Septic Tank Inspections

The national inspection system started in 2013. Its purpose is to protect human health and the environment from the risks from septic tank systems. Local authorities inspect over 1,000 systems each year.

What to expect from an inspection 

Planning and reporting inspections 

What to expect from an Inspection

Inspections of septic tanks and other domestic waste water treatment systems are done by City and County Council staff. They complete a specific training course and are appointed by the EPA. They carry a certificate of appointment and identification which they will show to the homeowner if requested.

Inspections are allocated to each City and County Council under the National Inspection Plan (see below). While they are focused on high risk areas, they are completed in all areas of the country.

Homeowners get at least 10 working days advance notice of the inspection. They do not have to be present but most people prefer to be there so they can hear about any issues. No access to the house itself is required.

Inspections will check that:

  • the system is registered with Protect Our Water;
  • the system is not leaking;
  • waste water is not ponding on the surface;
  • the system is not piped directly to surface water (which requires a license);
  • rainwater or surface water from yards is not entering the system;
  • the system is being properly maintained;
  • the system is been emptied (de-sludged) at appropriate intervals; and
  • the system does not affect human health or the environment.

The inspector will inform the home owner of the results of the inspection:

  • If the system passes, the home owner will be informed in writing afterwards.
  • If the system fails, an advisory notice will be issued to the home owner within 21 days.  It will state the reasons for failure, what works are needed and the deadline to carry out the works.

If the home owner does not agree with the findings, they can request a re-inspection at a cost of €20.

 

Watch our videos on Inspections

Planning & reporting inspections

The EPA coordinates inspections through the National Inspection Plan. Inspections are allocated across the country with the greatest focus on areas where there is the most risk to groundwater, surface water or human health. The system uses the Geodirectory which includes all houses in Ireland, so everyone has a chance of being picked. Priority is given to non-registered systems in high risk areas where possible, so you may have a greater chance of inspection if you do not register. The current plan is the National Inspection Plan 2018 - 2021  and previous plans  are also available.

The EPA provides a national overview of inspection results. The latest report is Domestic Waste Water Treatment Systems – Inspections and Enforcement 2019  and previous years reports are also available.

 

 

Repairing and replacing faulty septic tank systems

Septic tank inspections show that typically half fail with a quarter being a risk to human health or the environment. Many issues can be addressed through simple maintenance and de-sludging. However, in other cases septic tank systems have serious structural problems that require repair or replacement.

Septic tank systems requiring repair or replacement may be identified by City and County Councils through inspections under the National Inspection Plan, River Basin Management Plan work or in investigating complaints. In all these instances, the homeowner will be made aware of the issues by the Council. However, many homeowners will be aware of issues and want to deal with them on their own initiative to ensure they protect the health of their family, the environment and comply with legal requirements.

 

What are the problem signs?

Who to contact?

Guidance & Grants

What standards do I need to meet?

What if I am concerned about my neighbour’s septic tank system?

What should I do if my septic tank system is flooded?

 

What are the problem signs?

These are some of the signs that a septic tank system is not working properly:

  • Slow draining toilets, sinks or drains or backing up of sewage at the inlet.
  • Smell of sewage from the general area of the tank and percolation area.
  • Overflow of waste water from the tank.
  • Ponding in the garden in and around the percolation area.
  • Discoloration of nearby watercourses (greyish slime growths).

If problems are persistent, get a professional to assess the system to determine what repairs or remediation is required.

 

Ponding of septic tank waste water
Waste water from a defective septic tank system going to a drain

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Who to contact?

City and County Councils are the main point of contact for home owners in relation to septic tank systems. They are responsible for:

  • Grants - processing applications and award of grants
  • Inspections - under the National Inspection Plan
  • Catchment assessments – identifying potentially polluting septic tank systems in river and lake catchments (Local Authority Waters Programme Office)
  • Complaints – investigation of complaints related to septic tank systems

Guidance

The EPA has published guidance on the Remediation and replacement of Domestic Waste Water Treatment Systems

Grants

Grants of 85% up to a maximum of €5,000 are available under the following grant schemes:

  • National Inspection Plan: Grants are available to fix septic tank systems that fail inspection by a City or County Council under the National Inspection Plan and need remediation, repair, upgrading or replacement. The homeowner will receive an advisory notice from the Local Authority requiring the system to be fixed. The City or County Council will also handle the grant application.
  • High Status Objective Catchment Areas: Grants are available to fix septic tank systems in these areas that are or may be causing a threat to the environment and need remediation, repair, upgrading or replacement. You can check if you are in these areas by inputting your EIRCODE in a map (see link below) and apply to the City or County Council for the grant.
  • Priority Areas for Action: Grants are available to fix septic tank systems in these areas that are or may be causing a threat to the environment and need remediation, repair, upgrading or replacement. These systems will be identified by the Local Authority Waters Programme Office who will issue a letter confirming eligibility to apply. The homeowner can then apply to the City or County Council for the grant.

Routine maintenance, servicing or de-sludging do not qualify for grants.

Details of Terms & Conditions and the map for High Status Objective Catchment Areas are available from the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government.

Contact your City or County Council Rural Water Section if you require further information or wish to enquire about an application. 

What standards do I need to meet?

Septic tank systems must not be a risk to human health or the environment and must meet the requirements in the Domestic Waste Water Treatment Systems Regulations, S.I. 223 of 2012. The remediation solution should be such that it embraces best practice. Remediation of existing septic tank systems may have regard to the techniques, technologies and solutions set out in the Code of Practice but it is not bound by the full requirements of the code. The waste water professional should demonstrate that the proposed solution will result in protection of human health and the environment. The professional should work with the City or County Council and the homeowner to come up with the cost-effective solution for the site having regard to the requirements to protect human health and the environment.

What if I am concerned about my neighbour’s septic tank system?

If you are concerned about a neighbouring septic tank system and are not in a position to resolve it with them, contact the environment section of your City or County Council. If the system is potentially contaminating your well, contact the local Environmental Health Officer (EHO) also.

Section 70 of the Water Services Act, 2007 gives people the right to complain to the District Court if they are affected by the failure of another person to meet the duty of care requirements of that section.

What should I do if my septic tank system is flooded?

If possible, the system should not be used until flooding subsides below the level of the tank. Do not enter flood waters as manholes may have been dislodged and the flood water will be contaminated. There may also be electrical risks if the system has an electrical supply, e.g. pumps or mechanical packaged plants.

After the flooding subsides, replace any dislodged manhole covers and check the system for any external signs of damage such as settlement, ponding of waste water, overflowing or blocked drains. Many systems will be robust and can be recovered and usable after a flood. If you suspect damage, or if your system relies on electrical parts such as pumps, have the entire system assessed by a professional service engineer. Due to the potential for toxic gases in all septic systems, any servicing, cleaning, repairs, internal damage assessments and emptying/pumping must be carried out by trained and experienced specialists.

Make sure that any nearby private wells are checked and disinfected prior to use by following the EPA advice  for private well owners on what to do after flooding.