Thursday, January 8, 2015

Reduce Chances of Frozen Septic Systems - Part Three

With colder temperatures upon us and little or no snow cover to insulate septic systems, your system may need some help to keep from freezing. “Place a layer of mulch (8-12 inches) over the pipes, tank and soil treatment system to provide extra insulation. This mulch could be straw, leaves, hay or any other loose material that will not compact and will stay in place.”

These tips on keeping your septic system from freezing, are provided by the Crow Wing County Extension Service. This is the last in a series of three articles on the subject, so if  you missed the first two, be sure to check out Tuesday and Wednesday's articles.

What can you do to prevent your septic system from freezing in the future?

Depending on your system, location, and water use, you may never have a freezing problem. However, there are several steps that you can take if you are concerned about your onsite system freezing. Here are some precautions if you have had a past problem or are concerned about having a future problem. It is not necessary to do all of these, but you may pick and choose based on your situation:
1.   Place a layer of mulch (8-12 inches) over the pipes, tank and soil treatment system to provide extra insulation. This mulch could be straw, leaves, hay or any other loose material that will not compact and stay in place. This is particularly important if you have had a new system installed late in the year and no vegetative cover has been established. If your system is currently frozen ignore this step, as it will delay thawing come spring.
2.   Let the grass in your lawn get a little longer in the late summer/fall over the tank and soil treatment area. This will provide extra insulation and help hold any snow that may fall.
3.   Use water; the warmer the better if you feel the system is starting to freeze. The Onsite Sewage Treatment Program is usually an advocate of water conservation, but if freezing is a concern, increasing low use to a normal water use can help the system. This includes spreading out your laundry schedule to possibly doing one warm/hot load per day, using your dishwasher and maybe even taking a hot bath. DO NOT leave water running all the time, as this will hydraulically overload the system.
4.   If you know you are going to be gone for an extended period, plan accordingly. This could include having someone use sufficient quantities of water in the home regularly or pumping out your tank before leaving. If you live in an area with a high water table, you should only pump out the tank if the tank was designed for high water table conditions. If a tank is left full for several winter months, the sewage will get very cold in shallow tanks and can even freeze. If you then return home before temperatures start to rise, the effluent leaving the tank will be cold. By starting with an empty tank, you can then start fresh with warm effluent. If you use a cabin on a limited basis during the winter months, this may be a good idea as well.
5.   Fix any leaky plumbing fixtures or appliances in your home. This will help prevent freezing problems and help your system work better year round.
6.   If you have appliances that generate very low flows such as high efficiency furnaces, you can put a heat tape in the pipe, and while on vacation have someone come by and run warm water for a while. Alternately, you could install a small condensate pump that holds and discharges 2 gallons per cycle.
7.   Keep all types of vehicles and high traffic people activities off of the system. This is a good rule to follow year round.
8.   Make sure all risers; inspections pipes and manholes have covers on them. Sealing them and adding insulation is a good idea. Insulation may be added during construction particularly if the top of the septic tank is within 2 feet or the surface.
9.   Keep an eye on your system. If any seeping or ponding occurs contact an onsite professional to help determine the cause and remedy.
10. Add more insulation to your system. This could include replacing pipe with insulated pipe, adding Styrofoam over septic tanks or adding more soil cover.

     Contributed by David Ellingson a Real Estate professional at RE/MAX Lakes Area Realty in Nisswa. Call our office at 218-963-9554 and talk to David about your Real Estate needs, or email him at for more information!