Every winter, as the temperatures dip, thousands of people across the country find themselves dealing with the frustration of a frozen septic tank system. The problem — often caused by a confluence of dry soil conditions, lack of snow cover, and extremely cold air temperatures — can be a real headache for many homeowners. When it comes to preventing your septic tank from freezing this winter, here is what you should know.
Snow Is Your Friend—Not Your Enemy
Many homeowners believe that a thick layer of snow over a septic tank is a cause for concern. In reality, a blanket of snow can actually prevent your septic tank from freezing. That’s because snow, particularly fresh snow, essentially functions as an insulator. For example, 10 inches of fluffy fresh snow that contains somewhere between 5 percent and 10 percent water is roughly equivalent to insulating your septic tank with a half-foot-thick layer of fiberglass insulation that has an R-value of R-18. Any accumulation of fresh snow over a foot will provide your septic tank with significant protection.
The problems start when snow becomes compacted. Therefore, you should make concerted efforts to avoid walking or driving over the snow above your septic tank. The less you compact the snow above your tank, the less the chances of your septic tank freezing.
Keep an Eye Out on Problem Areas
Homeowners commonly encounter problems at the point where the septic tank pipe exits the home (typically from the basement wall). Depending on wind patterns and what side of the house this in on, it may be that the wind blows away the snow along this side of the house, leaving this pipe exposed. This can be a major issue, as it allows frost to seep deep into the soil and puts this pipe at risk of freezing.
The easiest way to deal with problem areas like this is with an insulating material, like straw, hay, or bags of leaves. Put insulating materials at least a foot deep over the problem area to help keep it from freezing. You may also want to consider putting up a snow fence to prevent the snow from blowing away.
The bottom line is that while a frozen septic tank is a major headache, it is relatively easy to prevent. Just make sure that you’ve taken steps to insulate any bare patches of soil and avoid compacting or removing any snow that is above your tank.