ELK RIVER, Minn. (WCCO) — For the better part of 40 years, Dave Hauan’s been installing, pumping and troubleshooting rural septic systems. Because he normally works when the ground isn’t frozen, winters are normally his downtime.
That is unless one like this one rolls around.
“Once they freeze we can steam them open, but they are likely to freeze up again,” said Hauan.
That can happen when there is a lack of protective snow cover. That leaves little insulation over the septic system’s drain field, sending frost deep underground. Hauan sees the most problems with septic systems that aren’t properly built or maintained.
“Most of the time when it freezes, it’s just beyond the tank. The drain field is not taking it as fast as it should so it wants to freeze on you,” he said.
It’s at that point in the underground system where the pipes are shallowest, perhaps just a foot beneath the surface. Covering that particular area with foam insulation, straw or hay bales can help provide the insulation that mother nature has not.
Many homeowners and cabin owners were doing just that in the winter of 2003. That’s when bitter cold temperatures and no snow caused thousands of failures statewide.
“We had a lot of them freezing up and there wasn’t anything we could do. The fact of no snow, bitter cold and frost went down hard and fast,” Hauan said.
When that happens, homeowners quickly learn to conserve water and wait for spring to make repairs. Hauan said the No. 1 rule in the wintertime is to treat the area around your drain field as off limits.
“You’ve got to stay away from it, no snowmobiling, no running across it and not building a skating rink on top of it,” Hauan said.