Winterizing your cottage (soft shutdown)

With an abundance of winter activities cottagers are finding themselves heading up to the second
home during weekends and winter holidays. While it is not in your cottage’s best interest to allow it
to go through freeze thaw cycles, it is a reality with many cottages. Understandable that you may not
want to be spending money to heat a building when no one is utilizing it.

When hard shutdowns (plumbing systems drained) occur on a regular basis, it creates a heightened
potential for the development of condensation within the wall cavities. The end result often being
the creation of mildew and potentially mold growth in these areas…this can be avoided.

The best case scenario would see a minimum temperature of 10 degrees celsius being maintained in
every room throughout the winter season. To achieve this kind of indoor environment it is best to
keep all doors open, thus, allowing minimal air flow restriction. If your cottage is utilizing a forced air
furnace system (or even simply ceiling fans) you will be able to set your thermostat’s fan control to
“Manual”, thus, ensuring a continuous circulation of conditioned air.

The cost to electrically run a fan on a continuous mode is barely recognizable on our hydro bill and
you will find that your indoor air quality will dramatically increase. No more musty cottage smell. To
ensure optimum indoor air quality replace your furnace filter on a monthly basis. The caveat of
maintaining minimal temperature is that should an extended power outage occur the house
temperature can reach a freezing temperature at a quicker rate than a cottage that has maintained
say 20 degrees C. This is where we introduce you to a soft shutdown.

With any type of plumbing that is being utilized in temperatures that allow the mercury to drop into
the blue zone we have to have a heated line to the water source (drilled wells can sometimes be an
exception to the rule). This will typically be a surface water source, lake or rivers, or a groundwater
source, drilled wells, dug wells, and to some extent sand point wells.

Heated tracers are now a common part of cottage construction, however, if your seasonal property
was constructed pre 1980, you may still have the first generation technology. Pyrotenex, I believe,
was the first to be on the scene. It simply pushes a conductor down the inside of the water supply
pipe that comes from the source and runs current down it to create enough heat to stop the water
from freezing.

Today we have a selection of heat tracers to choose from, yes good old Pyrotenex is still on the
market. Alternatively, you can look at a system called “Easy Heat” which is a similar product, both of
which now have Ground Fault Circuit protection (no electric shock hazard). My personal choice would
be a local product known as “HEAT LINE”. This is the smart product. Heat Line utilizes a polymer that
runs internally through your water pipe. The smart part is that every inch of it is thermostatically
controlled. For instance, if you have a 40 foot run from the water source to your pump, and there are
only two feet that are freeze vulnerable then only that section will draw current. Not only will this
reduce your electrical cost, it will also come with a lifetime guarantee.

Preparing rural property for a “soft shutdown”

1. If your property has a dishwasher you will need to put 2 to 3 cups of Plumbing Antifreeze
(available at all Canadian Tire stores as well as all hardware stores) into the dishwasher. Now you will
need to run your dishwasher through the shortest drain cycle it has. The idea is that we want the
antifreeze to displace any water that may be sitting in a “sag” between the dishwasher and the sink
2. You will need to shut the power off to your pump. The ideal circumstance would have a simple
OFF/ON switch labeled “PUMP” in an easily accessible spot. This could be right at the electrical
service panel or in the mechanical room close to the pump. If this is not the case you will have to shut
off the pump breaker at the main electrical panel. Ensure that the UV light power is also shut down or
3. Ensure the Hot Water tank is shut down. Like the pump, the hot water tank and the
Ultraviolet Light would be best served by having an easily accessible ON/OFF in line switch to
facilitate the safe easy shut down of these components
4. Now you can proceed with opening all tap fixtures in the home/cottage.
With a soft shutdown typically property owners do not drain their Hot Water Tanks, nor do they drain
off the pump’s pressure tank. Soft shutdowns typically are only utilized when the cottage owner will
be back within 15 days. Should the vacancy be a longer period please refer to “HARD SHUTDOWNS”.
5. Now that you have opened all the interior taps, you can go outside and open all the exterior
hose bibs(taps) to allow them to drain.
6. Leave all taps open.
7. Now we have to ensure that we displace all the water that is in every drain trap. This is done
by displacing the water with PLUMBERS antifreeze. In every drain in the house you can now pour
approximately 1 cup of plumbing antifreeze down the drain. The toilets will require a little more
8. Flush the toilet, now remove the tank lid and with a small plastic cup, scoop as much water as
you can out of the tank, and bowl. From there, you now pour plumbing antifreeze into the toilet tank
until the remaining water in the bowl is the color of the antifreeze.
9. Your next stop will be at the laundry machine. Much like the dishwasher we have to displace
any water that is sitting in the washer’s drain pipes. Pour approximately one third of a bottle of
antifreeze into the washer and start the drain cycle. Once complete leave the washer lid open.
10. Always double check that every tap in the building has been left open.
If you are uncomfortable with the process it is never a bad idea to have a plumber do it for the first
time around. Following him, taking notes and pictures is never a bad idea. It is important to
remember that your plumber is not a teacher. His job description is to do it for you, not teach you
how to do it. He is a busy guy/gal.