The UK network of building surveyors and structural engineers providing reports

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Cesspools and Septic Tanks

Cess Pools or Septic Tanks are usually found at rural properties that are located a long way from a public sewer network.

Cesspools (sometimes called Cesspits) are simply holding tanks for the waste water. They need to be emptied regularly, perhaps every month. Typically they were never designed for, and cannot cope with modern life which demands washing machines, dishwashers, and daily baths / showers. It is not unusual to find cesspools which leak - this may be due to age, or deliberate damage inflicted in order to reduce frequency (and cost) of emptying. A leaking cesspool which comes to the notice of the local authorities or Environment Agency will be subject to an order to be repaired or replaced.

Septic tanks provide simple, two stage treatment of waste water or sewage before it is discharged. Waste water passes into the first chamber where the solids settle and are digested by anaerobic (without oxygen) bacteria. The liquid passes to a second chamber where aerobic (with oxygen) bacteria clean up the water to a standard which is safe to discharge into the ground. The discharge is usually to a soakage system which comprises an array of buried, shallow, perforated pipes. With older septic tanks the soakage system may well be inadequate or choked. Septic tanks require de-sludging every few years to remove un-digestable solids.

Small treatment plants are unusual but may be found on larger rural properties or very small rural developments. They operate similar to septic tanks but have various means of mechanical assistance to mix the waste water and bacteria together and to oxygenate the aerobic part of the treatment.

With cesspools and septic tanks, other than a quick visual inspection from the outside to gauge the age and likely condition, there is very little that can be readily surveyed or tested without emptying the system and cleaning it out. This is of course an expensive operation and normally would only be undertaken if there were serious concerns regarding the adequacy or integrity of the system. A drainage report would not include this unless specifically instructed.

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