The cold weather we’re experiencing combined with a lack of snow is creating problems for some septic systems. Individual sewage treatment systems are freezing without the snow to blanket the septic. A snow blanket insulates the system to prevent it from freezing.
Until more snow falls, or the temperatures get warmer, here are some things that can be done to help prevent freezing of septic systems:
- Add a layer of mulch (8- to 12-inches) over the pipes, tank and soil treatment area to provide insulation. A mulch of loose hay or straw works well, as do leaves. The key is to keep it loose to form air pockets, which act as the insulators. This is particularly important if your system is new, and vegetative cover has not been well established.
- Stop mowing the grass over the drain field in early fall. Let it grow stronger to trap more snow.
- Use normal amounts of water; the warmer the better. Spread out your laundry schedule to one warm/hot load per day, year round.
- Don’t leave water running all the time to prevent freezing. A slow trickle could freeze, while a steady stream could overload the system with water.
- Don’t add antifreeze to the system.
- If you plan to be gone for more than a day or two, plan accordingly. Have someone visit and use water regularly. If you are going to be gone for an extended period (weeks or months), pumping the tank before leaving may be the best option.
- Reroute the drip water from your furnace. This slow drip can freeze in the pipes. Route this clean water into the sump or a bucket.
- Fix any leaky plumbing. The small trickles of water going into the system can freeze as thin ice layers within pipes, and eventually close them.
- Keep all vehicles (including ATVs and snowmobiles) and high-traffic people activities off the system, all year.
- Make sure all risers, inspection pipes and manholes have tight covers. Adding insulation is a good idea. Check for any cracks in the covers in the fall.
- Keep an eye on your system. If any seeping or ponding occurs, contact an onsite professional.
If the septic system freezes, call an onsite professional. Pumpers and installers use steamers and high-pressure jetters to unfreeze the system piping, or they add heat tape or tank heaters. Cameras can be sent down the pipes to determine where the freezing is occurring and if repairs are needed. If the soil treatment system is full of ice, or there is evidence of leaking, there is no need to thaw the lines, as it cannot accept liquid until the area is thawed in spring.
There are many misconceptions about how to deal with a frozen onsite system.
- Do NOT add antifreeze, salt or a septic system additive into the system.
- Do NOT pump sewage onto the ground surface.
- Do NOT start a fire over the system to attempt to thaw it out.
- Do NOT run water continually to try to unfreeze system.
For more information, see the University of Minnesota Extension onsite sewage program website, septic.umn.edu, or contact Stearns County Environmental Services at 320-656-3613 or 1-800-450-0852.