Start your septic system out on the right foot for spring

By Valerie Prax, University of Minnesota Extension
ST. PAUL, Minn. (3/26/2007) -- Seasonal cabin owners are always anxious to open the cabin in the spring. Here are some tips to get your septic system off to a good start for the coming summer.

Watch the snow melt – where it pools and runs. If going over your drainfield or tank, channel it away – your system does not need added stress from the surface. As the ground thaws, watch the tank and drainfield areas for surfacing. Look for areas that stay wet, water standing on the surface and grass greening up earlier than other areas. These symptoms can indicate a problem in the drainfield or the piping to the system. It could be a sign of freezing that didn't appear during the winter months.

Take a walk around your system. How close are the trees? Remember, hardwoods such as oaks and maples have a root system that extends as far out underground as the canopy of the tree does above. Are there water-seeking trees such as willows nearby? Their roots will extend out searching for available water, and can quickly invade your drainfield area.

When doing your spring cleaning, keep an eye on how many chemical products you use. Limit the amounts and use more elbow grease. Antibacterial and bleach cleansers do not do a better job than more natural products. Read the product labels; anything listing chlorine includes bleach. For many jobs such as dusting or wiping walls down, plain water is just as effective.

Additional information on septic systems—and more than 50 answers to common questions encountered by Minnesota lake home and cabin owners lake home and cabin owners—is available in Extension's Lake Home & Cabin Kit, Version 2.