Septic Tanks In The Winter Months

We have talked about the importance of septic tank maintenance several times, and this time we’re going to talk about winter weather tips – before and during winter. Before winter, it’s a good idea to have your septic tank cleaned and pumped. Tanks with too much accumulated sludge can possibly cause problems in the winter – and fixing a failed septic system in the cold weather can prove difficult and expensive.

Q. Is it possible for the septic tank or main pipe line to freeze in the winter months?
A. Yes, depending on the depth of the pipe and depth of frost. Snow can insulate the soil, so there’s less chance of freezing if there is snow on the ground. Compacted snow will not insulate as well as uncompacted snow. Driving any equipment over the system will compact the snow and send the frost down deeper into the soil.

Tanks should be cleaned around every three years – but depending on the use in your household it could be yearly (size of your family and if you have a garbage disposal are two things that might factor in). If you’re unsure of the last time your tank was cleaned, you can measure the depth of your tank sludge by wrapping a white terry cloth around a wooden or metal pole (needs to be long enough to reach the bottom of your tank). Slowly push the pole to the bottom of the tank through an inspection pipe or the manhole. Turn the pole slowly three to five resolutions, let it sit for a minute then slowly withdraw it. If the sludge thickness is greater than 12 inches you will need to call your local plumber.

As we’ve said before, this is not something you should do yourself. Cleaning a tank is more than just pumping out liquid. You need a licensed septic specialist to come clean your tank for you. By keeping your septic system clean – it’s actually cheaper than letting it build up because the additives in your septic system are much more effective. We do not advise adding additives without speaking to your local plumber to make sure that you will not accidentally do damage to your septic system.

Back to winter and septic tanks..

As long as our trucks can get to where the tank is – winter pumps are possible. Sometimes this is more costly due to show or ice coverage and trying to reach your septic system. If your tank is filled to capacity, effluent could back up into your pipes and burst if the contents end up freezing. The key is to try and check for this before winter and be vigilant to reduce the amount of water that is being flushed into your tank during the freezing months.

When homes or cabins are unoccupied for long weekends or extended periods of time septic system cannot maintain sufficient temperatures to avoid freezing. Frequent use, warmer water temperatures, and greater water use overall are important in cold temperature stress situations.

Beware of little leaks like a toilet or showerhead leak. These small trickles freeze easy within the pipes and can cause the pipe to freeze solid.

What Should You Do If Your Septic System Freezes

Your first and most important step is to call your septic tank specialist! If you do not correct the cause of the freezing, your system will refreeze next winter as well. Your local Mr. Rooter plumbers are septic tank professionals and can help diagnose where the leak is coming from and help you fix this. If you locate a frozen pipe do NOT use an open flame to try and warm it back up. In case you run to Google and think that you might be able to fix your own frozen septic systems here are a few tips:

  • 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 questions about septic tanks or your plumbing, contact your local Mr. Rooter plumber of Greater Syracuse, NY.