Frozen septic?

Discussion in 'Homesteading Questions' started by Hovey Hollow, Dec 12, 2005.

  1. Hovey Hollow

    Hovey Hollow formerly hovey1716

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    We had several days of unusually cold weather. (At least for here) (lows in the single digits-high's around 20*) We have had no rain or moisture to speak of, and no snow cover. We woke up Friday morning with no hot water in the bathroom. After 30-40 mins of messing with the water, running hot water in other parts of the house, etc. the septic tank alarm goes off. Now I admit I know very little about our septic system. The previous owner told us the alarm goes off when the tank is half full. It was pumped shortly before we bought the house a year ago. I'm not even really sure where it is laid out in the yard, what of the little sticky up thingy's in the yard are septic and which are well, etc.
    Since money is real tight right now, til after Christmas we went on a water saving champain, and planned on getting system pumped in Jan. I used buckets to bail out the bathtub after showers, buckets to catch laundry water (wish we had a grey-water system, but we don't) and not flushing the toilet unless it REALLY needed it. The temps got into the 50's Saturday and about 4pm the tank alarm light went off. We resumed normal water usage and the alarm has not gone off again.
    Was something in the tank frozen? We didn't have anything back up into the house, just the tank alarm going off. I know that there are septic tanks in much colder climates than ours, so it seems odd that it would freeze, but I did read somewhere online that low moisture and no snow cover can cause a tank to freeze. Is there something we can do to prevent this in the future? We don't get super cold temps very often and we rarely get snow. Should I still plan on getting tank pumped out in Jan or should it last longer than a year? When we do get tank pumped I want them to give me a good lesson in septic systems.
     
  2. Hammer4

    Hammer4 Well-Known Member

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    If your alarm is in the tank itself, then most likely the "out" pipe from the tank leading to your leach field ( where the fluid from the tank disperses and is absorbed into the ground ) was frozen, or the leach field itself was.

    This most likely was caused by the freezing weather you had, but it's also a sign that the out pipe or leach field itself isn't buried deep enough to prevent freezing.

    Where do you live? Different areas have different degrees of frost penetration of the ground.

    One other thing to check is if any of those fittings you have sticking up aren't capped, or maybe the dirt has eroded around them and allowing the cold air to reach them, that might contribute to a spot that would freeze up. Take a look at all of them, one is probably the pump out tube for the septic tank, its most likely a pvc pipe 3 or 4 inches across. There will most likely be capped pvc pipe at each end of your leach field, those are most likely 2 inch or so and have screw in plugs.

    How many folks are in your household? We have a septic tank but our out pipe goes to an above ground evaporation pond ( standard around here for new installs ) and we haven't had ours pumped since we moved in 3 years ago. A properly working system shouldn't need to be pumped at all, even though you can have it pumped occasionally to clean out the debris that the bacteria can't break down ( childrens toys, buttons, whatever ).
     

  3. Hovey Hollow

    Hovey Hollow formerly hovey1716

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    We live in Central Oklahoma. We live right on that line (I-35-I-40 junction)where we catch the edge of most weather systems. They usually catch more snow and cold just north of us.
    Winter is usually a range from the 30's to the 50's, with occaisional excursions into the 20's and 60's, even sometimes 70's. It is unusual for ponds to freeze over (but they did last week!)
    There are four of us in the house. I usually do a load or two of laundry every day. I figure dirt and lint from clothes and dirt from dirty kids and dogs getting bath etc will have to be pumped occaisionally.
     
  4. Cabin Fever

    Cabin Fever Life NRA Member since 1976 Supporter

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    I'm reasonably sure that nothing was frozen. The alarm is likely in your pump tank which is in a compartment in your septic tank or in a separate tank after the septic tank. The alarm went off because water was getting too high in the pump tank...too high for the pump to handle, that is. In other words, you were discharging water to the system faster than the pump could pump it out. It took the pump until 4PM Saturday to pump all of the flow that you generated on Friday.
     
  5. ~Misha

    ~Misha Live life to it's fullest

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    I'm going to agree with Cabin Fever. We just had one of these things installed this year. You've got two tanks. One that catches all the solids and then a second (with the pump) that pushes water to the pressurized drain field. If the alarm is screaming, shut it up and put your ear down close to the ground where the tank lid is. You should be able to hear the pump running. If you can't, it might be time to call for service. You should only have to pump the "solids" tank every three years or so.

    If you'd like pics of our system, let me know. I've got a ton of em....
     
  6. Hammer4

    Hammer4 Well-Known Member

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    I still think that cold snap ( we had it up here to ) froze one of the pipes leading out of your tank.

    Once the weather got back to normal the fluids could flow out of the tank and everything was fine.
     
  7. mink

    mink Well-Known Member

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    septic tanks make heat ...the snow melts off the ground here even when its down to 10 degrees. the pipe leading to the tank should have some pitch so id say it didnt freeze either and the leach stays wet enough that that wouldnt freeze....your alarm went off because you had a greater flow than the pump could handle....mink
     
  8. Hovey Hollow

    Hovey Hollow formerly hovey1716

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    I don't think I really ran that much water down the drain that morning though. Yeah, I was running water trying to thaw the pipes, but I don't think it was really much more than a couple of loads of laundry worth, or the whole family's morning showers, etc. It was first thing in the morning, so no one had been running any water, flushing toilets, etc. all night. I have turned the alarm back on and I'll be keeping a close eye on it. It just seems to be a weird coincidence that it happened after a week of record breaking cold weather.
     
  9. caberjim

    caberjim Stableboy III

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    I would be a little concerned. We have the same setup with a septic and a pump tank. Assume this setup - the tank is 20' deep. When the level hits 12 feet, the pump kicks on and drains the tank down to 3 feet. The alarm is set at 15 feet. The pump works fast, so for the water level to rise past 15 feet and not get drained, something would have to be wrong with the pump or the drain. Even dumping a full washer and tub into it all at once would not be enough to jump 3+' so rapidly. The pipes should be more than deep enough not to freeze, espcially since the pipe going from septic to pump tank should be empty most of the time. Assuming you have a pump tank/septic tank setup.

    We had our pump get disconnected and the pump tank filled up 5 feet past where the pump kicked on, plus what was still in the septic tank. In less than half and hour, the pump drained the entire pump tank pluss all the liquid that came out of the septic tank. I'm not sure why yours would take more than 24 hours to pump out - that would bother me.

    Do you know where the pump tank is? Our septic tank is buried, but the pump tank is a foot above ground. I can move the lid and I check it periodically.

    Biggest question is if you are certain it is a pump tank and not just a septic tank.
     
  10. Cabin Fever

    Cabin Fever Life NRA Member since 1976 Supporter

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    The alarm only comes on when the water level is too high in your pumping tank. There could be several different reasons why the water level height could make the alarm go off:
    1. Very high water use
    2. Pump malfunction
    3. Electricity going out
    4. A plug in the line between the pumping station and the drainfield.
    5. A water-logged drainfield.

    In your situation, the could snap may have caused effluent to freeze in the pipe between the pumping station and the drainfield....this is a common problem. In many situations, the pipe from the pumping station is buried only deep enough to prevent physical damage (in other words above the frost level). This pipe HAS to be sloped to drain back to the pumping tank. If the pipe is not sloped, effluent can remain in the pipe and freeze. IN addition, a weep hole (~1/4") should be drilled in the riser pipe coming from the pump so that minimal standing water is in the pipe.

    In your situation, I'm thnking that you had a freeze up in the shallow pipe going from your pump station to your drainfield. This may have been due to an improper slope or plugged weep hole.