Design & DIY

Cottage Q&A: plumbing protection in a raised cottage

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My cottage walls and roof are insulated. The cottage is raised and is open (unskirted) underneath. If I close in the underside of the cottage, would that give me enough freeze protection to use the water in the winter without the risk of burst pipes?—Pipe Dreamer

Not without adding some kind of heat source. Depending on your winter climate, skirting the underside may help your plumbing last a tiny bit longer into the cold season, says Dan Flynn of ADF Plumbing in Dorset, Ont. “But by January, it won’t do a thing.”

The right heat source may depend on how you currently heat your cottage. If you have electric heat, for example, Flynn suggests using baseboard heaters or con­struction heaters. On the other hand, Shawn Groulx of Express Plumbing and Heating in Red Deer, Alta., recommends thermostatically controlled heating cable that runs along the pipes (and is insulated overtop). Unlike some other heat sources, “it’s not a huge power sucker,” says Groulx.

Flynn says that some folks use light bulbs to heat the space. Cheap to install, for sure, but also prone to failure. “A power surge can easily blow them,” he warns. Even walking around on the floor above can blow them. “Think of constantly shaking a lamp.”

If you do close in the underside of the cottage, you should also insulate the space and limit drafts blowing on the pipes. When it comes to frozen plumbing, “drafts are one of the biggest culprits,” says Groulx. And make sure you leave some kind of logical access point, such as a trap door to easily reach the pipes, advises Flynn. When there’s a problem, “you don’t want to make your plumber crawl 30 feet on his belly to fix it.”

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