As I mentioned in a previous post, we’re mystified by what might have happened to our water system (see Contemplating The Mysteries of the Homestead). It now seems clear that the shut off valve, a gate valve beneath the winter water tank, has failed.
We had hints of this last autumn, when we shut off the intake to the summer water tank, and tried to run down the water level in that reservoir before turning on the winter water. A few days later, when I opened the winter water gate, I checked the summer water tank, as it would need to be fully drained before freeze up. I found that it was still full. The failed gate on the winter water tank had apparently refilled the summer tank as it emptied.
As we worked on replacing our water heater and rebuilding the cabin’s plumbing, we lamented not taking the extra time and effort to drain the house properly before leaving for a Thanksgiving trip south. At the time, I felt I did Michelle a favor to argue against the process, which we used to do regularly at the end of each visit to the homestead, before we moved here from Juneau.
Draining the cabin includes shutting off the flow of water, opening up a valve buried under the cabin to drain the pipes, and emptying the hot water tank. We do the latter by opening a spigot at the bottom of the tank to allow the contents to flow into a basin. There’s not enough room to use more than a plastic dishpan, so we need to watch carefully to empty it as it fills. This happens numerous times, after which we endure a prolonged period of dribble as the last drops flow. These chores, timed to allow use of the water system up until the last minute, yet still allow for completion before departure time, are tedious and stressful. I felt it best we forgo it.
After kicking myself for this decision through the whole rebuild, I had a change of heart as we pieced together the current state of our system. Eventually, we realized that we had, indeed, dodged a bullet.
If we had decided to drain the system, we would have left the valve under the cabin open till we returned. Since the gate at the winter tank had failed, the whole tankful of water, some 1400 gallons, would have drained away in our absence. We would have returned to the cabin to find our old water heater and pipes in good shape, but useless, as we would have no water left to fill them!
When summer comes again, we’ll cut into the intake hose under the cabin where it comes out of the ground, and add a ball valve there. That will become our new winter water shut off. That way, we’ll avoid excavating the valve under the winter tank.
Like everyone else, our life is full of hindsight, “what ifs”, and a good deal of relief that whatever happens is not somehow worse. This potential loss of water may be the biggest dodged bullet of our year.