Q: I have a summer cabin in northern Wisconsin. It has a water well with a separate pump house that is about six feet from the cabin; the water pipe then runs underground to service the cabin. The pipes are not insulated and neither is the cabin floor. The cabin sits on an enclosed foundation and has a 2- to 3-foot crawl space, where the plumbing and pipes run.
What is the best way to approach converting this to a year-round cabin? The cabin walls and ceiling are well insulated and we have propane heat.
– Geoff Zabrowski; via e-mail
A: Winterizing your cabin will be a big project, but considering the tranquil beauty of your area in winter (not to mention the too-short summers!), who can blame you for wanting to enjoy your getaway year round?
Assuming your intent is to use your plumbing during the winter, the key to your project is planning how you will keep the water supply – pump, intake line, toilets, pressure lines, even drains – from freezing. This means you will have to keep the cabin heated even when you are gone or drain all the water lines between visits.
An external pump house, of course, will need to be insulated and heated to remain functional in winter. Max Burns, in his book “Cottage Water Systems,” says a plumbing arrangement where kitchen, bathroom and pump room are back-to-back-to-back works well for winter cottages; that small area can be closed off and kept warm much easier than a more decentralized plumbing arrangement.
An approach recommended by Lars F., Cabin Life’s Cabinitis guy, is to insulate and heat the crawl space under the cabin. You’ll get a warmer cabin that way, too. Lars used LP gas furnaces to heat his crawl space, then wrapped the pipes with electric heat tape tied in to a thermostat.
You might also investigate insulating the underground pipes with Styrofoam SM by Dow Chemical. Above-ground lines are best winterized using a combination of self-draining intake lines, insulation and electric heating cable.
Much of what you need for winterizing your water system can be purchased from Heat-Line Water Systems, (800) 584-4944, www.heatline.com; or Arctic Trace, (907) 522-3004, www.arctictrace.com. And for peace of mind, look into installing an alarm system that will alert you at your home or office if your cabin’s temperature drops. You can find several of these systems advertised in this issue’s Marketplace section, December 2006/January 2007, starting on page 59.