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Why do septic tanks struggle in winter?

Septic tanks are a great alternative to mains plumbing but looking after them, especially during the winter months is of the highest importance, to avoid any unexpected breakdowns in the spring.

During this cold season, several issues may arise, from freezing ground to freezing pipes and tanks which all can cause major damage to your system. A septic tank contains millions of microscopic bacteria, which is used to physically digest the waste and avoid the build up of sludge. This bacteria is incredibly sensitive to temperature and tends to work best at 10-12 degrees. If the temperature drops below this, they start to slow or even stop completely, meaning the waste will not be digested and causes a build up of sludge in the tank.

How can you avoid issues with your septic tank?

There’s no good time for your sewage system to breakdown but the Christmas holidays are without doubt the worst. There are, however, things you can do to avoid the misery of nasty smells and backed up sewage in your toilet during this year’s festive period.

Freezing septic tanks and pipes

During the winter season, frozen tanks and pipes are the most common problem for septic systems. You can avoid this issue by:

  • Running the water and using your septic tank everyday will reduce the risk of flooding

  • Avoid cutting the grass in the soil treatment area by mid-September or so - the length of the grass helps trap the snow, providing extra insulation

  • Putting mulch, leaves, or plant cover on your pipes

Overuse of septic tank during the holidays

The festive season means more celebrations and more parties, meaning more meal planning and increased visitors. This could mean your sewage system is overworked with additional showers and toilet use, laundry and food preparation. The best way to prevent this is to arrange scheduled times for showers and dishes and reminding your guest of the proper use of the bathroom and kitchen sinks. You may sound like a party pooper but it's better than the alternative!

Irregular usage

The process of digesting organic waste by anaerobic bacteria tends to keep the septic tank warm, therefore irregular use of water in the household can affect the tank. Using warm water daily, stops the pipes from freezing, so if a property is unoccupied for a long period of time the septic tank is unable to sustain a constant temperature due to low level of water and sewage flowing through the system. If you’re planning on going away for a while, it’s recommended you have your system emptied before, in order to avoid the tank parts freezing and bursting.

How can we help?

The best thing you can do to prevent any issues with your sewage system over the Christmas period is to ensure it is serviced by trusted professionals, like Cotterill Environmental. Most systems require an annual service and we can advise you of this depending on your model over the phone. Please contact us at or call us on 0121 461 4861.

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