Tales from the Cabin
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Cabinitis: Waterline Waterloo

What would it take to get some decent water?

By Lars F
Published: May 1, 2006
Photo by Catalin Stefan/Agency: dreamstime.com
Clint Eastwood famously said that a man has got to know his limits. It pains me to admit that I have met mine. It was the one time in my life I undertook a project, spent hundreds of hours on it and then failed miserably!
Where should I begin this tale of woe? Well, as with all things, it began with an idea to improve my cabin. To be precise, it began with an idea to improve the clarity of the water supply at the cabin.
When I purchased my cabin, the water supply came from the lake through an on-land pumping system housed in a small wooden shed. Water lines ran 130 feet from lake to cabin up a very steep slope.
There were two things I didn’t like about the system: One, the intake line at the lake was in about 4 feet of water, which meant that the water pumped up to the cabin had lots of particles, and these plugged the inline filter continually. And two, the annual pre-winter chore of draining the system took a full day. I knew there had to be a better way, and I set out to change the location of my water intake.  

Mother of All Projects. My cabin has about 230 feet of water frontage. On the far left edge of the property, the lake quickly drops off to 25 feet deep. I figured that a submersible pump placed 25 feet down would produce a cleaner, cooler water supply than my current system.
One big problem was immediately apparent: My solution would literally quadruple the distance the water line had to run.
Here is where I should have listened to Mr. Eastwood. But I did not. I immediately went and bought 550 feet of 2-inch flexible black PVC pipe, a large submersible water pump and all the associated valves, connectors, compressors, etc.
Ignorance being bliss, I then set out on one of the most difficult projects I have ever undertaken. It would take most of a summer, working mostly on weekends.
I secured the line to a fixed position outside the cabin and started laying it down the cliff. The pipe was stiff and had been rolled up, so it was no small chore to wrestle it down that steep slope, in between the trees and through almost impenetrable brush to reach the lakeshore. This task alone cost me tons of perspiration, innumerable bug bites, some extremely nasty falls and, I must admit, a slight use of profanity!
So you can imagine my joy when I finally reached the water’s edge. I only needed about another 50 feet of line to reach my desired spot out in the lake.
I next rigged up a control switch for operating the pump and a faucet drain so I could easily drain the pipe in the winter. Then it was time to get the pump in the lake.
Submersible water pumps, heavy as they are, cannot simply lie on the bottom of a lake where they would pump dirt and debris. So I built a carriage to hold the pump horizontally. After threading underwater electrical line through the last 50 feet of pipe, I was ready for the big launch.
I loaded the pump and carriage onto my floating dock, which I had already towed to the proper location, and carefully lowered the entire apparatus to its destination at the bottom.

Voilà! Now for the big test. I turned on the circuit breaker, then ran to the bathroom sink and turned on the faucet. Yes! We had water!
After a small amount of self-congratulations and some further testing, I disconnected the old system and hauled the old water lines behind the garage.
So the summer had not been wasted. I had a submersible pump taking water from a deeper part of the lake and providing a much better water supply than before. I still had to drain the pipes before winter, but it was now simply a matter of turning one faucet handle down by the lake and draining the entire system. Oh, what a success this project had turned out to be!

On to Waterloo. Now comes the truly embarrassing part. I had installed an inline water filter on the system and thought that was adequate. About two weeks later, however, the water was still a bit rusty looking so I decided to install a second inline filter to further filter the water. I started the project on a weekend, cut into the line and installed the second filter. However, I ran out of time and decided to finish it the following weekend. So I left the two unconnected ends of the PVC line lying on the ground up by the cabin. This decision will demonstrate the irrefutable law that says, “If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.”
When I returned the following weekend, I found to my dismay that a severe storm had passed through the area and had caused the line to move about 6 feet down the hill. All I needed to solve the problem was another 6 feet of PVC pipe to connect to the loose ends. The problem was, I didn’t have another 6 feet of pipe.
A wiser man would have left the project alone until he could get additional line to finish the job. Oh, no, not me. I wanted to fix it now and restore my water supply. So I convinced my wife to come help me and we struggled and pulled and tugged on that line down by the lake, trying to regain the lost 6 feet. Finally, success! We connected the line together,  I turned on the switch and the water ran as before. Problem solved.  
Wrong! That night, while we were eating dinner, we heard a loud WHOOSH. When we went to wash dishes, we found – surprise! – we were without water again. Something had obviously gone very wrong.
The next morning, I checked every line, every connection and could not find the problem. We were just plain out of water.  
Not knowing what else to do, I dragged out all the old lines and restored the old system. It was the only way I could get water for the cabin.

My White Knight. And there the matter sat until the following summer when I did what I should have done in the first place. I hired an expert. He recommended that I install a new submersible pump and connect it to a heated electric line within the core of the PVC pipe. Then I would have a system that could be used to thaw out the line without having to drain the water all the time.
I thought this was a wonderful idea and so I hired him and his crew to install the line and pump for me. While they were at it, they pulled the system I had installed completely out of the water.
Turns out that our pulling and tugging on the line had ruined the sealed connections on the water pump, thus destroying all the pressure in the system and allowing every ounce of water in the line to immediately WHOOSH back to the lake. In short, my insistence on getting the job done immediately had wrecked everything. The lesson? Patience is an extremely valuable commodity.

The Silver Lining. In the long run there is a blessing to this story. I was able to get rid of my on-land pumping system. And I did wind up with a heated water system that I didn’t have to drain every winter.
And that led me to take the next logical step of finally insulating my cabin so that I could have water anytime I wanted in the winter, be it 50 below zero or not.  
So the story ends well. But when I think back over the hours and hours of effort, sweat and tears I put into the project, it always makes me think that this was certainly a personal waterloo in my cabin remodeling efforts.  
I have therefore carefully avoided any and all future attempts at plumbing, be they repairs or new construction. As anyone can tell, that is perhaps my wisest decision!

Lars F. has refused the 12-step plan to control his cabinitis. Only his first name is used to protect his identity.
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