DIY Septic Certifications on the Way for KP Homeowners

Pierce County may someday teach you how to inspect your own septic system. The hope is to increase compliance by lowering costs.


The Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department plans to help homeowners.

Lakebay resident Bob Wilkins wants to do something most people find disgusting, and he wants other people to be able to do it too. He wants to be able to inspect his own septic system. Why and how would he want to do this?

As far back as 2000, Washington State finalized a law to codify septic inspection schedules and standard guidelines for septic safety. The Revised Code of Washington law 43.20.065 reads: “The Legislature finds that properly functioning on-site sewage systems are an important component of the state’s wastewater treatment infrastructure. In order to ensure that on-site sewage systems remain a wastewater treatment option that is economically accessible to a wide sector of the state’s population, it is the intent of the Legislature to ensure that only requirements that are reasonable, appropriately tailored, and necessary are imposed on the installation, operation, maintenance, or repair of on-site sewage systems.”

The health department adopted this legislation by reference. TPCHD septic rules state that the purpose of septic regulation is to eliminate or minimize the potential for public exposure to sewage from on-site sewage systems and to eliminate or minimize adverse effects to the public health that discharges from on-site sewage systems may have on ground and surface waters.

To carry out these intentions for public health, state law and local health departments require septic inspections every one to three years, depending on the type of system involved. This requirement usually involves a property owner engaging the services of a septic inspection and pumping company. Waterfront homes may require yearly inspection. Many other single dwellings, not on a sewer system, will be inspected every three years.

Pierce County has been sending letters to homeowners advising them of the inspection requirement, offering information for septic service companies, and the option for financial assistance for some time. “As more new homes are built and the population increases, some people may be getting notices that previously have not. Increased population density increases the need to have adequate septic,” said Robert Suggs, environmental health specialist for Pierce County. The inspection schedules are rolling out at different times around the county.

Inspection fees vary widely, from about $350 up to $700.

This is the point of contention for Bob Wilkins. “A single person with a three-bedroom home does not need to be inspected every three years. My last pumpout lasted 12 years. I would like to have the option of taking a class to get my own certification (for septic inspection). The class should be an option for those who want it.”

Kitsap County offers an 8-hour class, followed by a one-year probationary training period. There is also a one-time fee of $445, a yearly renewal fee of $145, and a filing fee of $30.

In contrast, Thurston County offers an 8-hour class, with classroom time and fieldwork. Certifications are limited to four specific types of septic systems including conventional gravity, mound, pressure distributor, and Glendon Biofilters. Classes are offered twice a month.

“One of the things we like is the field portion of the training,” said Jane Mountjoy-Venning of the Thurston County Health Department. “We have a septic park where people can see and understand a septic system. It is located behind the building of the health department in Olympia and is available for anyone to visit.”

Thurston County is currently able to offer certificates without charge by using Washington State Department of Health money, which is available to any county to use for public health concerns. Jane said that “several thousands of people have become certified over the years.” Certificates can be revoked if the owner’s system fails to meet the criteria.

Pierce County Councilwoman Robyn Denson said, “I’ve heard from multiple Key Peninsula residents asking about whether the health department could start a self-inspection program for homeowners to be able to comply with the state law of inspections every three years in a more affordable way.”

“Our water quality and protection program is working to develop a septic self-inspection training and inspection program that would protect public health and align with our code,” said Kenny Via in a statement for TPCHD. “We are still in the early phases of development. Some of our important considerations include criteria for completing a self-inspection, funding, data entry, and proper tracking. We know many people in the community are eager for us to implement a program like this. We will continue to share more as we develop the program further.”

“Nothing lasts forever, everything needs maintenance. The cheapest system is the one you have right now,” he said.