Yes, it is possible for septic tanks to freeze over the winter, especially in climates that drop to particularly freezing temperatures. It can be a serious problem that needs to be addressed immediately by a professional plumber. But it is also preventable.
Let’s break down steps you can take to help avoid a frozen septic tank, and what emergency actions you should take if your septic tank freezes.
How the cold affects your septic system
Cold temperatures can drastically affect the nitrification process, which slows down the rate of flow and mixing within the septic tank. This will cause the sewage to take longer to break down since the microbes slow down in the cold of winter. Waste water is essentially treated by these microbes, which go into a dormant state when temperatures drop to 35 to 39 degrees. The good news is your septic system is underground, where temperatures tend to be 10 to 20 degrees warmer than ambient soil temperatures.
Freezing tends to happen when waste water flowing into a temperature is particularly cold, especially in shallow septic systems or in septic tanks that have a large volume or multiple tanks surrounded by frozen soil.
Get your septic system pumped regularly by a professional plumber
If your septic tank is approaching full levels, you should get it pumped by a professional plumber, ideally before winter. But it is possible to pump your septic tank year round, even in the winter, which will make it less susceptible to freezing. But if the ground freezes, it makes it harder to access the septic tank if there is an emergency.
Protect your septic tank with mulch and snow
You can insulate your septic tank by covering the ground above it with a layer of mulch. Straw, leaves, hay or other loose material works best. It’s also a good idea to allow the grass to grow higher in this area. This will provide extra insulation and keep the cold from reaching too far into the ground to freeze the pipes. Also, never shovel snow away from the top of the septic tank, since the snow provides valuable insulation against freezing.
However, if your septic tank is already freezing, don’t apply the mulch after the fact. This will delay thawing in the spring.
Fix leaking showers and fixtures
Besides wasting water, leaking showers and fixtures can cause tremendous septic problems during the winter. Continual water trickles down the septic system can cause hydraulic overload and reduce the rate at which bacteria break down the organic waste. Heat generation will be reduced, which can lead to freezing. Trickling water can also freeze in the pipes of the septic system.
Make sure all leaky showerheads and faucets are fixed, especially for winter. Contact a plumber to tighten up any leaking fixtures.
Regularly run hot water in your home
If you suspect your septic tank is beginning to freeze, or temperatures have gotten particularly cold, run hot water through your home. Try to schedule laundry so you are running at least one hot cycle per day. Dishwasher cycles and hot showers also help.
Frozen septic tank? What to do
If your septic tank does freeze, your best solution is to call a professional plumber. They can use steamers and high pressure jetters to thaw the pipes. They can also send cameras down your pipes to do an inspection in order to determine where the septic tank is freezing.
Call Plumbers 911!
If you have a frozen septic tank, call Plumbers 911! We are a referral network of expertly trained plumbers that can diagnose the problem and thaw your septic system.
All our plumbers are highly trained, fully vetted and drug tested. They are fully insured and bonded. Call Plumbers 911 to solve your frozen septic system today!