The Politics of Onsite Septic System Inspections

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In a recent issue of Onsite Installer, an editorial posed this thought: “Don’t think of the onsite industry as an individual sport where you duke it out with the [inspectors]. Think of it as a team sport, where when all parties work together, everyone wins.” 

While it’s a wonderful concept, the fact is many of us, on a daily basis, are duking it out with inspectors over what we consider capricious and arbitrary rulings. 

So how do we even attempt to meet this team sport ideal? 

Septic system inspection procedures and policies vary considerably nationwide. Not only do states differ, but also in many cases, local jurisdictions have different rules and methods in place to review designs and perform field inspections of the work. 

Generally, the inspection process seems logical and straightforward enough. The installer does his work, and then calls an inspector to come see and measure everything and grant a permit to operate. 

Both parties have a copy of the same regulations so they’re both on the same page, right?

This works fine for robots and machines, but the problem with the entire onsite wastewater industry is simple: people are involved. 

Let’s get real 

Regulations written by politicians and administrators at the state level were handed down to the local agency for application and then enforced by inspectors. At the third tier down, however, personal interpretations of the regulations and procedures complicate the structure, making it difficult for installers to understand what the inspector actually wants. 

Additionally, government agencies back inspectors’ decisions and they generally are not liable for damages resulting from the approval of the installation and operation of an onsite system. 

Installers are simply trying to make a living, and in doing so, want to follow the regulations set forth by the states and local agencies. They expect that everyone in the installation process will follow the written regulations in order to properly bid jobs, perform the work accordingly and get an approval to make money and build a profitable business. From an installer’s perspective, there is little room for individual interpretation. 

Additionally, installers believe in an entrepreneurial system where those in authoritative positions, such as inspectors who they rely on for installation approvals, are responsible for their decisions. 

In short, yes we want to work together with the inspectors and we want a win-win situation for homeowners, but the fact is we are two different animals. 

So where are we going to have our meeting of the minds? The common connection, of course — we’re all people and we all want to see the industry succeed. In the next few articles, we’ll explore some of the fascinating dynamics of how to collaborate with inspectors to achieve this common goal. 

About the Author
Frank Aguirre owns Septic Systems Express, a system design and inspection company located in San Antonio, Texas. Contact him at 210/275-7866 or via email at

This article is part of a series on onsite septic inspections:


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