HIBBING — An unusual mix of weather conditions has the potential to wreak havoc on septic systems.

The combination of low snowfall amounts and winter temperatures can lead to septic systems freezing, according to the St. Louis County Environmental Services Department.

Common reasons that septic systems freeze include: a lack of snow cover during cold weather, cold air entering the system, compacted soil, compacted snow on top of the system and irregular use of the system.

Residents are encouraged to protect their septic systems from freezing through proper homeowner or commercial owner maintenance.

County-recommended precautions include:

• Add a layer of mulch (8 to 12 inches of hay or straw) over the pipes, tank and soil treatment area. Keep the mulch loose to form air pockets, which act as insulation.

• Use normal amounts of water; the warmer the better. Spread out laundry schedules to one warm/hot load per day.

• Don’t leave water running to prevent freezing. A slow trickle could freeze, while a steady stream could overload the system.

• If a homeowner will be gone for a week or more, have someone visit and use hot water regularly.

• Re-route the drip water from high-efficiency furnaces. The slow drip can freeze in the pipes. Route this clean water into the footing drain sump or a bucket.

• Fix any leaky plumbing. Small trickles of water going into the system can freeze as thin ice layers within pipes and eventually close them.

• Keep all vehicles including ATVs and snowmobiles off the septic system.

• Make sure all risers, inspection pipes and manholes have tight covers. Adding insulation is a good idea. Check for any cracks in the covers.

• Consider installing a septic tank heater.

Residents who find their system frozen or note seeping or ponding of sewage should contact a licensed individual sewage treatment system (ISTS) pumper or installer, or call St. Louis County Environmental Services at 1-800-450-9278.

Additional information on septic system care is available online at www.stlouiscountymn.gov/septic.

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