Closing-up tips: Septic and plumbing

Published: October 18, 2019

Pumping out a septic tank Photo by KaliAntye/Shutterstock

Stop pumping away your cash

“People are cautious with their septic systems to the point of pumping them out too often,” says Sandy Bos, a sewage system inspector with Ontario’s Township of Muskoka Lakes. You want to have some material in your tank as you go into winter, so don’t waste time and money pumping your tank out in full in the fall. It’s unnecessary, and it can backfire. “Even concrete will float,” says Bos. “If the septic tank is empty through the winter, and you get those spring floods, that tank will pop right out of the ground, whether it’s concrete or plastic.”

Start checking your vent stack

Plumbing vent stacks that become blocked by animal nests, leaves, or other debris in the fall can cause problems during winter visits. An obstruction means they can’t vent properly. “You can get odour coming down—a sewage smell,” says Bos. One preventative measure is to—wearing proper safety gear for roof work—clear the stack of debris in late fall, once trees have lost their leaves, before you close up for the season. (If the stack’s status isn’t obvious from the ground, use binoculars or the zoom on your camera to do some recon.)

And BTW: come winter, vent stacks can also become blocked by snow or ice, says Ari Marantz, the owner of Trained Eye Home Inspections in Winnipeg. (You can open them up with boiling water, he says.) If your plumbing stack keeps getting blocked—by snow, debris, or anything—it may mean it’s too short.

Keep adding this, stop doing that

“The washing machine and the dishwasher are two appliances that a lot of people forget about,” says Shawn Groulx, the owner of Express Plumbing and Heating in Red Deer, Alta. “For the dishwasher, I pour RV antifreeze into the bottom and turn it on to drain. For the washing machine, pour it into the machine, and put it on spin.” This allows the antifreeze to circulate through all freeze-prone parts of the appliance. “If there’s a P-trap in the wall behind the washing machine, make sure it gets antifreeze too.” If not, it could freeze and split. Adding antifreeze to a white shower or tub drain? “I’d wipe up any residue with a paper towel, or in the spring you could find that it stained your fibreglass,” says Groulx.

Meanwhile, if you’re spending money on septic additives, or if you’re in the habit of putting anything like that down the drain in the fall to “clean up the system,” stop it, says Bill Goodale, a septic system inspector with the Township of Tiny in Ontario. Since you’ve been treating your system properly all year—and if you follow the expert advice in Cottage Life magazine, we know that you have—there’s no need. Your septic will be ready, willing, and able when you return in the spring. That said, if the cabin hasn’t been used in four months, “don’t show up with 20 people on your first visit,” says Goodale. “Ease it in. Get the septic bacteria working again. It’s kind of like warming up your car after it’s been sitting in the cold weather.”

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