Septic System Tips in Extreme Temperatures

Septic System Tips in Extreme Temperatures

Cold weather with extreme temperatures can pose challenges for septic systems.

But, yes, it allows you to do some pretty crazy things with pasta!

Frozen spaghetti

Image compliments of Facebook, January 13, 2024

In Alberta, in January 2024, where our headquarters and manufacturing facility are located, temperatures dipped into the -40 degrees Celsius range.


Following are some tips on what you should and shouldn't do to ensure your septic system functions properly during such cold conditions:

What You Should Do:

1. Schedule Regular Inspections

It is essential to schedule regular inspections by a qualified professional in order to catch potential issues early. This is especially important before the onset of winter.

2. Pump Your Septic Tank Regularly

Regular pumping removes accumulated solids and prevents them from clogging the system which is crucial for maintaining a healthy septic system in winter. 

Pumping septic tank

"In general, cleaning of septic tanks is not recommended in cold climates during the winter months." (Source: University of Minnesota) This is for a number of reasons:

  • lids on septic tanks are often buried and once frost gets into the soil it is difficult to dig down to the lid
  • septic tanks take a while to fill once emptied (days or weeks, depending on the number of people in the home) and while they are filling, no wastewater would be traveling through your septic tank and out to the soil treatment system. Your septic soil treatment area could freeze and you would then need to pump out your tank for the remainder of the winter.
  • "There are bacteria in your septic tank that work to breakdown the wastewater. It takes time to get the bacteria up to full speed after a tank pumping. This will happen more rapidly under warmer conditions. In addition, they do not work as well when they are cold which is more likely after pumping." (Source: University of Minnesota)

3. Insulate the Septic Tank

If you haven't already done this, consider adding insulation around the septic tank and the pipes leading to and from it.

"Insulating your septic tank is crucial in cold weather to prevent freezing. This helps maintain a stable temperature and ensures proper bacterial activity."(Source: University of Minnesota Extension)

This can help prevent the contents from freezing. At least 8" deep of leaves, hay, straw or any other mulch material should do the trick.

4. Use a Septic Tank Additive

Septic tank additives are designed to increase microbial populations and accelerate the natural (biological) process within your septic system and drain field thus preventing sewer line blockage and keeping your septic system operating at optimum performance.

Using it regularly can enhance the microbial activity in the tank, promoting the breakdown of solids and preventing freezing.

Learn more about Earth Smart Solutions' Natural Septic Tank Additive (ESTT) here.

Using ESTT is simple... Just drop a convenient water soluble pouch into your toilet bowl and flush. ESTT is safe to use as directed. It is completely natural, contains no corrosive chemicals and is hazard free. It will not damage metal, ceramic, or the plastic parts of the drainage system.

5. Conserve Water

During extremely cold weather, try to reduce water usage.

"Reducing water usage during winter helps prevent overloading the septic system. This allows the waste to break down more efficiently." (Source: National Environmental Services Center)

Less water entering the septic system means less stress on the system, and it also reduces the risk of freezing. During cold snaps, consider putting off doing those extra loads of laundry, take a shower rather than a bath and limit use of garbage disposal units (if you have one).

6. Fix Leaks Promptly

If you notice any leaking fixtures, repair them as soon as possible. Leaks can introduce additional water into the system, increasing the risk of freezing.

Leaking tap

"If a shower or one of the fixtures has a leak, it will send trickles of water down the septic system. Usually, wastewater from the house has bacteria and this is good for the septic system. However, clean water does not help in replenishing the septic tank with bacteria. This clean water will cause hydraulic overload and it will reduce the rate at which bacteria break down the organic waste. This means the heat generation will also be reduced and that can be bad for a septic tank during winter because it can make it freeze." (Source: Bio-Sol)

7. Use Warm Water

When using water in your home, try to use warm water instead of cold. This can help prevent the pipes from freezing.

8. Keep Snow Cover

If there's snow on the ground, it can act as insulation. Avoid removing all the snow from the area around the septic tank and pipes.

9. Use Regularly

Regular use of your septic system is important during the cold winter months. "The process of digesting organic waste by anaerobic bacteria helps to ensure the septic tank remains warm." (Source: Bio-Sol)

What You Shouldn't Do:

1. Avoid Flushing Solid Materials

Do not flush items that can contribute to clogs or build up in the septic tank. This includes non-biodegradable items and excessive amounts of toilet paper. Of course this needs to be done year-round, not just during extreme cold snaps.

2. Limit the Use of Chemicals

Avoid using excessive amounts of harsh chemicals, as they can harm the beneficial bacteria in the septic tank. Stick to natural and septic-safe cleaning products.

3. Don't Ignore Warning Signs

If you notice any signs of a problem, such as slow drains, gurgling sounds, or unpleasant odors, address them promptly. Ignoring these signs can lead to more significant issues, especially in extreme weather conditions.

Clogged sink

4. Don't Pour Hot Water 

While it might seem like a good idea to pour hot water into the septic system to prevent freezing, this can actually do more harm than good. Hot water can disrupt the balance of the system.

5. Avoid Snow Compaction

Avoid compacting snow over your septic tank. Do not drive, walk, or push machines or heavy objects over the septic tank.

6. Garbage Disposal Unit

If you have a garbage disposal unit, consider limiting usage during extreme cold snaps. And be sure to check out this article from Pop Sugar on “Things You Can and Can’t Put Down Your Garbage Disposal”. Onion skins, potato peels, pasta, rice are all on the do NOT put in your disposal.

By following these tips, you can help protect your septic system during extremely cold weather. It's essential to stay vigilant and address any issues promptly to prevent costly repairs and ensure the continued functionality of your septic system.


ABC Septic Inc, Septic System Questions and Answers

Bio Sol, Winter Septic Tank Problems

Environmental Health Watch

National Environmental Services Centre

National Onsite Wastewater Recycling Association

This Old House, How to Prevent a Septic System from Freezing

University of Minnesota, Seasonal Care