View Full Version : Way OT/ Frozen ground???

03-24-2008, 10:49 AM
I know...it's an oddball question but my septic system is still frozen...has been for nearly 2 months.
This has NOT been a fun deal.
The local experts say the whole works is frozen....the field, everything.
I obviously want to get it working asap...but.. something I've never thought of before..
Does frozen ground thaw out from the top down?
Or does the warmth from the lower, unfrozen groung help so it thaws a bit from the top and also from the bottom?
When it first froze, I was bound and determined that I'd get it thawed out. I hand dug (with the aid of tiger torches) down over 4 feet deep trying to find the tank. The ground was frozen solid to that depth and more.
I'm trying to figure out how long it will take the field to thaw. That's just way too much ground to try to thaw any other way.
Thanks for any insight!

03-24-2008, 11:22 AM
I assume that very little heat will come from below or else permafrost would not exist.
You will not get much thawing of the ground until the snow has all gone as it is a good insulator which will keep the ground well below zero.
You could help the thaw by removing snow to help speed up things also black cloth laid on the ground helps speed things up, clear plastic is even faster if there is any sun at all(green house effect)

03-24-2008, 12:07 PM
Hey Torker,
This is obviously a major problem, how have you been dealing with this?, outhouse?, that don't sound like fun in the middle of the night when its colder than a ex wifes heart and the wind is coming out of the north @50mph.

03-24-2008, 12:19 PM
How did the tank and field get approved for installation at that depth if it was bound to freeze up and become unusable?

Bruce Griffing
03-24-2008, 12:45 PM
On the question of thawing -
In the Northeast, there is a season called mud season. I normally lasts about two weeks. It is the time when the frost is off the surface, and things have melted, but there is still frost below ground. As a result, all of the surface water has trouble escaping and everything turns to mud. During the construction of a house I owned in Upstate NY, the 1500' driveway went through a difficult couple of weeks during mud season. One sunny day, the whole thing dried up. That was the day that the subsurface frost left the ground.

03-24-2008, 01:00 PM
A septic system should never freeze because of hot water being added to it and because the bacteria actually generate a small amount of heat. However, if your froze it could be because there is foot trafic over the area. That will "drive" the frost down. Another possiblity is that you had very cold tempatures with out snow cover. What is the normal frost depth in your area? Around here the safe depth is 2' in sand or 42" in clay. A septic system will not work in clay.

If you have been having sunny days you could speed up the thawing by staking out black plastic sheething over the area. The black plastic would absorb heat from the sun light and hold it in at night. Gary P. Hansen

03-24-2008, 01:02 PM
Wow sound like you have a blockage in the system somewhere. Under normal working conditions waste break down should generate enough heat that keeps things working. I feel for you... I know it's a big job to fix or as I did replace the whole system.

Here's praying for a fast warm-up

03-24-2008, 01:11 PM
Bruce, that sounds exactly like what happens here every year, as a matter of fact it finally happened to most of my yard last week.

Russ,take this for what it's worth as I haven't tried it personally but it does make sense.

About twenty years ago a friend of mine had about 500 feet of water line freeze up on him during a real cold snap in March. The snow cover had already disappeared and the line was not deep enough to protect it from the frost without the snow.

So buddy was desperate as hell as he had no water. One cold day as he was trying to figure out what to do he jumped in to his pickup and thought... "gee sure is warm in here". Truck wasn't running, just exposed to open sky. He immediately seized on the idea and built a tent over the length of the line made out of survey stakes and clear poly.

Not sure, but I think he had it thawed out in about four days.

03-24-2008, 01:26 PM
Here is a suggestion that is maybe waaaay off base. Drive a metal post as far in as possible close to the exit from the house. Then drive in a metal post about 10 feet further along the path the septic takes. Hook up your arc-welder to the two leads and set it to about 50 amps. Turn on for about two minutes, shut off and see if there is any visible melting going on around the posts. If so, experiment with a longer time frame and you should see melting along the line. Good luck, Wayne.

03-24-2008, 01:53 PM
Hmm.. Ok..this was a real screw up from the get go. This froze up last winter but I was told it was because the previous owner poured bleach down the well system to clean it and got bleach in the septic...this was confirmed by the tank cleaning guy. But now I see it was also partly due to driving over it as well. I wasn't reall worried as we poured hot water and bacteria etc down it all the time.
I was "given" the wrong info about the septic field...from a former employee of the previous owner. He claimed he knew where the system ran. He was wrong.
Anyway..it turns out that I was driving right over top of the tank, distribution box and the field ALL winter.
Yup...the ol' outhouse....rented of course. Lot colder than I remember as a kid.
Thank Gawd for the motel we run. It's about 10 minutes away so we have everything there. LOL! The wife moved there....til the thing thaws.
I like the plastic idea. Not too sure about the welder idea as the tiger torch produces a whack of heat and it takes a long time to do anything.
I'm going to try that plastic idea.

03-24-2008, 04:25 PM
I dont know anything about septic tanks and I live in the desert of Arizona so the frozen ground thing is beyond me, but could you maybe have a couple day bonfire over the frozen area, or does the field cover quite a bit of land?

03-24-2008, 05:10 PM
I assume that very little heat will come from below or else permafrost would not exist.

I'd go the opposite - that if there wasn't heat coming up from below, there wouldn't be a frost line. So far as thawing goes, I'd go with from both directions - there's an area both above and below the frozen dirt that's warmer than it.

03-24-2008, 09:11 PM
Torker, eat more Jalapenos!

03-24-2008, 09:59 PM

Does the septic tank have a clean out? If so lift the lid and check if its frozen. Usually the tank has 4' covering of dirt. Never heard of one freezing but if the tank is frozen I'd build a fire on top of the tank.
Most the time a sewer line freeze, its on the way to a septic tank.(where a road crosses the line)
Find the line clean out and run a hose down it using hot water or find someone with a portable pressure washer/steamer. It shouldn't take to long to thaw it.


03-24-2008, 10:02 PM
Put a green house over the septic system and grow Killer Canadian Ganga.

party on bro..


J Tiers
03-24-2008, 11:16 PM
That welder trick works, but only if you have metallic pipe with good connections. Septic won't have that.

The idea is to push a large current through the pipe and the resistance heating effect will melt the ice enough to let water through, after which water flow should do the rest.

Ice is a rotten conductor, so icy ground will not conduct much. Most ground conductivity is due to moisture. A ground rod is said to "bake out" if there isn't enough moisture to keep conductivity.

Therefore stakes in the ground generally won't do anything, especially at low voltage. If you have a couple hundred KV, there might be some action........ :D

The in-laws live up North, and their septic has never frozen to the best of my knowledge. if it froze up, it would have been too full, with no exits thru the bed...... Are you sure you didn't collapse some leach bed pipe by driving over it?

03-24-2008, 11:55 PM
LOL! Jalapenos.. good one quasi! Newsflash.. had the pumper guy here today again figuring out if it's early enough to try this thing yet.
He told me that a bunch of septics had frozen this winter as we had two very long stretches of -20C and most places had little snow cover.
I had lots of snow but I plowed it off the driveway of course...cuz I thought the septic was 30 feet over to the side.
He said there is no way the system wouldn't freeze when driving over it. Said it actually starts to freeze from the field back to the tank...then everything backs up and by the time you get to it the works is frozen. That's the problem now...we can clean/unthaw the tank no problem but the field is frozen. The water that would get out there would be too cold to thaw anything.
mo.. I already tried the bonfire trick. Burned half a pickup load of prime firewood for nothing. The smoke that surrounded the house was brutal and all that wood only melted a couple inches deep in a 4 foot square. I'd need 10 logging truck loads to melt the whole thing...then I'd smell like an ol' injun for a couple months :D

03-25-2008, 12:04 AM
Torker, If you decide to take Tattoomikes advice, pm me your address, I'm moving in.

03-25-2008, 02:30 PM
Your unusually cold winter without snow cover and driving over it has likely been your demise.......the bleach would have killed off the friendly bacteria in your septic tank that feed on waste, can't recall your possession date but if it sat unoccupied during cold weather it would have allowed things to ice up. Best quick fix is a steamer truck. Got 5' of cover over top of my tank here where it gets cold regularly........liquid level is 8' down.

03-25-2008, 04:18 PM
Yep, ours is about the same depth. There is no way to thaw it from above. You will have to wait for it to do it on it's own.

Norman Atkinson
03-25-2008, 04:33 PM
Some time back, John S said that he had recordings on one Blaster Bates.
The appropriate guide is 'a Shower of Sh1t over Shropshire'

It all is a matter of sharing ones triumphs and troubles with one's neighbours.

Having said all that, we have a septic tank. My dear wife in a fit of ' the Alice in Wonderlands' planted a palm tree in it. Newer friends and neighbours pause to wonder why the crop is not gathered!

Sorry, this is Sunny Spain

Good Luck- stay down wind!


03-25-2008, 07:03 PM
In Alaska I've seen them lay black plastic over the area to be thawed.
I know it helps, but, how much or how fast, I'm not sure.

Tom M.

03-25-2008, 08:14 PM
Some time back, John S said that he had recordings on one Blaster Bates.
The appropriate guide is 'a Shower of Sh1t over Shropshire'

That is absolutely hilarious. I used to have several hours of his standup on tape but they have been either lost or seriously misplaced. He is one of the funniest comedians I have heard and what he relates are his past experiences as a blaster.

John Stevenson
03-25-2008, 08:30 PM
Still got 5 of them on vinyl,

Not sure how to go about getting them off as MP3's now as I'm not sure where the deck is.

Paid to see him once at a local club but it was bad weather and he couldn't make it, never did get a second chance.
Did get to see Spike Milligan, awesome night.


03-25-2008, 09:22 PM
You already know that driving over the tank and/or field is a no-no, but I'll add a couple of thoughts:

Most septic systems are not below frost line. F.L. here is 3', I think; the top of my tank has maybe 6" of cover, and the lines aren't more than 24" deep. The warm water from the house, coupled with the bacteria action is what keeps 'em from freezing.


If you have a toilet or faucet that drips, you're likely to have trouble. When you hit with a dose of warm water from the toilet, bathtub/shower, or whatever, it warms things up. When you allow a constant, slow dribble of water to flow down the pipes, it has time to cool off and freeze.

I learned that lesson back in about 1967, and it was NOT pleasant.

03-25-2008, 10:08 PM
JD.. What a crappy subject this is :D My tank is at least 3' deep. I dug til I was almost at it and was over 3' deep. However...some of the other digging I did while searching showed the frost over 5' deep.
I knew of the dripping tap deal also and didn't have any of that.
This place sits in a very narrow valley and you don't see much sun during winter. Sunshine..a bit over an hour a day during the mid winter. Right now I'm up to about 4 hours.
Damm weather.. now we get one more cold snap...-15C for this week at night and 0 during the day. I'm about 5* colder than that though. A cold little hole.

03-25-2008, 10:29 PM
I don't think you will be complaining about the earlier shade in the summer. It gets freekin hot down there.

03-26-2008, 02:52 AM
The solution is quite simple- you need to invent a cold powered heater.
Or- two dozen microwave ovens, doors open switches jammed, placed face down over the frozen ****pile. Set 'em on thaw.

Sorry, those are my best ideas.

03-26-2008, 04:58 AM
Or- two dozen microwave ovens, doors open switches jammed, placed face down over the frozen ****pile. Set 'em on thaw.

Never work. Where is Russ going to find a 250 amp extension cord?

03-26-2008, 05:43 AM
A friend of mine had his well freeze up, he was running himself ragged from hauling water. This was in January, I said to him, why don't you get a 1000W or 1500W submersible stock tank de-icer. He had never heard of such a thing, (city folk) I showed him the Princes Auto catalog, he ordered a couple, one for backup, within two days after installing in the well he had running water again. In your case I would place one or two in the tank and cover with some styrofoam and straw.

03-26-2008, 09:12 AM
Doug..the old guy who has the sewer sucker has a stock tank heater he's going to lend me after we get the thing dug up. An old trick of the trade apparently.
Evan...you're right. It gets hotter than blazes here and this place is the payoff for the long winters.
It's far cooler here than downtown.
Darryl...good one. Wish it was that simple.

03-26-2008, 09:15 AM
Doug, the drain field is frozen too. Where is it going to go?

It's starting to look like a job for mother nature, if we can ever get her cold ass outa bed.