winter lake

How To Winterize A Cottage

Winterize A Cottage

It’s sad to think I am always writing about ‘winterizing” something around here, last week I wrote a short post about Winterizing Your Outboard Motor and I have written about how to winterize a cottage before on several occasions.

Most of you who own cottages and camps know how to winterize a cottage anyway, you don’t need me, but humor me, it gives me something to write about at an otherwise kind of depressing time of year for cottage owners. So here is how to winterize your cottage.

There really isn’t a lot to winterizing a cottage. Mostly it comes down to the plumbing and a few other things, and most places have their own little idiosyncracies, their particular way of doing something, but here are some fairly generic things to keep in mind when it comes time to winterize your cottage.

I would also like to point out that the extent to which you winterize a cottage depends on the extent to which your place will be used or not used during the winter months. There are some things you may not want to do if you intend to use the place occasionally throughout the winter.

Drain The Water

1) Get the water out. The first and probably the most important job when it comes to winterizing a cottage, is to disconnect and drain the water from the plumbing system.

Start by shutting off the power supply to the water pump, pull the plug, and if it is on a separate breaker or fuse, shut it off there too.

2) Drain the water from the pump. Jet pumps have a plug you can remove and drain the water from the actual pump as well as the tank. If the pump is to be stored in an unheated place, like a shed, be sure to drain all the water.

I take ours home and store it in the basement where it is warm and dry. This is also when you will remove the plastic water line that comes from the lake or well to the pump. I disconnect ours at the pump and pull it in from the lake.

Then I remove the foot valve and put one end of the hose up high, forcing any water inside to come out the other end. Usually I leave it like that for a weekend or even a week then roll it up and stuff it under the camp.

Clean the footvalve, it will likely be full of lake gunk, wipe it dry and store it indoors. We don’t drink our lakewater so I usually spray a little lubricant on the working parts of the footvalve. Don’t do this if you drink your lakewater or it comes from a well or other potable water supply.

3) Open all the taps in the camp and under the camp. In some cases, under the camp there may be some connections you can disconnect, or plugs in the pipes you can remove that will allow the water to drain out.

Tip the pipes down where possible to get the water out. Some folks use an air compressor and “blow” the water out. I don’t I just open everything possible and drain it. I leave all the valves and plugs open.

4) Shut the power off to the hot water tank. Then connect your garden hose to the drain valve (tap)located at the bottom of the hot water tank and open the valve.

Most of the time, the water will not drain unless you also remove or open something above it. I remove the pressure relief valve which allows air to enter the hot water tank, thus pushing the water out the bottom through the hose, which you have now pointed toward the lawn….not the kitchen floor.

5) I also do something now that I didn’t always do, I remove the hot water tank heating element. This is located behind the panel on the tank, and requires a wrench and a screwdriver. There are probably directions included with the tank, or you can find all kinds of web sites with specific instructions about this.

Please note, this does not necessarily have to be done, I do it because I have discovered that leaving the element in, has resulted in premature burnout of the element if the power to the hot water tank is accidently turned on….stuff happens….

6) Under the kitchen sink there is a ‘trap’ a U-shaped pipe that traps water to prevent fumes and smells from the septic tank from coming up through the pipe into the sink and into your camp. Usually these have a screw on cover on the bottom that you can unscrew to let the water out. Catch the water in a pot or something and throw it out.

Replace the cover, then put a rag over the drain in the sink to block odors. It’s not as effective as the trap, but it works, it also serves as a reminder not to put any water down the drain.

7) Make sure the kitchen taps are open and allowed to drain. If you have a sprayer hose, remove the end and drain the water out, then put it back together. Remember, anything you take apart is easier to put together immediately rather than next Spring when you want to get out on the lake fishing.

8) The bathroom. If you have inside plumbing, and these days who doesn’t? You probably have several fixtures needing attention for winter. First of all the bathroom sink. Pretty much the same as the kitchen sink.

Open the taps, they might drip a little but not much. Remove the j-trap under the sink and pour out the water, wipe it dry and reassemble. Wipe the porcelain sink with a dry rag. Your wife will be impressed.

9) Under the bathtub, which usually means the basement or crawlspace under the camp, there will be another trap for the bathtub drain. Remove it and let the water splash out on your face, that is refreshing, kind of a mid winterize-the-camp-pick-me-up. Put the cover back on and wipe your face off.
"first lake ice"
10) Inside you need to remove the bathtub taps, pull out the “inserts” and wipe them dry. I use a small piece of pipe to blow inside the taps to remove any remaining water inside. Reassemble. Remove the shower head and dry it out, I leave it off until next year. There should be valves behind a panel leading up to the shower, they will be open.

If you are lucky, they will allow you to open them and remove the water in the pipes leading to the shower head. Let the water drain back out. If you are not lucky, you can blow the water back out.

It helps if you can use something like a shop vac to blow into the pipes to push the water out. Wipe the tub dry and lift the rubber mat and hang it over the side of the tub. Leave the shower curtain open to promote air circulation. Put a rag over the bathtub drain to prevent odors from coming up inside the camp.

11) Winterize the toilet. Toilets are particularly prone to freezing issues. I know several folks who just dump antifreeze in the toilet and forget about it. I am not one of them. The one time I did that, the toilet froze and split during the winter. Faulty anti-freeze I guess. I much prefer removing the water. Nothing to freeze means nothing to break.

In a toilet there are two places that you need to get the water out, the tank and the bowl. I start with the tank, because it goes to the bowl. First, flush it. Yup, just flush the toilet, the water in the tank will run into the bowl leaving a couple of inches of water in the tank.

I get this out using a small paper cup as a bailer, a sponge and finally a dry rag. I usually leave the top of the tank off, placing it carefully out of the way. Be careful, they break easily.

12) Now winterize the toilet bowl. There are various techniques for getting the water out, here is what I do. Using a rag I ‘push’ a lot of the water out through the bowl into the drain. It will go if you stick a rag in there and push toward the back of the bowl. Then I use a paper cup to bail the remainder, then sponge it, then finally wipe it dry.

I put a BIG dry rag into the bowl to keep the smell from coming back up from the septic tank. I use a BIG dry rag because it is important to see it in the Spring and not let it get flushed into the drain which would be a major disaster of the plumbing kind.

Wipe up all the water you spilled and pour the water you drained out with the cup outside. Don’t pour it down any drains…..

13) You pretty much have the plumbing done, except the garden hose. Disconnect the hose from the outside tap. I lay the hose out straight, with one end higher than the other and let it drain before rolling it up.

Leave the tap open, it lets the air in to help things dry out. You can close it later. Remember, when it comes to cottage plumbing, if it isn’t wet, it cannot freeze, the object of the game is to get the water out of whatever fixtures and pipes.

Other stuff to winterize

14) We take our food stuff home for the winter and use it up, canned goods, condiments, everything, don’t leave anything. Remove everything from the refridgerator, defrost it and wipe it dry.

Pack the frozen stuff in your cooler and take it home. Put a towel or other item between the fridge and freezer doors to keep them open and unplug the fridge/freezer from the wall. Put an open box of baking soda inside the fridge.

I do pretty much the same thing with tools and liquids in the workshop. I take home paint, spray paint, aerosol cans, and any liquids. On tools that I am leaving at the camp, I usually wipe them down with a rust preventative. I remove and take home the outboard motor, chainsaw and power tools. Anyone breaks in, they can have the nails.

I also shut the electric power off to the workshop/shed and cover over the windows to keep prying eyes out. Throw some mothballs around and leave an open bag of barbecue charcoal, it helps to reduce moisture and condensation from forming inside.
winter lake
15) We usually put a blanket over all the electronics in the camp. Don’t know if it helps, but it cannot hurt to keep them a little warmer. Remember, it will get almost as cold inside as it will outside.

Put a few mildew boxes around to keep mildew from forming. When I think of it, I throw some mothballs in the attic on the probably misguided advice that they deter rodents and critters from moving in.

16) Make sure all the windows are closed and locked properly. Close the curtains or put something up inside to block outside eyes from seeing inside. Thieves don’t steal what they cannot see, don’t give them any temptation. While I believe them to be helpful, I don’t have shutters on my windows, nor do I board them up. But it isn’t a bad idea.

I do enclose our front deck and screen room with a fairly heavy plastic to keep the snow and rain off the deck. It works very well and helps to keep the camp warm when we are there for a winter cottage weekend. I have a roof over our deck, so closing it in with plastic is fairly easy to do.

17) I know several cottagers who put a plastic tarp over their chimney to keep critters, rain and snow out. I don’t do that for two reasons

A) we will likely use the woodstove over the winter and getting up on a roof is not my idea of fun anytime, but it is worse in icy winter conditions and;
B) I would probably forget the chimney was covered and light a fire in the woodstove….

18) It can be helpful to put a sheet of plastic over the beds and fabric furniture. It helps to keep the dampness out of the mattresses and bedding, something you will appreciate next cottage season.

19) Boats are a subject unto themselves, so I am not getting to involved with that here, but I chain my aluminum boats to a big tree with a good lock and big chain and turn them upside down.

I raise the boats up on some blocks of wood to allow some air circulation. If you have a big garage or shed, I believe the best place for a boat, even aluminum, is indoors for winter.

20) It’s also time to put a little oil or lubricant on all the padlocks, locks on the doors and boats etc. Makes it much easier to get them open in the Spring or even throughout the winter.
Chev Tracker In Snow
21) It is also time to fill up the gas tanks in your small engines, like lawnmowers, boat gas tanks etc, and add some gas conditioner to keep it fresh. With gas tanks you have two choices really, drain them and leave them dry, or fill them up and add conditioner.

I am a huge believer in filling the tank and adding gas conditioner, it keeps the gas fresh and prevents the rust from forming inside a metal gas tank.

22) This is also the time to get your wharf out of the water, or prepare it for freeze up. I pull my floating wharf and walkways out of the water and put the pieces up on blocks to let air blow through underneath and give them a chance to dry out over the winter.

This is also a good opportunity to make any repairs needed, re-nail loose wharf boards and put a little lubricant on metal parts like dock hinges.

The trick to winterize a cottage or winterize a camp is to picture the place in the dead of winter. Even though you are winterizing your cabin on a beautiful autumn day, remember that in a month or two the temperatures might be well below freezing, snow will be piling up, high blizzard winds, freezing rain, etc etc.

Look around your place and consider what will happen to stuff in the event that winter comes, and it will.
– Are the tarps on your boat tied down tight?
– Will rain or snow accumulating on them collapse the tarp?
– Is there anything laying around that could blow into a window during a windstorm?
– Are there tools left outside, such as a shovel, that a crook could use to break window or snap a padlock hasp off a door?

There ya go, a list of winterize the cottage tips for ya. As I mentioned earlier, each place is different, so you need to tailor this list for you own individual preferences and requirements.

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11 thoughts on “How To Winterize A Cottage”

  1. This was very helpful. We don’t use antifreeze either because we had a similar problem one year when we poured it in the kitchen sink trap. It froze and split. My husband said that it might have been because water got poured down there by accident after the anti-freeze. However, because of that, we don’t take any chances. If there is no water, there is nothing to freeze and a big towel stuffed in the sink reminds us not to pour water or anything else in after the water is shut off for winter.
    Great post.

  2. We have been winterizing our place on Duck Lake with antifreeze for years without a problem. Sounds like you had faulty product or let water get in there. We fill our plumbing system with antifreeze every year. If you do it, make sure you use fresh, new antifreeze.

  3. Very helpful post- thank you. One question- you said that you go up to your cottage for a winter weekend sometimes. Do you get the toilet running again for those few weekends? Or do you just bring water to use to flush the toilet with?

    This is our first year with a cabin and we want to use it during the winter once in a while but we’re not sure what to do about the toilet situation.

  4. Hi Leah, Yes, we use the toilet during the winter. We do not hook the pump up, just use a bucket of water to flush it. If you pour a bucket of water in the bowl it will flush the toilet, no need to fill the tank each time, although I suppose you could, but then you would need to dry it out before you go home. All we do during the winter is haul buckets of water from the lake, usually a hole in the ice. One regular sized bucket will flush the toilet easily. When we are ready to go home, I remove all the residual water in the toilet bowl just like I do in the fall, and dry the bowl. Put the towel back in to stop septic smell from coming up. Most folks just fill it up with more antifreeze, that is your choice.

  5. Thanks for the info.
    Just closed my camp in Maine and feel confident.
    The pressure tank I saved for last,(LOWEST VALVE(S) IN PLUMBING ASSEMBLY)- no water drained off- I assume not much left to drain.
    Did not see your reference to pressure tanks.
    Thanks, CHEERS!

  6. Hi Henry, The pressure tank probably drained when you opened the rest of the system. I remove my pump and take it home where it is kept in the basement, so any water that might be left in it is immaterial. But you are right, I should have mentioned it.

  7. Hi,
    Found your articles helpful.
    This is our first year to shut off water in an unwinterized cottage.The well is above the property and the water is gravity fed. No concern other than this: When we disconnected the pipe bringing water to the pump the water poured out until the water level in well was below the pipe.On that day we left the open-end of the pipe uncovered. As the well filled up, water poured out the pipe.Yesterday we used a siphon pump to clear water out of the end of the pipe for 8ft or more (we think). Then we put a cork in the end and wrapped the cork and pipe end with plastic and a clamp. Should we have left it open to drain?
    It is a shared well and we did not want to drain it on the other people who use their property in the off season. Thanks for advice.

  8. Hi Diane,
    I am not well versed in gravity fed systems, however you said you also have a pump, so I assume it must be a hybrid system of some design. I am trying to picture the setup. Are you able to pull the hose completely out of the well and leave it out for the winter? If not, and you have to leave it in the well, I don’t think I would have plugged the end which will trap water in the pipe if the well water level rises and pushes more into the hose. Might have been better to let it drain. On the other hand, it sounds like you were concerned that by not plugging it, the water could drain from the well, to the chagrin of others who use the well.
    It sounds to me like the end of the pipe that needs a plug is the end in the well, but if you can plug that, you probably could just remove it entirely for the winter. I am assuming that there is some reason why you cannot remove the end of the pipe in the well.
    If you are unable to get the pipe completely out of the water, I wonder if it might have been better to pull the hose back up above the well and leave it higher than the well, thus avoiding the gravity problem. Perhaps you could cut the pipe close to the well, and install a connector. That would enable you to disconnect the hose closer to the well and put the end up, to eliminate it draining when the well water level rises.
    Does this make sense?
    Anyone else have any suggestions?

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