Protecting a septic tank during winter

What Causes Septic System Freezing Problems

Freezing temperatures can cause various components of your septic system to freeze up. The most vulnerable areas of your septic system are the pipes leading from the house into the septic tank. Often leaky water fixtures such as faucets and toilets create a constant low flow of water that can easily freeze up, and overtime block the pipe entirely.

The other components of the septic system that can potentially freeze are: the tank, the pipes leading into the drainfield and the drainfield itself.

Septic systems that are used frequently are less susceptible to freezing because of the constant flowing water. Systems that are not in constant use, or that lay dormant for long periods of time, are more likely to have issues in colder climates.

How to Protect your System from Freeze-ups

Preventing Frost

Using Snow and Mulch to prevent penetrating frost

Mulch and snow cover can protect both pipes and the tank from freezing by acting as an insulating layer that prevents frost from penetrating deep into the ground.  Snow cover is helpful as long as it is not significantly compacted. Snow that has been compacted from vehicle or foot traffic can drive down frost and increase the chances of freezing.

Mulch can be added to the area covering the septic tank and drainfield if snow cover is inconsistent – especially if grass or other vegetation cover is not available. It is always best to limit any traffic on top of the drainfield (vehicular, human or animal). This limits the possibility of shifting or sinking of drainage pipes.

Fix leaks and Drainage Issues

It is important is to attend to any leaky faucets, toilets or other drainage issues before the worst of the winter sets in. This will help you avoid costly problems during the winter while also conserving water.

Frozen Faucet

What to Do If Your System Freezes

In the event your septic system does freeze this winter, contact a professional pumper or installer to identify the point of freezing and correct the problem.  If you can’t immediately fix the issue, the septic tank can be used as a holding tank until it thaws. This is a costly endeavor and is only a short-term solution, but it is sometimes necessary while waiting from the proper equipment or conditions in which to make repairs.

Things you should NOT do:

  • Do not add antifreeze, salt, or additives
  • Do not attempt to start a fire on the ground above where the tank is located
  • Do not continuously run water to try to thaw frozen pipes

By taking the necessary steps to protect your septic system from freezing before the winter sets in you can prevent costly problems. Remember to contact a professional in the event a component of your septic system freezes up to properly address the problem.