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Old 02-03-2013, 01:55 PM   #1
Chaselady
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Default Frozen septic system

Our septic system froze up on us last night. We believe it was due to no snow coverage. Our system is three years old and is designed to pump up to the D box and drain back to the septic tank. The septic line is about 50' in length. It is 4' down and travels under a black top drive for about 20 feet of the 50 feet. Does anyone have any recommendation as to how to prevent water from freezing in the septic line? Is there anything on the market such as electrical heat wiring that could be installed inside the septic pipe that would prevent any water from freezing? Any ideas would be greatly appreciate.
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Old 02-03-2013, 02:53 PM   #2
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There will probably be better suggestions but dumping 3-4 feet of dirt on it may capture enough heat from the earth to thaw those lines out again in a few days. Unfortunatly it may also act as insulation holding the cold in for a while also. I think this will probably me more effective to prevent the problem from happening again rather than fixing it now.

Good luck!

Last edited by Kamper; 02-03-2013 at 07:21 PM. Reason: left out "dirt"
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Old 02-03-2013, 04:35 PM   #3
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There's an old wives tale that says let your faucets DRIP and the pipes won't freeze.

DON'T let your faucets DRIP ...because the Drain Will Freeze between floor level and frost line in the ground. NB
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Old 02-03-2013, 05:29 PM   #4
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Our septic system froze up on us last night. We believe it was due to no snow coverage. Our system is three years old and is designed to pump up to the D box and drain back to the septic tank. The septic line is about 50' in length. It is 4' down and travels under a black top drive for about 20 feet of the 50 feet. Does anyone have any recommendation as to how to prevent water from freezing in the septic line? Is there anything on the market such as electrical heat wiring that could be installed inside the septic pipe that would prevent any water from freezing? Any ideas would be greatly appreciate.
From my experience it probably isn't your septic it is your leach field that froze. There really is no fix that I know of until it thaws.
I was actually waiting to see when this would happen. No snow and cold weather will do this every time.
Good luck.
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Old 02-03-2013, 06:26 PM   #5
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Our septic system froze up on us last night. We believe it was due to no snow coverage. Our system is three years old and is designed to pump up to the D box and drain back to the septic tank. The septic line is about 50' in length. It is 4' down and travels under a black top drive for about 20 feet of the 50 feet. Does anyone have any recommendation as to how to prevent water from freezing in the septic line? Is there anything on the market such as electrical heat wiring that could be installed inside the septic pipe that would prevent any water from freezing? Any ideas would be greatly appreciate.
Can you explain why there is a Distrubution Box before the septic tank. I'm not famiular with that type of system.

It seems to me that having one there would be a good place for it to freeze.
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Old 02-03-2013, 06:33 PM   #6
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Are you sure it is frozen? It couldn't be your pump? Our pump had to be replaced a couple of times. DJ Septic has been great for us.
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Old 02-03-2013, 07:15 PM   #7
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Can you explain why there is a Distrubution Box before the septic tank. I'm not famiular with that type of system.

It seems to me that having one there would be a good place for it to freeze.

Rusty, I don't think she meant the d box was before the tank. As you probably already know, the pipe from the house goes directly to the tank, most tanks in this type of system have a pump chamber built in where theoretically only liquids pass. When the level is high enough the pump activates pumping the liquid to the distribution box that connects to the pipes in the leach field. There is usually a back flow valve in the pump chamber, after the pump, to prevent liquid siphoning out of the distribution box. The valve usually has a weep hole to allow the pipe to the distribution box to slowly empty to help prevent freezing.
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Old 02-03-2013, 07:31 PM   #8
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I find it hard to believe that if your line is four feet deep that it froze. We have not had enough colds weather for that this year IMO regardless of no snow.
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Old 02-03-2013, 07:41 PM   #9
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Rusty, I don't think she meant the d box was before the tank. As you probably already know, the pipe from the house goes directly to the tank, most tanks in this type of system have a pump chamber built in where theoretically only liquids pass. When the level is high enough the pump activates pumping the liquid to the distribution box that connects to the pipes in the leach field. There is usually a back flow valve in the pump chamber, after the pump, to prevent liquid siphoning out of the distribution box. The valve usually has a weep hole to allow the pipe to the distribution box to slowly empty to help prevent freezing.
Thanks ITD, that's probably the system that she has.

However there are Sewage ejector pumps, or sewage grinder pumps that are in the basement of the house and are designed to pump household sewage to the septic tank.

I think if my system froze and was only three years old, then there is a design problem. Septic systems for NH need to be able to handle just about any temperature that nature sends it's way. It doesn't help not to have snow cover, but it still shouldn't freeze if it is actively being used.
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Old 02-03-2013, 08:43 PM   #10
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We have a very similar system and it froze forst year. There are two schools of thought. First is to remove the check valve in the tank at the foot of the uphill pipe. The other is to drill a small hole in it. My father in law had a hole drilled in his when it froze and our check valve was remove, if I remember correctly.
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Old 02-03-2013, 09:08 PM   #11
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Originally Posted by Chaselady View Post
Our septic system froze up on us last night. We believe it was due to no snow coverage. Our system is three years old and is designed to pump up to the D box and drain back to the septic tank. The septic line is about 50' in length. It is 4' down and travels under a black top drive for about 20 feet of the 50 feet. Does anyone have any recommendation as to how to prevent water from freezing in the septic line? Is there anything on the market such as electrical heat wiring that could be installed inside the septic pipe that would prevent any water from freezing? Any ideas would be greatly appreciate.
Contact the person who installed this 3 year old system.
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Old 02-04-2013, 12:45 PM   #12
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Without specific knowledge of where the system is "frozen," we can only speculate as to where the problem is. And, yes, you need to get someone in unless you can diagnose and fix the problem yourself. I can think of a few possibilities.

The weep hole (if there is one) that lets the line from pump/tank to D-box drain slowly back to the tank to protect any part of the line that isn't below frost depth could be plugged with debris, and there is a part of the line that isn't deep enough.

The pump could have failed, but then you ought to get a high level alarm, if your system has an alarm. I don't know if a system this young would be required to have one or not; I'll let others comment. A pump that young should not fail; these things last years.

Your D-box could be at fault. The D-box would not be below frost line, as the leach field itself typically has perhaps a foot of soil over it. The field is supposed to drain slowly enough to filter but fast enough to prevent accumulation of water to freeze. From one site I googled:

"Time is the main culprit in a failing distribution box. The boxes are level when installed, but weather, including flooding and freezing temperatures, can make the boxes tilt to one side. Because the box is no longer even, the effluent no longer flows properly into the trenches."

This makes me wonder if there is ice in the D-box, which would get thicker and thicker until the exits to the leach field pipes plug up. Typically the box is concrete with an access opening in the top. Get a pick axe, dig down to the top of the D-box, remove the cover, and have a look. Or call for help.
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Old 02-04-2013, 02:02 PM   #13
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I have been paranoid that this would be an issue on the island and found this heater. We haven't had any issue recently so we did not buy it. But this looked easy to install without digging.

http://www.septicheater.com/index.html
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Old 02-04-2013, 07:16 PM   #14
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Default Frozen septic system

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I have been paranoid that this would be an issue on the island and found this heater. We haven't had any issue recently so we did not buy it. But this looked easy to install without digging.

http://www.septicheater.com/index.html
I want to thank everyone for their helpful suggestions. Let me give you an update to what we learned today. Both the installer and Lamprey Septic Service showed up this morning to try and determine the problem. Lamprey was very responsive and informative This is what we learned. Last October we had a new black top drive way installed and was of course installed over the line going from the septic tank to distribution box. Couple of things could have happened. The black top helped conduct the cold temperatures. The line could have a slight sag holding a small amount of water as the water flows back to the septic tank after being pumped up to the leach field. Each time it keep adding more ice restricting the flow. Remember this driveway was installed in October and now it just froze. Everything else was working properly, pump, weep hole, distribution box and leach field.
I do plan looking into this septic heater that was in Webbsatwinni post. Thank you vey much. Right now we put layers of hay and used a back hoe to put snow on top of the hay.. Concern would be that the hay now holds the cold in and the pipe will continue to freeze. Today was a good day taking showers and being able to use water again.
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Old 02-04-2013, 08:00 PM   #15
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I The black top helped conduct the cold temperatures. .
I would dispute this theory. BLACK top would absorb Heat from the sun..and warm temperatures....not the opposite. NB
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Old 02-04-2013, 08:35 PM   #16
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I would dispute this theory. BLACK top would absorb Heat from the sun..and warm temperatures....not the opposite. NB
Not to start a controversy, but I'm sure black will absorb heat from the sun, but the question when the sun isn't shining (ie, at night), is whether blacktop or dirt is the better insulator.
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Old 02-04-2013, 10:40 PM   #17
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Default Snow is an insulator

Chase Lady, if you are out in the woods and stranded, you can make a shelter in the snow. You dig a trench a couple of feet deep, line it with branches and then pine bows, then take more branches and span the top and cover them with more pine bows. Final step is to get chunks of snow and put it on top of the pine bows. The snow will insulate.

This handy survival tip is only to show that snow is an insulator. Snow over hay should be a good insulation. (Golf courses love the ground to freeze, then get a good layer of snow, and keep that snow on the greens and fairways for the entire winter, until spring meltoff...they call it poor man's fertilizer.)

Good luck with your system.
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Old 02-04-2013, 11:09 PM   #18
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I have no idea, this is just a thought...

Would a concentrated solution of salt water or diluted icemelt help thaw the inside of a pipe? Sort of melting as it seeps along the blockage.

BUT would either of these chemicals now do damage in the septic system?

Is there a way to install a commercial grade drain cleaning snake down that pipe and see if it comes back with ice on it? I'm guessing the two business would have tried that first if it was possible. who knows.....
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Old 02-04-2013, 11:17 PM   #19
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Today was a good day taking showers and being able to use water again.
Was this the fix, a little insulation of hay and snow worked over night?
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Old 02-05-2013, 07:04 AM   #20
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I would dispute this theory. BLACK top would absorb Heat from the sun..and warm temperatures....not the opposite. NB
Frost penetrates under pavement much deeper than say, in your lawn. Loam and grass act as an insulator of sorts. In this case, however, even with the extreme cold of a couple of weeks ago, I would find it hard to believe the frost could penetrate 4 feet. You've got a problem with that pipe and I would suspect it might be a little too flat, meaning not enough pitch to keep the effluent flowing. Most septic systems today are constructed with schedule 40 pipe. It doesn't "sag" unless installed improperly.

BT
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Old 02-05-2013, 07:20 AM   #21
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Default Septic Heater needs power

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I have been paranoid that this would be an issue on the island and found this heater. We haven't had any issue recently so we did not buy it. But this looked easy to install without digging.

http://www.septicheater.com/index.html
This is iffy for islands as the power is unreliable in the winter... such as now on Rattlesnake. I wonder how long a battery backup would last?
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Old 02-05-2013, 10:08 AM   #22
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Default Frozen septic system

The folks on this forum are amazing. Great thoughts and interesting comments. I need to chage some facts. Blue Thunder is correct. If the drain pipe was down 4 feet it shouldn't freeze. After inspecting the tank the discharge pipe from the tank is probably less than 2 feet. Another interesting observation. After the black top driveway was installed and after a cold night back in November, there was a white frost mark running across the driveway just above the drain pipe. Was this the heat from the pipe causing the frost mark?
Also what would be the temperature of the discharge water going to the leach field and what might it be when it makes the transition coming back to the septic tank? Why did it take three months to freeze? Could it be the weight of the heavy trucks and large roller equipment cause the pipe to be flatten? Yet the water running through the weep hole is coming out just as fast it did when the system was installed.
Question? By laying the hay and snow cover, is the frost now trapped In the ground? Would it be better to let the late February sun heat the black top to start the melting process? Last night it was 4 Degrees. Time will tell.
Finally here is how the ice was cleared out of the line. Lamprey Septic Service had a high pressure hot water machine on board. It did't take them 2 minutes to clear the line. They told me that this winter they have had many calls with frozen systems. Much more than any other year. They said most are coming from vacation homes. Second homes don't get used as much and the systems lay dormant. Thanks in advance for your thoughts and comments.
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Old 02-05-2013, 11:02 AM   #23
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I would hate to get anyone into trouble, or wrongly accuse....but if the system is not far enough down to work properly, raises the question to me.-- were corners cut during the installation? Is the system engineered correctly and to CODE? Did permits get pulled and filled out correctly? Lastly did an appropriate inspector come on site and visually inspect the system?( maybe that never happens due to time restraints and getting the property up and functional again.??)

How about the driveway....was there extensive grading done and soil removed from the original driveway?

I'm only trying to get yours and others thoughts started that might spark an idea that could help fix your dilemma.

Best of luck.
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Old 02-05-2013, 11:08 AM   #24
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Thank you for the very detailed report about your unfortunate drain pipe problem.

I think that some time in the future you will have to dig up the area that has the problem so that the pipe can be fixed to allow the water to completely drain back into the tank.
Trying to put a band-aid on it will just give you more problems in the future and you will always worry about it freezing again.

Also I think you are right that the heavy equipment that was used to pave your driveway caused the problem.

Good luck with whatever you decide to do.
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Old 02-05-2013, 11:33 AM   #25
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I would suspect that area under the driveway had been altered by the new pavement and the sitework that probably went with it. If that area got more compacted and pushed the pipe lower that would create exactly what you describe. The only rub is did the contractors that installed it not properly compact and set it to the proper pitch or did the driveway construction mess that grade up.
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Old 02-05-2013, 08:13 PM   #26
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There is always deep ground heat being conducted by the soil upward toward the cold air in winter. In the summer the reverse is true. That's why deep ground temperature is fairly uniform below say 6-8 feet down; that temperature reflects the average air temperature over decades. Thus the hay bales, providing insulation, will let deep ground heat increase the temperature up toward the surface. Actually, if the hay is wet, bacterial action within it generates some heat as well. If you've ever gone by a landscaping company's piles of wood chips or bark mulch, just after a loader has dug into the pile and exposed the pile below the old surface, you may notice the pile steaming in the cold air. It's warm in there!

As a more permanent solution, if the ultimate problem turns out to be the line not buried sufficiently deep below the driveway, the soil over the pipe could be excavated, creating a trench about four feet wide. A layer of rigid XPS foam board would then be placed over the pipe and the trench backfilled (and the asphalt patched). From one site on the subject of Frost Protected Shallow Foundations: "Soil has an insulating value ranging between R-1 per foot and R-3 per foot. (Yes, these values are in feet, not inches.) An inch of polystyrene insulation, R-4.5, has an equivalent R-value of about 4 feet of soil on average.
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Old 02-05-2013, 08:44 PM   #27
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There is always deep ground heat being conducted by the soil upward toward the cold air in winter. In the summer the reverse is true. That's why deep ground temperature is fairly uniform below say 6-8 feet down; that temperature reflects the average air temperature over decades. Thus the hay bales, providing insulation, will let deep ground heat increase the temperature up toward the surface. Actually, if the hay is wet, bacterial action within it generates some heat as well. If you've ever gone by a landscaping company's piles of wood chips or bark mulch, just after a loader has dug into the pile and exposed the pile below the old surface, you may notice the pile steaming in the cold air. It's warm in there!

As a more permanent solution, if the ultimate problem turns out to be the line not buried sufficiently deep below the driveway, the soil over the pipe could be excavated, creating a trench about four feet wide. A layer of rigid XPS foam board would then be placed over the pipe and the trench backfilled (and the asphalt patched). From one site on the subject of Frost Protected Shallow Foundations: "Soil has an insulating value ranging between R-1 per foot and R-3 per foot. (Yes, these values are in feet, not inches.) An inch of polystyrene insulation, R-4.5, has an equivalent R-value of about 4 feet of soil on average.
I have heard the same thing as well Dick. I have known people who have had to do just what you said with the 2" green foam.
Driving over the driveway especially gravel ones tends to drive the frost down deeper. That is why they say never drive a snowmobile over your septic or leach field during the winter as it will drive the frost down deeper into the ground and could cause it to freeze.
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