Arctic Engineering in Fairbanks

Arctic Engineering providing Civil Engineering Services including Engineer Residential Inspections and Water and Septic Adequacy Testing 


Fairbanks and North Pole

Going Beyond The Surface

Owning a Home in the Arctic

​Homeownership comes with many responsibilities and you may find that owing a home in an arctic climate can have new maintenance items you wouldn't have in a more moderate part of the country. Most of Interior Alaska do not have building oversite and have few zoning requirements.

Septic System Maintenance 

The most important maintenance of your wastewater disposal system is to pump the septic tank. The ADEC recommends pumping when the sludge layer or floating scum layer exceeds 6 inches and at least every 2 years to prevent waste matter from carrying over and plugging the absorption field causing it to fail or backup into the house. If you have higher than typical use, such as a large tub used frequently or higher than typical toilet paper usage then you may need to pump more often. The solids in the tank do not break down completely due to our short summer season. 

​​Because of our arctic weather conditions and frozen ground the waste matter does not breakdown in the same manner as you would expect in warmer climates. For this reason additives such as yeast and enzymes have proven ineffective in breaking down solids in the septic tank.

It is recommended to maintain snow cover over the wastewater system during winter months to reduce the risk of freezing.  

​It is our recommendation to dispose of food waste in the garbage instead of using a garbage disposal. The ADEC recommends increasing the tank size by 250 gallons if a garbage disposal is to be used. If you use a garbage disposal you should pump your septic annually. 

​Do not dispose of feminine products into your wastewater system because they can float and be carried into the absorption field with the water. Additionally the following items should not be put in to your wastewater system: coffee grounds, dental floss, disposable diapers, kitty litter, cigarette butts, condoms, fat, grease, flushable wipes or paper towels.

​A wastewater disposal system is designed to be in constant use during winter months to keep from freezing. If the home remains vacant during freezing conditions for a prolonged period of time it may require steaming the tank and absorption field in order to bring it back into operation.   

You should monitor the wastewater system. The following are indicators from the ADEC that it may be failing: 

  • There is a sewage odor in the house or yard,
  • The sinks and toilets are draining slowly,
  • The plumbing is gurgling or backing up,
  • The ground over your drain field is wet or mushy,
  • The monitoring tubes have consistently elevated water levels.

Septic System Information and Testing

In a warmer climate you can expect the septage to break down more toughly and solely treated by the native soil. In Interior Alaska you will find that septic systems, or wastewater disposal systems, may not last as long and require more maintenance depending on your site conditions. 

​The ADEC does not currently regulate or enforce their construction and water quality standards for private water systems. If there are separation distance violations from potential contamination sources then they require waivers.

Water Flow Test

We typically perform the water flow test at an outside hose bib or other accessible water spigot. The water pressure inside the house can be affected by filters, water softeners, fittings or other flow restricting components. Sometimes we are not given access into the house for our testing and we do not assess system pressures at fixtures such as showers. The water flow test that we perform is not a direct well flow test and does not give accurate information on the full flow capacity of the well.  Our water flow test gives an indication on system flow rates for the water distribution system given that we are typically using several hundred gallons of water during continuous use.

Wastewater Disposal System Testing Method

The wastewater disposal system are tested according to the ADEC document “Testing of On-Site Soil Absorption Systems” by Leroy C. Reid, JR., PH.D., P.E., D.E.E. A wastewater system must be able to absorb the design flow of 150 gallons per bedroom per day according to the ADEC and EPA specifications. Water was delivered directly into the absorption system monitor tube to verify if the system is in proper working condition. During the duration of the test the water flow rate, absorption rate and water levels in the absorption field and septic tank were measured and analyzed. Our analysis determines if the system is capable of absorbing the design flow for the home within a 24 hour period without water backing up into the septic tank.

Septic Tank Information

Under normal use and regular pumping, a typical steel septic tank should last around 25 years. Plastic tanks will last much longer. Recommended pumping is every 2 years. We are not able to guarantee the longevity of the tank since it depends on the owners’ maintenance and soil conditions. When a baffle fails in the tank or too much sludge accumulates before pumping, the absorption field becomes clogged.

Absorption Field Information

The absorption field not draining properly is usually the first failure to occur within a septic system. There is no way to determine the life remaining because it is usually a factor of sludge plugging the field. The soil pore spaces beneath an absorption field will eventually become clogged to the extent of preventing water absorption into the ground and the absorption field will need to be replaced.