Updated: 12/27/2013 6:08 AM
Created: 12/26/2013 8:22 PM KSTP.com
By: Stephen Tellier
It's so cold, you can't even flush the toilet.
If you've ever had to deal with that putrid problem, you likely live in Minnesota -- and you're not alone. Thousands struggle with frozen septic systems each winter.
But one Minnesotan has a possible solution.
"We had sewage starting to back up in our laundry room," said Jim vonMeier, a Zimmerman resident and septic system expert.
VonMeier's septic system had never frozen -- until it did seven winters ago.
"Try going without being able to flush your toilets for a few days. It's not a whole lot of fun," vonMeier said.
He's a bit of an expert on all things septic. But even he was stumped on how to prevent his system from freezing. Then he called Chris Norgaard.
"So we just thought, 'What about hot air? Why not blow hot air through the system?'" Norgaard said.
Norgaard had struggled with the same freezing problem at his Minnesota home. He invented a solution -- a heating system for your septic system.
"It keeps the tank warm and the line from the house warm, and the air vents out of the roof vent of the house," Norgaard said.
The Septic Heater senses when temperatures plunge. Frigid cold triggers a fan to blow air heated to 150 degrees through the entire system.
"When it gets to 38 degrees, it will kick on and run for a couple hours and shut off," Norgaard said.
Norgaard said it keeps the pipes from freezing, and the toilets flushing.
VonMeier said he hasn't had any freezing problems since he installed his system. And that's just the way he likes it.
"More people in Minnesota are starting to understand that you do have to be proactive. Don't wait until it freezes, get in front of it before it freezes," VonMeier said.
A Septic Heater system costs about $1,600. If you can't spring for one yourself, experts recommend trying to insulate your septic system from the cold air by layering material on the ground above it, and running hot water at least a few times a day when it's frigid outside.
Norgaard said he's sold about 1,000 Septic Heaters over the past several years. Most of his clients are in Minnesota and Wisconsin, but he's also sold systems in New York, Colorado, Canada, and as far north as North Pole, Alaska.