Winter is coming. If we are lucky, this means our normally dreary surroundings will be transformed into a glittering, winter wonderland. Consequently, if you do get this lucky, there’s a good chance you live where temperatures often drop near or below zero. These temperatures mean that you will want to ensure that your septic system can survive the ordeal. Thankfully, there are several precautions you can take to protect your septic system.
This is easier than it sounds. It does not involve digging up pipes or any large monetary investments. Believe it or not, the elements themselves will help insulate your septic system.
A layer of snow over the tank and pipes will provide good insulation. If snowfall is light, a thick layer of loose mulch or straw will do the trick. Letting your grass grow long over the tank will help catch snow and hold it there. Avoid driving or heavy foot traffic over top of the tank. This will compact the earth and any snow, causing it to lose much of its insulating properties.
This can also be quite simple: use warm water, often. Using hot or warm water will help stave off the chances of the septic system freezing, especially if you spread it out over the day; such as doing a load of laundry, running the dishwasher, hot baths or showers.
Be sure to fix any leaky faucets. A slow, steady drip can cause a thin layer of ice to build up in the inside of pipes, which could eventually result in frozen pipes. While a slow steady drip is a bad idea over a long period of time, so is a strong flow. This won’t freeze, but it can overload the system.
Some high efficiency furnaces create small flows. To keep this from causing a problem, wrap the pipe with heat tape. If you are going to be away from the home for an extended period of time, you will want to have a friend or neighbor come by and run the water for you occasionally.
However, if this is a summer home and you are not staying in it over the winter, you should have the septic system pumped out. A full tank that is not used can potentially freeze during the winter months, seriously harming the tank itself.
What to Avoid
There are a few common mistakes people make in regards to their septic systems, often causing more damage than good. Using antifreeze, for example, will kill off the good bacteria in the tank and sometimes cause the pipes to clog or back up. It also won’t guarantee that the pipes won’t freeze.
If your septic system does freeze, don’t try to fix or thaw it yourself by lighting a fire over top of it, running water continually, or adding more antifreeze or salt. Call a professional.
Repairing or replacing a septic system can be expensive, but if you take a few simple precautionary measures, you can spend your winter enjoying its beauty and not worrying about what harm it might cause.
Photo by Marcus Hansson