Saturday, December 28, 2013

How we winterize the chalet.

People often ask us what WE do to winterize the chalet, because I think they expect it to be a time-consuming task, so I thought perhaps it would be useful to explain the simple steps right here. 
I had never done anything like this until we bought this house, but I believe the contractor who renovated the home prior to our purchasing it included one important feature that makes winterizing easy peasee.  This is certainly something that made us less squeamish about buying a second home 3 hours away, because it was designed for long winters when occupancy would be intermittent. 

This is more than a cute little trap door, located in the lower level bedroom.  Inside is access to the water supply line, and drain line. 

Oulah!  The drain line is to the left and supply to the right.  

Whenever temperatures will be close to or below freezing for any stretch of time, we winterize the chalet using these steps.  Note:  These steps are based on the system that was integrated into our home prior to purchase, and included here for information purposes only.

Step 1:  Turn off the breaker to the hot water heater, since there is no need to heat it while we are not here.  We keep a small electric wall heater inside the closet where the hot water heater resides, in order to keep the tank from freezing. (Follow the link to see which wall heater we use.)  We like it because it has a built-in thermostat to regulate the heat.
This step is likely overkill since the closet is in the center of the home -- but we feel better erring on the side of being overly cautious.
Step 2: We turn the knob to the supply line to the horizontal position (Typically when the knob is in this position, the line is closed off).
Step 3: Open all the faucets, and flush the toilets a few times to evacuate as much water from the tank and bowl as possible.  (Often I will use a plunger to force water back into the lines at sinks and drains.)
Step 4: Back at that adorable trap door, open the drain line (turning the handle to the vertical position) in order to evacuate water from the entire house.  (There is a lovely swooshing sound as all the water drains out of the house.)  Note: We leave the drain line open so that air can move freely inside the lines, giving any water that remains there room to expand when the outside temperature drops below freezing.  (I believe a cheerful & helpful plumber recommended this.)
Step 5:  Before departing, we always leave cabinet doors under sinks open to keep cold air from being trapped around exposed plumbing.


Another handy feature:  In the crawl space, you can see that the supply line is well insulated and also wrapped with a thermostat controlled heat cable to reduce the risk of water freezing in the supply line.  I wish we could take credit for this, but once again this was the brain child of the home's contractor. In the case of a power outage, this little feature's effectiveness is reduced, but so far, it has worked beautifully. 
It usually only takes about 10 minutes to complete all the above steps, but as we are pretty anal, and double check ourselves frequently, the process take a few minutes more than it should.

Upon ARRIVAL, we simply turn on the breaker for the hot water heater, so it can start heating the water in the tank.  Then, we SLOWLY open the supply line, allowing water to fill the water lines in the home.  Since the faucet taps were left on, you will hear them running immediately, as well as the toilet tanks filling up.  We then close off the drain line, since we left it open when we winterized.  This is an important step to remember, otherwise the incoming water is simply being flushed right back out of the house.

Note:  On a few occasions two of the taps (upstairs tub and kitchen sink) did not produce water immediately, because some water had evidently become frozen in those lines.  When this occurs, we leave on the hot water tap for just those faucets, and allow the hot water to melt whatever frozen water remains.  This usually only takes 45 minutes to an hour to correct itself --- essentially enough time for the hot water tank to heat the water and send it through the frozen taps.  This is incidentally about the time I start to feel my toes again, and can begin discarding layers of clothing, as the chalet begins to thaw. 


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