Can you drive over a septic bed in winter?
How Often Should a Septic Tank Be Pumped?
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), more than one in five U.S. households – typically in rural areas – depends on an individual onsite system or small community cluster system to treat wastewater. With the cost of replacement averaging between $3,000 to $7,000, routine septic system maintenance not only saves homeowners a lot of money but can also help maintain a healthy and safe living environment.
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Septic System Basics
A septic system has two main components, a septic tank, and a drain field:
- The tank is a water-tight concrete, fiberglass, or polyethylene container buried underground and holds solids and scum accumulated from your wastewater.
- The drain field is an area of soil that removes the contaminants from the liquid as it is absorbed into the ground.
Because it is expensive to replace a septic system, proper maintenance is important. The more proactive you are in maintaining your system, the longer it will last. In fact, septic tanks can last as long as 30 years or more.
The main goals of a septic tank maintenance program are to prevent the accumulation of solids, as well as any groundwater contamination. The good news is that septic system maintenance is not complicated, relying on a few basic activities.
Septic Tank Cleaning
Solids and other debris will accumulate and eventually clog the drain pipes that connect the tank to the drain field. That’s why most professionals recommend high-pressure water jetting every five years to eliminate and clear any debris that could prevent your system from operating efficiently.
Using Your Septic System Wisely
After wastewater leaves your septic tank, it flows into the drain field of your septic system. If the drain field becomes inundated either from your system or from outside sources, it can flood, causing a backup.
- Avoid planting gardens and trees too near your drain field
- Never park or drive or drive your car over it
- Direct roof drains sump pumps, and other rainwater drainage systems away from it
In the average single-family home, water use averages about 70 gallons per person, per day. But a leaky or running toilet can waste as much as 200 gallons of water per day, according to EPA. And the less water enters your septic system, the better.
- If you live in a home with a septic system, you can improve its performance by:
- Replacing existing toilets with high-efficiency models
- Using faucet aerators, high-efficiency showerheads, and shower flow restrictors
- Fixing leaking faucets and running toilets
- Keeping rainwater drainage systems away from your drain field
Washing machines are another major area of concern. Selecting the proper load size in your washing machine. If you can’t select load size, run only full loads. And spread laundry tasks throughout the week. Clothes washers with the ENERGY STAR label use 35 percent less energy and 50 percent less water than standard models.
And, with hot tubs, you’ll want to make sure the water has cooled before draining it. And, if possible, drain the water onto other areas of your property, away from your septic tank drain field.
There’s no escaping a basic fact: everything that goes down your drains – whether you flush, pour, or grind (as in your garbage disposal) it – ends up in your septic system. And that affects the health of your septic system.
Toilets are a special temptation for all too many of us. According to EPA, the only things that you should flush down the toilet are human waste and toilet paper. That means no cooking grease, flushable wipes, paper towels, feminine hygiene products, dental floss, diapers, cigarette butts, pharmaceuticals, coffee grounds, paper towels, or cat litter, to name just a few popular items. And especially no household chemicals like gasoline, oil, pesticides, antifreeze, paint, or paint thinners
Also, avoid chemical drain openers for a clogged drain. If a plunger or a drain snake, doesn’t work, call and ask for our drain cleaning service. Even garbage disposals are a problem. Most professionals recommend that houses with septic tanks should limit their use or avoid them entirely.
Septic System Maintenance
Perform Regular Maintenance
To keep your septic system running efficiently, we recommend having a service professional inspect your septic system every year. According to the EPA, household septic systems should be pumped every three to five years.
When you call a septic service provider, he or she will inspect for leaks and examine the scum and sludge layers in your septic tank. Keep those maintenance records including detailed reports on potential or existing leaks, as well as scum levels and possible damage. They will come in handy in creating a regular maintenance schedule.
It’s also important to have the service provider clean or replace your filter whenever you service your system. The filter prevents solids from entering your drain field.
The service provider should note repairs completed and the tank condition in your system’s service report. If other repairs are recommended, hire a repair person soon.
Although Casteel does normal household plumbing problems, it does not service septic tanks. We do, however, handle repairs of sump pumps, which are sometimes confused with septic systems.
To find service professionals in your area, contact the National Onsite Wastewater Recycling Association (NOWRA).
Septic Tank Treatment
You should use live, organic bacteria to break down unnatural substances and solids, like detergents and soaps, that can enter your septic system. These common household substances may kill off naturally occurring bacteria that help your system to function properly. Bacteria additives help keep your pipes clean and clear and allow your system to function properly, without odors.
Pumping a septic system when needed will prevent it from breaking down.
How Often Should A Septic Tank Be Pumped?
For most households, that means septic tanks are typically pumped every three to five years. The main factors determining the frequency of pumping include the size of the household, total wastewater generated, amount of solids present, and tank size.
According to EPA, your tank should be pumped if the top of the scum layer is within 12 inches of the T-shaped outlet preventing sludge and scum from leaving the tank. Systems that have electrical float switches, pumps, or mechanical components need to be inspected more often, usually once a year.
To keep track of when to pump out your tank, write down the sludge and scum levels found by the septic professional. Then get on a regular schedule to prevent solids from accumulating.
Sewer Line Repair and Replacement Services
If your septic system is emitting foul odors, it may mean your system is clogged with solids and is more likely to fail. Sewage can back up into your home if you fail to properly maintain your septic equipment and facilities. If this does happen, avoid contact with the sewage, which could contain harmful pathogens and bad bacteria.
If you are encountering sewer issues in your house, give our team of licensed plumbers a call at (770) 852-8504 to book an appointment. Our staff of local plumbers in Athens, GA and other area offer comprehensive sewer line replacement and sewer line repair services for homes in your neighborhood. In addition, you can find an experienced technician for speciality projects by searching the National Onsite Wastewater Recycling Association’s database of service professionals
Preventing and resolving frozen septic tank problems in winter
The cold temperatures of winter pose a real threat to the residential septic system and plumbing. Failure to prepare your septic system for winter might result in freezing. Apart from the cold weather, there are several other factors that cause frozen septic tank problems in winter. In this article, we will look at some of these factors and what you can do to prevent or recover from a frozen septic tank.
The main causes of frozen septic tank problems in winter
No snow cover
If there is little or no snow cover on the tank, the tank will not be sufficiently insulated from the cold. Snow provides a blanket on the tank and drainfield areas. This insulation is very crucial in the cold of winter because it helps to retain the geothermal heat of the soil layers and that of the septic tank. If your septic tank lacks this snow cover, frost will go deeper into the soil and that might cause the tank to freeze. Do not shovel snow away from your septic tank or your drainfield area.
Compacted soil/ snow
Healthy soil is typically made up of one part of organic matter and mineral particles and one part of pore space. Pore space is what provides room for water and air to circulate in the organic matter and minerals. This provides a perfect environment for microorganisms to thrive. However, when the soil gets compacted, the particles are pressed too tightly together that there is literally no space for air and water to pass through freely. Some soil types, like clay, are naturally compacted but even those soils that are not can easily get compacted due to applying too much pressure e.g. driving heavy machinery over them. Compacting soil or snow during winter can cause the frost to sink deeper into the soil and that can result in a frozen septic tank.
The process of digesting organic waste by anaerobic bacteria helps to ensure the septic tank remains warm. This explains why regular use of the septic system is very important during winter. If your house or cabin will be unoccupied for a long time during winter, the septic system will not receive wastewater and that might cause septic tank problems in winter. The same may be true if there will only be one or two people in the house during winter. If you are planning to be away during winter, you can schedule for pumping before you leave to help prevent the septic tank components from freezing and bursting.
No plant cover
If the septic system is at least a year old, then you probably have planted grass over it. However, if you installed a new septic system late in fall, there is a good chance that winter will come before your grass grows. Vegetation cover also helps to provide insulation during winter and it also helps to hold the snow in place so lack of it might cause the septic tank to freeze.
Leaking showers and fixtures
Apart from wasting gallons of water, a leaking fixture can also result in other septic tank problems in winter. If a shower or one of the fixtures has a leak, it will send trickles of water down the septic system. Usually, wastewater from the house has bacteria and this is good for the septic system. However, clean water does not help in replenishing the septic tank with bacteria. This clean water will cause hydraulic overload and it will reduce the rate at which bacteria break down the organic waste. This means the heat generation will also be reduced and that can be bad for a septic tank during winter because it can make it freeze. Additionally, the trickling water can freeze in the pipes because it is not moving fast enough. Some appliances like humidifiers and high-efficiency furnaces can also result in frozen pipes.
If your septic system appeared waterlogged in the fall, there is a very high probability that the water that was seeping out of the side in a mound will freeze in the cold of winter and this will prevent any more effluent from passing through. To void this, use biological additives to clean out the septic system before winter sets in. These biological additives introduce billions of bacteria and enzymes into the septic system. These microbes digest the organic waste in the septic tank and that helps to unblock the system.
Maintenance tips to avoid frozen septic tank problems in winter
There are a couple of maintenance tips both before and during winter that can help your septic system to function optimally and also to avoid having to deal with the common frozen septic tank problems in winter. Most of these maintenance tips are DIY but some of them, like insulation of the tank, might require the hand of a professional. Let’s look at each of the tips in more detail below.
Winterizing plumbing pipes
Winterizing is the process of preparing your plumbing pipes for the extreme cold of winter to prevent your pipes from bursting as the water freezes and expands in the pipes. Winterizing is a very important maintenance tip if your house will not be occupied during winter. The winterizing process entails draining all water from all pipes and emptying of the water heater. Antifreeze solutions are also usually used for winterizing plumbing fixtures but you shouldn’t use antifreeze if you have a septic tank because it will affect the performance of bacteria in your septic tank. Here are the important steps to follow when winterizing your plumbing pipes.
- Shut off the water valve and then switch off the water heater and water pump. This is an important step because it helps to protect heating elements when there will be no more water in the tank
- Open all taps and drain valves. Use a checklist to ensure all of them are open. It is important to have all taps open because a closed one can create a vacuum that will hold water in the pipes. All valves and taps should remain open throughout the winter season
- Use an air compressor to blow out any excess water out of the pipes
- Open a drain valve in the hot water tank and allow it to discharge until it is completely empty. Because hot water tanks sometimes do not have floor drains, you might have to connect a garden hose.
- Drain all water in the holding tank and especially so the water that might be in the rubber diaphragm.
- Flush your toilets and use a sponge to dry out any water that might be left in the toilet tank.
Avoid snow compaction
As we have already seen, snow compaction can lead to septic tank problems in winter. Even though it is important to have snow over your septic tank, it should not be compacted. Avoid walking, driving or pushing heavy objects or machines over the septic tank because exerting any external pressure will compact the snow over the septic tank. Do not construct any structure over the septic tank for the same reasons.
Inspect the system
It is advisable to inspect the system just before winter sets in. The main purpose of this inspection is to try to locate if there are any faults in the system. Look for cracks or any related faults and also check to ensure the septic tank is not too full. Inspect the drainfield area just to confirm that there is no surfacing effluent or spongy soil. Sometimes, a failing system is not easy to detect manually so you may want to use a more scientific approach. This is where the water tracer tablets from Bio-Sol come in handy. You flush the tablets in your toilet, given it a couple of hours and if you see the green dye on the grass the following day, the septic system if either failed or almost failing. Luckily, you can correct such a problem by adding the septic-safe biological additives. These additives will introduce billions of bacteria and enzymes into the system and they will ultimately clean up the system by digesting the organic waste.
Pump the septic system
If your septic tank is almost due for pumping, schedule a pump just before winter. If the tank gets full during winter, pumping it will be a laborious exercise and companies that do pumping in winter charge extra for the trouble. Pumping the septic tank might also help to prevent freezing of the tank if you will be away from the house the entire winter period. However, before pumping the tank, it is a good idea to try using biological additives because in most cases, that will fix the problem.
Placing a 12-inch layer of straw, leaves, hay or any other mulch material over the tank and pipes can help to provide some extra insulation. You should especially do this if your septic tank is freshly installed and there is no grass over it. Otherwise, just allow grass to grow slightly taller over the septic tank and leachfield and that should be sufficient to hold snow for insulation during winter. If your tank is already frozen, do not put the mulch for insulation because it can interfere with the process of thawing when the temperatures get a little warmer. Adding some insulation materials on all exterior pipes can also help to prevent them from freezing. You may want to consult with a qualified plumber to help you know how best to go about this without dislodging pipes or harming your plumbing. The plumber might recommend replacing your pipes with special insulated ones among other important improvements.
Recovering from septic tank problems in winter is no easy task. For instance, if you need to have the tank pumped in winter, the pumping company has to worry about getting to your home in the snow, then shoveling around to locate where it is in your property before progressing to pump a tank. Then there is the possibility of finding a frozen septic tank which complicates the process even more. This is why you should take the time to prepare your plumbing and your septic tank for winter. By following the tips suggested above, the septic system will run smoothly and you won’t have to worry about the inconveniences and costs of dealing with frozen or failed systems in winter
Protect Your Septic Tank During Winter Months
Your septic system needs an insulating cover or blanket.
The tank cover, pipes and line from the house to the tank are areas that are most vulnerable to the winter cold. You can add a layer of mulch and then some lightly packed snow to protect these are with a natural insulation. The heat maintains a high level of metabolism among the bacteria. If you don’t provide a good snow cover, the frost will go deep into the septic components, eventually freezing the entire system.
Avoid soil compaction.
This is caused by placing heavy vehicles and structures over the septic system. When this happens, the septic underneath freezes more easily, resulting in damaged septic parts and eventually a failed system.
Avoid snow compaction.
When you drive over the septic, you compact the snow and this pushes the snow even deeper into the septic. Always use insulated pipes in your septic so that your septic system will still be insulated, even if you drive over your septic in the winter.
Avoid long intervals of no usage.
Freezing can occur when there are long intervals of no usage so try to avoid this. If your tank is at a cottage that you don’t use during the winter months, ensure that it is properly insulated and drained and that nothing can drive over it such as sleds and vehicles.
Plan your pump schedules before winter and after winter.
If you schedule your septic tank to be drained before the winter, you lessen the risk of accumulated sludge in the septic tank. When the sludge is removed regularly, solid waste particles will not flow into the drain field and clog the entire system.
What should you do if your tank or line freezes?
In the event your septic system does freeze this winter, contact a professional pumper 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.
So remember to contact a professional in the event a component of your septic system freezes up to properly address the problem. If you have any questions at all, please do not hesitate to call us at 705-693-2220