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The House Detective: Wasterwater drains into backyard

by Barry Stone, Certified Building Inspector Published: April 19, 2014

DEAR BARRY: We bought our home a few months ago and discovered septic problems as soon as we moved in. The septic tank was replaced less that a year ago, but there is an open pipe that spills water into our backyard. Fortunately it only drains water from the kitchen and laundry.

Nothing was disclosed by the sellers or our home inspector, and the home warranty company says this kind of problem is not covered by the policy. What do you think about this problem, and who is liable for repairs?

— Jennifer

DEAR JENNIFER: What you describe does not appear to be a septic problem. More likely, the wastewater line from the kitchen and laundry was not plumbed to the septic system but was diverted to the yard area.

This is not a legal means of draining wastewater, but is it a common practice because laundry and dishwasher detergents can adversely affect the bacterial culture in a septic tank, preventing decomposition of solid organic waste.

You should have the drainpipe checked by a licensed plumber to see if this is the case. If so, a separate leach field or drainage sump should be installed in the yard to receive the water from this line.

Home warranty companies typically do not cover pre-existing conditions. Therefore, it is not surprising that they denied this claim.

The home inspector would only be liable if there was observable evidence of the problem at the time of the inspection. If the yard areas were inspected first, your inspector would not have noticed the problem when the inside plumbing was tested later. If the home was occupied by the sellers, they should have disclosed this, but they may not have known it was a faulty condition.

The person who installed the septic system should be consulted to determine what was known about this condition at the time of the installation.

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