Tips to prevent frozen systems

Tips to prevent frozen systems

Unfortunately, it’s just like last year: Lack of snow and cold temperatures are causing some septic systems to freeze. But you can take some precautions to avoid the problem, says Ken Olson, an educator with the University of Minnesota Extension Service.

“Not many septic systems have frozen yet,” Olson says. But if your system has frozen, Olson says you should contact a professional sewage pumper or installer who can help determine the cause of the problem and offer solutions. The U of M Onsite Sewage Program Web site at has detailed information on septic system freezing problems. It can also help you locate a professional in your area.

Many pumpers and installers have “steamers” and “high-pressure jetters” to unfreeze system piping. “Unless the cause of freezing is corrected, the piping will re-freeze,” Olson says.

There are many things you can do to reduce the chances of your system freezing yet this winter. Here are some precautions if you’ve had a problem or are concerned about having one. It’s not necessary to do all of these, but pick and choose based on your situation:

Add a layer of mulch (8-12 inches) over the pipes, tank and soil treatment area to provide insulation. A mulch of loose, fluffy hay or straw works well.
Use normal amounts of water; the warmer the better! If freezing is a concern, increasing water use from low to normal (normal is 50 to 75 gallons per person per day) can help the system. This includes spreading out your laundry schedule to possibly one warm/hot load per day, using your dishwasher and taking a hot bath. DO NOT leave water running all the time, as this will hydraulically overload the system. Also, DO NOT add antifreeze to the system.
If you know you are going to be gone for more than a couple of days, plan accordingly. This could include having someone visit and use sufficient quantities of water in the home 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.
Fix any leaky plumbing fixtures or appliances in your home. This will help prevent freezing problems and help your system work better year-round. If you have a high-efficiency furnace that trickles water into a drain, collect the water in a large container and empty it periodically.
Keep all types of vehicles–including ATV’s and snowmobiles–and high-traffic people activities off of the system. This is a good rule to follow year-round.
Make sure all risers, inspection pipes and manholes have covers on them. Sealing them and adding insulation is a good idea.
Keep an eye on your system. If any seeping or ponding occurs, contact an onsite professional to help determine the cause and remedy. For more information, talk to your septic contractor or check the U of M septic Web site.

Source:     Ken Olson (800) 657-3516 or (507) 280-2872,
Editor:      Jack Sperbeck (612) 625-1794,