Any way you look at it, it's been an abnormal winter so far - with a (very) noticeable lack of snow cover on the ground.  So far our temperatures haven't been extremely cold, but for sure the single-digit temps that we have experienced haven't been kind to the frost line.

It's that lack of snow cover - at this stage of the season - that has St. Louis County officials urging rural property owners to take the necessary precautions to insulate and protect their septic systems.  A little bit of maintenance now can prevent major - and expensive - problems later this winter.

St. Louis County's Environmental Services Department recommends the following steps that can be taken right now:

  • Add a layer of mulch (8-12 inches preferably) over pipes, tanks, and the soil treatment area.  Hay and straw make excellent mulch material.
  • Use normal amounts of water - the warmer the better.  Spread out laundry schedules to one warm/hot load per day.
  • Don't leave water running to prevent freezing.  A slow trickle could freeze and a steady stream could overload the septic system.
  • If have to be gone from your property for an extended period, enlist the help of someone to visit your home and use hot water regularly.
  • Re-route the drip water from high-efficiency furnaces and heaters.  This slow drip can freeze in the pipes.  Route this clean water into the footing drain sump or into a bucket.
  • Fix any leaky plumbing.  Again, small trickles of water going into the septic system can freeze as thin ice layers, which eventually closes off the pipe.
  • Keep all vehicles (including ATV and snowmobiles) off of the septic system.  It's also a good idea to avoid foot traffic over the system.
  • Make sure all risers, inspection pipes, and manholes have tightly-sealed covers.  Adding insulation to these areas is always a good idea.  Check for cracks.
  • Consider installing a septic system heater.

If you find your septic system frozen or you note seepage or ponding of sewage, immediately contact a licenses ISTS pumper or installer or call the St. Louis County Environmental Services office for more information:  1-800-450-9278.

The county also has septic system maintenance information available on their website.  Click here for details.