Winterize Your Cottage – Winter is Coming!


It’s not exactly as fulfilling a cottage job as turning on the water in the spring, but shutting off the water and draining the system to winterize your cottage is very important in the fall, and unless you want a mess of frozen and split plumbing it’s a must do here in the North.

Every year we put it off as long as possible, but eventually the weather reports mention frost and panic sets in and we take the water off pretty quickly. Having had to repair split pipes and cracked toilet tanks, I have learned from experience.

Our water pump is probably pretty similar to yours, except our old water pump is about 1000 years old…but it’s still going. It’s a Southern piston pump, quite a bit different from the jet water pumps in use today. We pump our water from the lake instead of a well, but otherwise the principles are the same. Before it freezes, drain the system.

Those of you that are old hands at cottage living, can probably move on, because you know all this already. But for those of you new to camp life, here are some basic instructions for draining the plumbing system to winterize your cottage.

First of all, shut off the pump, either unplug it from the electrical outlet, or if so equipped, shut off the power at the switch box. If you haven’t got a separate switch, (and you should)remove the fuse.

Now you are ready to go. If your pump is outside under the building, like many are, it is relatively easy to get the water out. That is your mantra for this job, ‘get the water out’ If you are a lucky cottager, and have an electric hot water heater, you have to drain it. There should be a tap and valve located on the bottom of the tank where you can attach a garden hose, open the tap and let the water drain outside. If you have difficulty getting the water to run, the secret is to get a little air in behind it. We usually do this by unscrewing the pressure relief valve located at the top of the tank. Once it’s out, the water will drain easily.

While the hot water tank is draining, you can get under the cottage and disconnect the pump. If you have a pressure or water holding tank open the tap and let it drain while you uncouple the fittings to release the pump from the piping system. Remove the hose from where it is attached to the pump and set the whole works aside for later. Now you have to open all the valves (taps) that hopefully are strategically installed at low points allowing the water to drain from the pipes. I personally take apart most of the fittings that are not soldered and let them drain as well.

That should take care of the outside pipes. It’s up to you whether or not you put the pipes back together now or in the spring, but I find it better to leave them apart, ensuring they have adequate time to drain.

It’s about now when I pull up the hose from the lake and remove the foot valve, (the thingy on the end of the hose that keeps the water from draining back out of the hose). Once it is gone, I position the hose with one end higher than the other and let it drain, occasionally if I am feeling full of air, I blow into the high end to get things moving. Once that’s done, I usually roll the pipe up and stuff it all under the camp, although we used to roll it up and take it inside, but that really was a waste of time, because it freezes inside too, if there is no heat on.

Now you are ready for inside, but wait…don’t forget to make sure you open any outside taps, like the one by the garden where you attach your garden hose. Inside the cottage depends on what you have. In our case, we have a kitchen sink and taps and a bathroom with toilet, basin and bathtub.
We really rough it around here…..

Beginning in the kitchen, I remove the plug from the trap under the sink. (the U shaped pipe that traps water and keeps sewer odors from coming back up the pipe) I drain the contents of the trap into a plastic butter dish and empty it outside. If you have a kitchen sprayer, remove the end, and blow through the hose, getting the water out.

Now to the bathroom. I start with the basin, and like the kitchen sink, I drain the trap of water. In our bathroom the trap doesn’t have a plug, instead the trap comes apart allowing the water to be drained.

In the shower, I remove the taps, and pull the inserts, allowing me to place a straw inside the hosing and blow any trapped water out. I usually reassemble the inserts etc and leave it. It’s usually at this point that I remember I forgot to remove the plug from the bathtub trap under the cottage, so I go outside and do that….

Lastly for the bathroom is the toilet. It is also the most delicate part of the plumbing so be careful and be sure to get the water out. The easiest way is to flush the toilet, removing the water from the tank on the back. Then I take a foam cup and bail out the remaining water, and mop up what the cup can’t get with a rag.

I do the same thing in the toilet bowl, first forcing as much water as possible down the drain with a rag, or plunger, and bailing out the remainder with my foam coffee cup and a rag. I wipe the bowl dry and I am finished. Finally, after ensuring as much water as possible has drained from the hot water tank, I shut off the valve and undo the hose. Then I blow/drain the water out of the garden hose and put it away.

All finished…? Not quite.

Unless I am taking the pump home for storage, I remove the bottom of it, on mine there is a bottom plate that comes off, and let the trapped water out. Usually this means I have to install a new gasket when I put it back together, but I leave it apart until the spring. Some people drain or winterize their systems a little differently, and I must admit, mine is a good bit of work, but it works for me. It depends somewhat on the system you have. I know some who drain the system and then pump anti-freeze in the system by placing the foot valve in a bucket of home or recreational vehicle anti freeze and running the pump, thus filling the system with an agent that won’t freeze. Some pour antifreeze in the toilet tank and walk away….some are lucky…I’m not….the one time I tried the antifreeze method I ended up with a frozen and split toilet and several frozen pipes…that was the last time I tried that…..I guess the long cold winter was a little too much, or my antifreeze wasn’t up to scratch.

There…that’s it. If you use the toilet over the winter, flush it with a bucket of water, but remember to drain it out nice and dry before you go home. A little time will save you money and grief come spring….when you should be fishing.

NOTE Sometime after this post, a reader provided some additional valuable information regarding disconnecting and shutting off the cottage water. Here are his comments: “Two things one needs to be concerned with when following your “Shutting Off The Water – Winter is Coming!” instructions. The very first thing I do, since I burned out my hot water tank elements one year, is to make sure the power to the hot water tank is disconnected either by switch, taking out the fuse or by switching off the breaker. It only takes a few seconds of the heating elements exposed to air to burn out.


Secondly, if you leave your toilet nice and dry, make sure you fill a large sock with dry sand to stuff down into the bottom of the bowl to avoid methane gas from coming back from the septic tank into the cottage. Other than that, great instructions…….Bill”

I welcome your comments and thoughts and would love to hear how you drain your cottage water system to prepare for winter. Leave a comment or send me an email.

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One thought on “Winterize Your Cottage – Winter is Coming!”

  1. Two things one needs to be concerned with when following your “Shutting Off The Water – Winter is Coming!” instructions. The very first thing I do, since I burned out my hot water tank elements one year, is to make sure the power to the hot water tank is disconnected either by switch, taking out the fuse or by switching off the breaker. It only takes a few seconds of the heating elements exposed to air to burn out. Secondly, if you leave your toilet nice and dry, make sure you fill a large sock with dry sand to stuff down into the bottom of the bowl to avoid methane gas from coming back from the septic tank into the cottage. Other than that, great instructions…….Bill

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