The Waterline Puzzle
May 1, 2005
Q: I have a predicament that has perplexed me for years. I supply the house with water from the lake (Lake George in New York’s Adirondack Mountains). We bring in bottled water for drinking, but still use lake water for all our other needs.
Photo by dreamstime.com
My question is this: The cottage is currently seasonal and a water line is put in and taken out every spring and fall. I would like to winterize the cottage but have not figured out a way to get water from the lake to the house without the water line freezing. The water line is above ground at the shoreline and there is no basement to put a pump in. Because electric outages are common, I cannot rely on electric heat for a doghouse-style housing around the onshore pump or for electric heat lines. The only suggestion I have received is that I could dig a pit 4 feet deep and large enough to house the pump as it should not freeze at the bottom of a covered hole that deep. Sounds suspicious to me. Any ideas?
– Carl Bangert; via e-mail
A: You were right to be suspicious. Our friendly plumbing engineer from Albany, N.Y., questions that the pit would provide necessary insulation value. And if you cover a pump housing with enough dirt to create proper insulation, what happens when you need to repair or replace the pump? Keep a shovel handy.
There are a couple of practical ways to accomplish what you want.
Number 1: According to our plumbing engineer, you can run the water pipe five feet underground to get below the frost line for the Lake George area. He suggests a 3/4- to 1-inch galvanized or copper pipe. Dig a trench from the house to the lake with a Ditch Witch trencher and find a way to run the pipe into the lake below the shoreline to prevent freezing. If you can’t figure out a practical way to dig the trench or bore with the pipe into the lake, ask a local contractor to do it.
Once the pipe is run and covered, you need to place the pump in the house rather than by the side of the water. As long as you’re going to winterize the cottage, install a suction pump and a pressure tank in a closet or utility room at the same time, making sure to add a drain valve at the low point in the system. That way, if you have to turn the heat off and leave during the winter, you can easily drain the water lines to prevent pipes from freezing.
Number 2: You can install what is called a pyrotechnic electrically heated water line from a submersible pump in the lake all the way up and into your cabin. (This suggestion assumes that the interior of the cabin can be heated above freezing at all times so the water lines inside the cabin don’t freeze.)
When you arrive at the cabin, you turn the circuit breaker on and in about 15 to 30 minutes you have water. When you leave the cabin, you shut the circuit breaker off and let the black PVC line freeze solid. The line won’t break and the pyro line inside will melt the ice in the line when you turn it back on. One of these lines was installed at a Cabin Life staffer’s place in 1997 and has weathered temperatures down to 50 below. That line runs 250 feet from pump to cabin and cost about $2,600 installed, pump and all.
You might want to compare the costs of these two solutions with the cost of drilling a new well. A new well would save you from hauling drinking water and add to the property value should you ever sell the cabin.
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