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winter power outage + well water

Posted: Fri Nov 29, 2019 10:37 am
by sj6x
New homeowner here. We have a well so when the power goes out we have no water. If the power goes out during the winter how do I drain the pipes to prevent them from freezing? Is turning on all the faucets and flush the toilets until they run dry good enough? what about the hot water tank and the well water tank?

This is a second home so if the power goes out for an extended period we will probably just head back to our city apartment, but how should we properly prepare the house before we leave? Can you properly winterize a house if there's no electricity?

Re: winter power outage + well water

Posted: Fri Nov 29, 2019 5:13 pm
by Aaron
If this is a rural property that you winterize, you will definitely want to get the lines completely drained and also blown out with air. There are local plumbers in nearby towns that specialize in this because it's a seasonal thing they routinely do, and they also usually guarantee their work so if there were a leak when the lines are re-pressurized again next spring they will repair them for free. But they also make the determination next spring when it's warm enough to turn the lines back on for the year.

Marine-grade antifreeze is added to toilets and traps after they are drained of water.

Otherwise if you're living there all winter, then your pipes must never freeze if they're pressurized. Often wells are in a boxed structure on the side of the building with a heater that can keep it warmer than 32F/0C, and shielded from the wind. As plumbing enters the building it should be well insulated and the building should always be kept above freezing temp of course.

Energy (electricity or fuel) is your achille's heal if you aren't going to be at the property frequently enough to run water and make sure the place is consistently heated throughout the winter. So you need to have a contingency plan for loss of commercial power or fuel, such as a generator.

The last thing you want is a pipe burst, that is disastrous, so it's good you're asking questions.

Re: winter power outage + well water

Posted: Sat Nov 30, 2019 8:43 am
by Shannon
Good question. This is not an easy thing to do and to be sure your 100% good if this is a normally 4 season home. Basically all you can do is open all taps and then open a low point drain to drain all water that will back out of the water system. Drain all pressure tanks/ holding tanks. Something else I would look at is adding someway of pressurizing the system with air right after the main valve that comes into the home so that you can systematically blow out each water line through the home. You can likely use something as simple as a water spigot that you can rig up with a hose and fitting to attach an air hose too. Pressure up the lines to around 30-40PSI and go around opening one tap at a time getting most water out. Once this is all done go around and leave every tap open and pour RV anti freeze in every toilet bowl, toilet tank , sink , tub, shower basically anything that still holds water on the drain side. Do not use it in anything on the fresh water side other then the toilet tank. Most are drinking water safe but believe me as an RV owner that stuff never gets 100% flushed out once you have added it and it foams and bubbles forever when water is run from a pressurized water supply.
Unfortunately there is less you can do other than gravity drain the water supply system when you have no power unless you have a generator to run the compressor . For a shorter term outage it would be easier to use the generator to run the heating system then to drain all the water system.

Re: winter power outage + well water

Posted: Sun Dec 01, 2019 12:42 am
by sj6x
Thank you guys! Since I'm using the house on the weekends all year, it sounds like my only sound option is to get a generator for emergency use? My budget is limited, but maybe I can get by with a $500 propane generator that I would run outside and connect with an extension cord to the oil furnace (after an electrician has modified it's currently hardwired connection)? I'm guessing the electricity required to run the oil furnace is only a few amps intermittently? So a propane generator should be able to run the furnace for a couple of days on a 5lbs tank? Any suggestions or other solutions you have would be greatly appreciated.

Re: winter power outage + well water

Posted: Sun Dec 01, 2019 1:05 am
by Shannon
Im not sure of your situation or location but propane is not as good in real cold conditions I would likely go with gas generator. The nice thing about propane however is that you could have a 5 lb tank sitting around on hand all the time were as this unleaded gas will go kinda bad if it sits around too long and not regular used and replaced.

A 2000 watt Gen. would be enough to run the furnace fan and a few lights and tv or a few basic things if needed.

Re: winter power outage + well water

Posted: Sun Dec 01, 2019 9:51 am
by sj6x
I'm in New York. Didn't know propane didn't work in the cold. Even if it's stored inside and warm at start, it will stop working once I put it outside if it's cold enough? temperatures sometimes drop to -20, but it's rare. I see they have dual fuel generators. Maybe I'll get that so I can always go to the gas station if there's an issue...

Re: winter power outage + well water

Posted: Sun Dec 01, 2019 1:21 pm
by Shannon
At your temps the propane should be fine. Propane tends not to yield as much from a tank when it is colder for extended periods of -20 to -30 F.

The duel fuel is a good idea though.

Re: winter power outage + well water

Posted: Tue Dec 03, 2019 9:01 am
by sj6x
Thank you! And guess what. Just found out the house had a power outage last night and has been without power for 12 hours already. luckily the outside temperature has been around 25F and going up to 36 today so I'm hoping the pipes are ok. But if it was a lot colder I'd definitely be screwed. Other than going for a $7,000 standby generator system, anything else I can do to prepare the house for power outages on weekdays when I'm not around?

Re: winter power outage + well water

Posted: Tue Dec 03, 2019 9:09 am
by Shannon
Do you have neighbours you can talk to and see what they do before you go spending that kind of money? Or maybe a local plumbing/heating company.

Re: winter power outage + well water

Posted: Tue Dec 03, 2019 4:14 pm
by sj6x
Thanks. I just did. 1 neighbour had 2 frozen pipes in 11 years and another neighbour had none in 10 years. Neither have generators. A third neighbour who is only here in the summer, drains his pipes by a professional each fall. Still he says he has at least one burst pipe every spring when he returns. His house is a log cabin though. Mine is a regular house. When I came back after 13 hour blackout the temperature was 53F inside. It was sunny and 30f outside today though so not a great indication of what the situation would beduring a -20F cold spell. the basement was 49F.

If I get a portable generator, I would have to be here to set it up, and if I have to be here to set it up, I'm thinking firing up my wood burning stove might be enough to keep the pipes from freezing. It's a small stove with limited heat output, but after I fired it up today and I would say the indoor temperature went up about 10 degrees after 3 hours. Not sure it affected the basement though where the well pump and everything water related is.

Re: winter power outage + well water

Posted: Tue Dec 03, 2019 4:19 pm
by Shannon
The wood fire place will help but you have to be there at the time to have it going

Re: winter power outage + well water

Posted: Wed Dec 04, 2019 6:20 am
by Aaron
I recall when my dad would go up to the lake at the old property in the middle of winter, he'd just bring several gallons of water with him for drinking, doing some dishes, and maybe flushing the toilet once or twice. He'd only be there for a day or two, and he'd do his showering before going up and after he got back home.

Now in his new house the well pump is inside the basement of the house, so freezing is no longer much of a concern as the place is very well insulated. Though I know he shuts off the pump and water heater just in case when the house is unattended.