This means anyone can claim to do inspections and there is no assurance of even the most basic standards being met unless they are a Private Inspector registered through the Applied Science Technologists & Technicians of BC (ASTTBC).

Tank Cleaners  –  Some tank cleaning services offer what they claim are “inspections”, but these tend to be little more than a quick look inside the septic tank after they pump it out, then a walk around the suspected field. Simple, quick, for a minor fee, with no report, photos or other documentation, and typically use disclaimers that they are not liable for what they tell you. They are also not regulated under a professional association with a Code of Ethics to hold them accountable. They make money pumping tanks and this is a quick way to get a homeowner to use them for many years to come. If they can also charge for an “inspection” or selling enzyme products, even better.

Home Inspectors  –  There are also a few home inspectors offering to inspect septic systems, but the vast majority keep clear and focus on what they know best – homes and buildings. Taking a short on-line course from the U.S.A. covering generic concepts of septic systems has already made one home inspector in the Lower Mainland look a little foolish. Regulations in B.C. have been in place since 1917 and not knowing the different standards and requirements over the years puts anyone offering such services at risk of missing many, many problems that can occur in these systems. Besides current and past standards, a solid understanding of soils, planning, installation and maintenance is needed as a foundation for doing this work.

The photograph above is from a tank video camera used to examine the interior of tanks, chambers and similar components in a safe, thorough and efficient way. Pipe, tank, thermal imaging, high-definition and other types of cameras are just some of the equipment used by experienced registered Private Inspectors. Combined with ultrasonic flow monitoring equipment, state-of-the-art electronic locating equipment (active and passive), and a host of many other special technical devices are what sets the ROWP Private Inspector apart from the backhoe/contractor/tank cleaner and other dabblers in this industry.

It takes more than a shovel to do the job and if they don’t use the proper tools, they will miss significant problems that can develop in different ways for different types, styles and ages of systems, with variations unique to different regions of the province. It also takes more than 20 minutes as well. In fact, expect 3 to 6 hours to locate, safely expose, examine, test, document and restore the site. Then another hour or two to write a report with photos. Just putting “all good” or “working great” onto the invoice is not a report.

Technical Specialists  –  The Applied Science Technologists & Technicians of BC (ASTTBC) is a professional association responsible for registering technical specialists known as Registered Onsite Wastewater Practitioners, or ROWPs for short. These people work as septic system Planners, Installers, Maintenance Providers and Private Inspectors. In fact, they separate the inspectors into categories for either residential type sewage systems (PIR designation) and another for the more complex commercial/institutional systems (PIC designation).

Since 2006, ASTTBC also set out the practice standards and Guidelines for Inspection which are the most thorough found anywhere in North America. Truly created with consumer protection in mind. They also restrict the practice of inspecting to those ROWPs who hold the Private Inspector designation because of the unique, advanced knowledge and skills associated to this work.

If you are not sure that the person offering to do an inspection is truly qualified to do the work, go to the ASTTBC website link above and check if the name and designation is listed.  If they are a member of this professional association, and do hold the PIR or PIC designation, you are a step closer to finding capable people to do the inspection.


Questions to Ask When Choosing a Septic Inspector in BC

While we would like to suggest that all registered Private Inspectors follow ASTTBC standards, we are aware that is not always the case. Use the following list to help you chose between them.

  1. Confirm the ROWP Private Inspector is registered in good standing with ASTTBC.  If they are not on the website list, they are not a member.
  2. Ask how long it typically takes to complete an inspection and how long before the report is ready. Be suspicious if it is very quick.
  3. Ask if they are familiar with and will be using the current version of the ASTTBC Inspection Guideline.
  4. Ask if they have, and will use electronic pipe locating equipment, pipe and tank video camera equipment.
  5. Some Private Inspectors do not include pipe camera or other basic equipment use in their quoted prices, then charge “extra” as if it was a surprise.  Ask for a list of any extras, because this equipment is necessary for a proper inspection.
  6. Ask them to describe the report you will be given at the conclusion of the inspection.  It should be more than a few pages in length and must have their Private Inspector stamp and signature affixed to it.
  7. Ask if they will include photographs taken during the inspection in their report. Confirm they will be large enough to be properly visible rather than thumbnails.
  8. Ask if you are allowed to observe the inspection. The Inspector should be happy to allow this since transparency in the process is expected.
  9. Ask if they have and will refer to a copy of the provincial regulations going back to 1917.  Many systems are older, and they must be inspected against the regulation in place at the time they were constructed. If they don’t have a copy of these regulations, they can’t do the job properly.
  10. When phoning around, ask if the business has a ROWP Private Inspector or do they subcontract to another party.  Some ROWPs operate their business like general contractors but sub out the work to others without telling you.

For more information regarding choosing a septic inspector, such as red flags  in their responses to your questions, check out this post.

Red Flags When Choosing a Septic Inspector in BC

As previously discussed in this post, the safest individual to hire to carry out a septic inspection in BC is a ROWP Private Inspector. However, you should be aware of the following red flags when choosing a septic inspector.

  1. The Inspector doesn’t want anyone to watch the inspection.  A legitimate and competent Inspector should be happy to answer questions and be observed during an inspection.
  2. The Inspector is available to carry out an inspection on very short notice, like tomorrow.  Good Inspectors typically have a waitlist, and even if a day becomes available through a cancellation, it takes time to request and receive permits and other records.
  3. An Inspector willing to take on an inspection with little notice also cannot request records on file through BCOneCall. You can’t even dig a fence post hole legally without requesting this paperwork.
  4. Any hint that they do multiple full inspections per day is a red flag.  A proper residential inspection can take 3-6 hours in the field with another 1-2 hours in the office preparing the report with supporting photos.  For commercial or institutional systems, the size and complexity can range from several days to more than a week to complete.  There is no means to predict how long the work will take in advance since conditions can vary widely which is why a price range for inspections should be expected.
  5. The Inspector does not request all of the permit/Filing records, maintenance records, land title, and other documents for the site prior to starting the inspection.  In some cases it may not be possible or practical to get the records, but they can be critical to identifying certain issues and an Inspector who doesn’t make the request is likely to miss things simply to take the job and your money. See more here .
  6. The Inspector refuses to provide you with a copy of photographs taken during the inspection.  They are required to document the inspection with photographs, so if they won’t provide them, that suggests their inspection was not complete.
  7. They are evasive when asked if they are familiar with and follow the ASTTBC Inspection Guideline.
  8. They are evasive or noncommittal when asked if tank and pipe video camera work is standard and included in the quoted price.  It is a necessity, not an extra.
  9. They are evasive or noncommittal regarding whether or not they use electronic locating equipment.  This is also necessary for a proper inspection.
  10. The quoted cost is unusually cheap or expensive.  This work takes time, can be labour intensive, requires significant experience and equipment so it can’t be done properly for a few hundreds bucks.  If their price seems oddly high, ask what exactly is included as high cost isn’t a guarantee of quality in this industry.
  11. The company owner or an employee is a registered Private Inspector, but they won’t confirm that the person who will actually be working at the site is a Private Inspector.  Private Inspectors must provide direct supervision of any non-registered employee or contractor.
  12. They have unusually restrictive “out” clauses, where they state they cannot be held liable or responsible for the accuracy or completeness of their work.
  13. They are evasive or noncommittal regarding whether they have and use historical British Columbia regulations going back at least to the 1960s.  Without these, they cannot compare the system against the standards in place when they were installed.
  14. They are quick to offer their other services, such as Planning, Installation or Maintenance.  Some individuals use inspections as a ruse to up-sell expensive, often unnecessary, services. They should be there to inspect, and only inspect, so their results can be trusted.
red flags when choosing a septic inspector
Without a pipe video camera, you would never know this septic system pipe was clogged and damaged. No pipe camera is a red flag when choosing a septic inspector.

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