Frost Depth Affecting Septic Tanks and Sewer Lines

Frost Depth Penetration Affects Septic Systems

On a recent service call I worked on a home that was on City Sewer. The building sewer seemed to be plugged but not frozen. After clearing the sewer line from the home to the city main sewer, the sewage still was not going down!

A call to the Lakeland Sanitary District was made. Lakeland Sanitary dispatched a crew to help. After removing a manhole cover the problem was discovered. Ice covered the sewer line entering the manhole. Flow was reestablished after thawing the sewer line. This manhole was checked only days before and no problems existed.

Frost was the culprit! It is estimated the freeze depth is over eight feet deep this year. It is less than this where snow has not been removed, but it is deeper than usual. Septic systems and sewer lines are freezing up.

To help avoid costly service calls and repairs, there are a few options to help these systems through the rest of the winter.

  1. Run more hot water than usual. First thing in the morning and last thing at night.
  2. Fix any leaking water faucets. A little dribble will freeze in the sewer line before reaching the septic tank.
  3. Condensate from a furnace will also freeze, if possible use a condensate pump. This typically is not necessary if you are living in the home full time.

Normal Frost Depth Estimates

Frost Map

Average Frost Depths




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First Septic Truck in Minocqua!

LaFrenier’s First Pumper Truck is Hanging Tough!

Mark Hartsheim sent a link he found on Craig’s List. The homemade  pumper truck was in service starting in the 1950’s. The pump was a diaphragm pump, not very efficient, but it served its purpose for many years by replacing the buckets  used before that. After years of septic service, the septic truck, modified once again, serviced Minocqua’s  sewer mains for Lakeland Sanitary District #1 by flushing water into the mains to keep the sewage flowing.

First Septic Truck

Old Septic Pumper




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Why Did My Septic System Freeze?

“I Made it Through the Cold Weather and Now My Septic System Froze!”

I hear this so often from customers that though they were home free. I see a great increase of  freeze ups that occur in the Spring when the temperatures are above freezing. There are many factors that come into play here. So why does one septic system freeze while another performs flawlessly? One of the main reasons for system freeze up is use or lack of use.  As the ground gets cold so do the septic components. The more water and ‘food’ the system receives, the better the chances to avoid freezing. Now we do not want to over load the system, but it was designed to process a certain wastewater load, and if we can stay within the design, we should be good to go. Of course there are other factors that come into play also, such as, location of the components and depth below ground surface, insulation, pitch,etc.

We recommend the following to increase the chance of keeping the  system flowing:

  • Do not walk on any part of the septic system in the winter months.
  • Do not remove snow cover from the system components.
  • Do clean the effluent filter, if present, before clod weather sets in.
  • Do use additional hot water in the winter months, try not to waste water though. Laundry and bathing can add warmth to the system.
  • Do have the system checked by a professional to determine if any maintenance is required. It is much less expensive than a winter service call!
  • Do cover or insulate exposed covers and vents,. but leave vents open so they work properly.

In conclusion, you can increase your chance of keeping your septic system flowing by using some common sense in the operation of the of the system.

Please use the form below or give us a call at 715-356-3020 with questions.




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As the Weather Warms Septics Freeze Up!

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2014 County Septic Tank Maintenance

Why Should I Have My  Septic Tank Inspected?


Besides being the law in Wisconsin there are other benefits to having your septic tank checked out every three years.  If a septic tank is not maintained periodically it will fail. The rule most POWTS inspectors use is, when a tank is 1/3 full of solids, it needs to be pumped out. This is only one of the items an inspection should entail. Component structure, and system performance should also be examined. All too often things like baffles, water tightness, and other component failures are ignored. Many things go into a quality maintenance inspection. At J. W. LaFrenier Sons, we take maintenance seriously, in the long run you will save money.

If an effluent filter is present, it should be cleaned. There may be things in the septic tank that do not belong there such as condoms, sanity hygiene products, paper towels, plastic, cigarette butts, etc. These things just take up room, they don’t break down easily and they may hamper the function  of the system.

Should I Have My Septic Tank Pumped or Inspected?

This is an easy answer, inspect and pump if necessary. If the solids are nearing the 20% volume after three years of use, it should probably be pumped out because it will likely be over 33% in three years from now. Pumping could also be postponed for a year or more and then be cleaned out of the County three year cycle. The requirement for the State and County is that the system be inspected every three years. The notices for Oneida and Vilas Counties are sent every three years from the time the Sanitary Permit was issued, that is why everyone gets so hung up on the three year cycle.

If the septic tank has an effluent filter, it should be cleaned at least yearly. You, as the home owner, can perform this service if you desire. It is not difficult, and it would give you a good idea if you are using the system properly. Having a service provider do it for you every three years is not enough.

septic tank

Effluent Filters

Typical effluent filer.

All of the wastewater passes through the effluent filter, cleaning is essential or the filter will plug and septage will back up into the building or on the ground.




Call 715-356-3020715-356-3020 or fill out the form below to get on our Spring list for County Septic Inspection/Pumping and receive a 20% discount off the inspection cost of $85.00. Payment must be received before March 15th.  Lid must be exposed or there will be a dig charge applied.

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Septic Tank Installers and Pumpers Continuing Education In Stevens Point

Continuing Education for Septic Tank Professionals


septic tank education class

Continuing education

The Wisconsin On-Site Water Recycling Association and Wisconsin Liquid Waste Carries Association both involved in the septic tank business, had their joint Winter Conference education once again in Stevens Point, WI at the Holiday Inn Convention Center. The training was exceptional! Topics included Search Engine Optimization for our web sites, cash flow analysis, business taxes, and contract language on day one. Day 2 education included topics on septage land application sites, cost of doing business, maintenance and emissions for our trucks, DOT update, installation keys for long-term septic system performance, nutrient management plans for septage applied to farm fields, affordable health care act, weight limits, POWTS evaluator overview, and the keynote by Secretary Dave Ross of DSPS. Day three education included high strength waste treatment, OSHA compliance, Land spreading soil conditions, pumps, concrete tanks, and the future of on-site waste water treatment. Continuing education is extremely important for septic service providers. Most customers do not realize how much their pumper or installer must know to give quality service.

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Call 715-356-3020 for help with a frozen septic.

If you have a frozen septic J. W. LaFrenier Sons are here to help. The sooner you call, the quicker we can get the septic back in running condition. Depending on the system layout, and where the freeze is located we will use one of several methods to correct the backup. As a last resort, we will pump the septic tank so it can be used as a holding tank until the ground thaws. Pumping the septic tank as part of an attempt to thaw the system out is not a good plan, the wastewater that fills the tank is mostly water and will freeze easier than septage that was in the tank.

Steamer for frozen septic

Sewer thawing machine

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Baby It Is COLD Outside!

I think Winter is here! I hope everyone has their septics covered. If the cold keeps up, there will be a lot of frozen septic systems, if it happens to you, there are several options to consider:

1). — You can hope it fixes itself—-it probably will sometime next Spring.

2). — You can try thawing it out yourself—–Call us at 715-356-3020 if you need some tips on how to do this.

3). —  You can hire us to thaw for you—–good option.

4). –You can sometimes call a pumper to pump the septic tank—–we do not believe this is a good first option, you may end up pumping the tank all winter. The sewer lines may still need thawing. If the septic tank is pumped, care should be taken to protect the baffles so the ice does not damage them when the septage is removed. This applies to the dose tank pump and controls also.

And. Remember, it is not too late to cover the septic tank and sewer lines with straw and/or snow. Once the ground freezes it is difficult to keep it from refereeing.

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