As the days get shorter and you feel less and less desire to run down the dock and jump in the lake, it’s a sure sign that Summer is passing and Fall is upon us. You start that annual migration of summer things to the shed or garage. Boats, motors, outside furniture, the hammock, you know they’ll last so much longer if you get it stashed away somewhere for the winter. Its a retreat of sorts as we put away the outside gear first and then maybe steal a couple more weekends inside, at least until Thanksgiving, enjoying a cool day next to the fire. But eventually, the last weekend comes and the cottage itself needs to be closed up. Maybe you have shutters to put up and you surely have devised your own defense against the winter parties planned by Mickey and Minnie. But most importantly, you need to winterize that water system that served you so faithfully all summer.

Ah, the Water System. You never give it a thought as long as the water comes out when the tap is on. But if that water does not flow, you’re in for a miserable weekend. You THINK you can live without it for a few days but experience tells you your family and guests will not share your classification of running water as a non-essential service. And next Spring’s Water System opening is very much dependent on this Fall’s Water System closing. So don’t leave this until the last minute, because all things mechanical take longer than you think and become exponentially more difficult at the end of a cold Fall day as the light wanes.

Water systems have three major components. The inside plumbing (sinks, toilets, showers), the pump, and the outside plumbing (pipes running to your well or lake). Unless all 3 of these components are contained and heated, like in the city, they will freeze and break. The freezing and breaking parts are inconvenient and delay Spring Water System opening by hours or days at best and may run into $hundreds or $thousands at worst. To avoid either of these fates, we are going to follow a simple plan:

  1. TURN IT OFF
  2. DRAIN IT

That’s all there is but the devil is in the details. You need to turn off the Pump and the Hot Water tank, if you have one. These are usually switches, poorly marked, on your electrical fuse or breaker panel or individual switches located near the pump and hot water tank. Turn off anything else that is powered on and associated with the water system. The hot water tank is always first off in the winterization and last on in the Spring opening because it will burn out an element if left on but empty of water. So turn the hot water electrical switch off first, then the pump.

Next is draining all the three components we mentioned earlier. Water follows gravity so runs to the lowest point. Find the drain taps for both the hot and cold water lines under every water appliance (sinks, toilets, showers). And don’t forget water can get stuck in a line if you don’t allow air into the top of the lines. For that reason, open every hot and cold tap to allow the water to run to the low points and out the drain taps. If you aren’t sure your lines are drained, attach an airpump and blow them out.

Toilets, sink drains and shower drains (and washers, dishwashers) all need special individual attention. Once the plumbing connecting these appliances is drained, you need to drain the appliance itself. Do the best you can with a bailer (bucket or cup) and then add R/V antifreeze to manage the drops that are left. This is especially important for the back of the toilet tank, washers, dishwashers and drains where you cannot access all the internal lines where water is trapped. Run the washer and dishwasher briefly to ensure the R/V antifreeze gets inside the internal plumbing components.

Next is the water pump itself. If it is a submersible in a well, it will be ok as a well will not freeze but those Jet pumps and old Piston pumps lurking under the cottage or in their own pumphouse must be drained. Look for drain plugs in the pump housing at or near the bottom of the unit. Be sure you know the difference between the water pump part and the electric motor that drives the water pump. They are connected together and live side-by-side. The electric motor is fine – its the water pump that needs draining. Drains plugs could look like a wingnut that loosen and allows the water out or it may look like a square nut with a thread. These need to be removed completed to allow the water out. DON’T lose the drain plugs! Leaving them on a joist nearby never works – put them in a jar, label and leave on the kitchen counter so you’ll be sure to find them in Spring. Is the water line drained from the pump to the cottage? Is there a drain tap that does this or do you need to take the water line off the pump to allow the waterline to drain?

Lastly, remove the waterline from the lake and drain it too. You may need to remove that waterline from the pump too or perhaps there is a coupling that aids in its removal. Take care not to damage the footvalve on the lake end of that waterline. Now is a great time to clean that footvalve but removing and algae, zebra mussels and other matter that will dry like epoxy over winter and leave the footvalve useless by Spring.

Take you time and check the entire system from lake to pump to cottage and each appliance inside. Water flows downhill. Has every section been drained? Has every lowpoint been drained?
Make a list of everything you’ve done as it will help you work more quickly next year and not forget that lowpoint drain tap that results in a split pipe every year.

If you have any questions or comments, please send them along.

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