Cabin Well Line Winterize and Reopen: Popping the Pitless Adapter, Shock Chlorination

This year I made sure I drained the water line under the camp that comes from the submersible well pump. I wanted to make sure the cabin Well line as well as the cabin water system was empty for this winter. I had to replace a piece of above ground Well water line this spring which I hadn’t drained and that had ruptured the previous winter. The new step was to briefly ease slightly open the pitless adapter valve down in the Well below the frost line.  I write about that in the following sections, along with my other winterizing steps and how I shock chlorinate the Well & water system in spring.

I Drain the Cabin Well-Line using a Pitless Adapter Puller Tool

Water well basics graphic

Graphic for Well basics.  See video of pitless.

I spent a chunk of time following up on what I did wrong last winter and concluded that most guides on winterizing don’t touch on the cabin well-line side of things, focusing on the water systems inside cabins and vacation homes.

What I had missed was popping my cabin well-line pitless adapter, the valve that allows you to detach  a submersed Well pump from the buried water line without digging a pit! The pitless adapter valve has a simple design, and is robust like most plumbing. I’m guessing this is an issue specific to submersible pumps. I see comments to open a valve to let air into the intake side with an above ground pump: that will let the water slide back down into the Well.

Pitless adapter cabin water well winterize

Pitless Adapter sits in well wall about 4ft down, top of pump line side is threaded. Click for bigger image.

My pitless adapter is about 4ft down the Well, under the local frost line. I found one place, Complete Plumbing, that sold a tool for the job. Basically it is a threaded iron pipe: A 5 ft length with a T-joint allowing the addition of short pieces as a handle, 1 inch nominal diameter. The tool handle has two roles: something to grab onto and whack, plus it stops the long pipe piece, and possibly the pump assembly, dropping into the depths of the Well.

I looked at Lowes for 1 inch pipe and fittings: I can remake the Pitless adapter tool with a 5ft threaded steel pipe section, T-connector and two short threaded pieces for handles. No guarantees that

Pitless puller tool docked onto the pitless adapter

Pitless puller tool – a length of threaded pipe – docked onto the pitless adapter. Click for bigger image.

anyone else has 1” fittings or that I got the detail right. The tool from Complete Plumbing wasn’t much more that the Lowes price for the parts, I just got slaughtered on shipping costs.

I rinsed off the pitless valve assembly (from above), trying to remove crud that might get into the opened seal. Then I docked in the tool and screwed it in. Not simple since those are narrow threads on the pipe and it has to be well aligned to mate. Returning water to a Well is frowned on, ‘cos of the contamination risk, but I will bleach or ‘shock chlorinate’ the cabin Well system at the start of the next camp season.

Pitless tool with handle in place for water well winterize

Pitless puller tool handle prevents accidental plunge of tool and pump line down well!

I had to thump the cross piece to make the adapter parts free up, even with the system depressurized. There was a distinct whoosh of water from the well line with just a small lift of the interior pitless valve component, I did that a couple of times. I tried not to lift anything too far, I aimed to keep the pump side in the guides to avoiding having to play with mating the two pieces. Maybe I should have blown this line clear with the compressor, but I was on my own and didn’t want to leave the pitless adapter unattended. Now I just worry about it sealing tight next season, but I am guessing the water pressure will make the pieces seat properly.

I did have a second strategy for getting water out of the Well line: using a 12 V pump sold for fish tanks. I did try going in through the fitting where my pressure gauge generally is under the sink. That didn’t work as the 0.25″ plastic tube I was threading was getting hung up after just a couple of inches. If I hadn’t succeeded with the pitless adapter valve I might have pulled a line off a connector from where I repaired the well line and gone in that way. I have a heat gun (industrial hairdryer) that makes the plastic piping malleable, but do that too many times and the fit may become poor.

How I Drain the Cabin Water System

I drain the cabin water system using the hose connector at the low point under the sink. Right now I only have water at the kitchen sink during the summer. First I drain the bulk of the water, in the pipes and pressure tank, to the outside through a garden hose. Then I hook up an air compressor to the hose faucet with a brass snap connector and gender bender link piece. With much hissing and spluttering I gently pressurize and release the system, turning taps and valves off and open. I finish with the fixtures left open for the winter and marine anti-freeze in the traps and toilet . There are YouTube videos on draining vacation home water systems, which are OK except they don’t deal with my Well-line issue relating to the submersed pump.  Its easy to figure whats usual and whats just internet crazy If you skip through several videos.

I’m now draining the cabin water system in early November. That is kind of late for the Adirondacks where folk often do the task on Columbus day weekend. I’m comfortable to squeeze out the extra month because I put cable pipe warmers  on the Well-line and I’m monitoring temperature trends. I have a cheap USB temperature sensor on the line plus the interior unit of a Davis 6250 weather package records conditions inside the cabin.

As an aside: I have a gallon electric water-heater that brings the water to 98C, almost boiling, then either holds it there or drops it to one of two lower temps. It routinely gives the water for coffee etc a degree of sterilization and ensures hot-water is handy for cleanup and sponge-baths. I use it all the time as I currently only have cold tap-water, but it will also work when folk have the cabin water turned off and are schlepping in supplies: from home or a local source. I rate the water heater as one of my top five buys for the cabin.

How I  Shock-Chlorinate my Cabin Well Water-System in Spring

My cabin Well water failed a qualitative E. coli test as part of the purchase inspection. I’d say not badly given that I have done some water analysis work, but any fail is a fail. The place hadn’t been used a lot in the prior couple of years and the plumbing had been repaired (after freezing). Both can help bacteria get a foothold. I took a discount on the sale price and assumed the risk. The following spring I disinfected the cabin Well water system by shock chlorinating twice, two weeks apart, and then got a clean E. Coli retest after another two weeks. Since then I have re-sanitized fairly casually every spring. I tested one more time and stopped the testing after that came back clean. Now I just do the routine bleaching or ‘shock chlorination’.  The basic cost of shock chlorination is a couple of dollars for run of the the mill fragrance-free bleach. Most everyone has a bucket and hose already. The coliform test is around $40 for me at a water lab connected to one of the local hospitals. They can test for other stuff like heavy metals.

well bleach shock

Required gear to disinfect Well by shock chlorination is pretty basic, the biggest requirement is patience!

The Agricultural Extension Services or Departments of Health for most States put out guidelines on Bleaching or shocking-chlorinating Well water-systems. I don’t know the depth of my 6” diameter Well bore-hole, so it is hard to figure the water volume. The Well gets an arbitrary gallon of regular strength chlorine (hypochlorite) bleach poured in after some dilution in a bucket. I re-circulate using a garden hose from the attachment point under the sink out to the well head. When I smell bleach in the hose water I run a couple of quarts well-water out of the one working sink tap and also hose down the well liner with the chlorinated water. The concept is to get some bleach into all regions were the water goes and bugs may hangout.

For the full process I let the system sit overnight before running the water. They say to let the water run until the bleach odor is gone, but I usually finish up running the cabin Well dry for the submersed pump. It replenishes in 30 minutes and then I hose down the cabin windows for an extra purge. I have a graveled area behind the cabin where I can safely dump the chlorinated well water, via the hose, without killing anything important around the cabin and without sterilizing the septic system. My water has some coloration and sediment for a day or so after bleaching the Well. I guess stuff gets stirred up after all running and draining.

I have a spread-sheet where I keep the dates I shocked the Well and the results of testing – if I sell the camp someone might ask about the Well and I want to be able to be convincing if I have to say ‘it failed a test once but I fixed it’.  There is no point in testing immediately after shock chlorination: you just killed anything in the system. That is why I waited a couple of weeks before testing. The lab runs a routine check for chloride ion (i.e. for signs of bleach), just to be sure nobody is trying to force a clean read.

On the dangers and risks of Well bleaching and shock chlorination: Concentrated bleach needs to be treated with respect. Formal safety data sheets are available. I want to get the bleach out before I drink the water, usually I shock at the end of cabin visit and then don’t drink the water until the next time. I avoid prolonged exposure of the water system components to high levels of bleach – I never load up the well and leave it until the next visit. I have seen comments that Well shock chlorination can temporarily boost arsenic levels, but you need to be in an area with the ‘wrong’ geology.

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