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Old 06-28-2014, 05:55 AM   #1
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(Re)plumbing a Montana seasonal cabin?


Wifey & I are about to purchase a cabin just outside of Yellowstone, and plan to use it for vacations until I retire, and then it'll be our summer residence to get out of Houston's 100+ heat & humidity.

Although I've been on the Gulf Coast and some other pretty warm areas (Sahara) of the world for many years, I grew up in the midwest so am not a complete stranger to cold weather and the precautions needed for plumbing to survive. I was still surprised, however, when I saw the way the copper plumbing was run in the unheated crawl space of our cabin. It's suspended about 12-18" below the floor joists, and is just laid in wooden hangers, and not even secured to them with one hole straps, etc. Nor is the joist space insulated, which makes for some pretty chilly floors.

I asked the owner/seller why it was done this way, but he couldn't explain it, and for that matter, neither could the local handyman who serves as caretaker for the cabin during the winter. Unfortunately the builder of the cabin has been pushing up daisies for over 20 years, so I probably won't get much out of him, either.

Due to age, water hammer, pipe movement, and perhaps poor installation, some joints are leaking, and several valves don't seal, so there needs to be a general fixing/upgrading down there.

Now before I "fix" all this by running new PEX up in the joist space, and then insulate between the joists, I wanted to inquire with the knowledgeable folks here if there could have been a really good reason it was done this way? I understand the need for low point drains to be able to drain the system down for winterizing, but does the whole system need to be lowered like this? Surely there's enough "head" even from the bottom of a toilet tank to the bottom of a joist to allow good drainage?

My intentions are to cut all this out, but leave all the vertical risers that penetrate the subfloor, then tie into those risers with PEX and Shark Bite elbows. I'll probably run the PEX through and within the joists, then afterward pack the joist area with fiberglass. This pic only shows part of the plumbing - there's a total of 6 hot water risers and 9 cold water (including an outside hose bibb). I'd plan to run a dedicated PEX line to each riser from a central manifold, then have spare valves on the bottom of the manifold and at the well's pressure tank, etc. to drain the system for winterizing. Does this seem reasonable?

Sorry for the length of my first post here, but thanks in advance to all you cold weather experts for your advice!

John
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Old 06-28-2014, 06:07 AM   #2
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Good morning John--Be patient--we have several Plumbers here from that neck of the woods ---I'm sure you will get the answers you need soon--Mike--

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Old 06-28-2014, 06:24 AM   #3
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I don't see a problem with the manner it was plumbed. It's a summer time cabin. When the plumbing is winterized, the floors are -20F and snow has the access road blocked it doesn't matter much.

I'm sure some day someone will wonder why it was re-plumbed with pex but all the copper risers remained. It is simpler and quicker and that may be the original plumbers thoughts.

Last edited by SeniorSitizen; 06-28-2014 at 06:27 AM.
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Old 06-28-2014, 06:59 AM   #4
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Thanks Mike / Fairview,

I suppose having all the copper suspended like that also made it a lot easier to sweat the joints rather than having them up in the joists.

1. Conservatively, with all the teeing, elbowing, offsetting, and isolation + drain valves, there's probably 20-30 sweated joints in the system and I'd guess 10 or so are leaking. Would you fix the leaks, replace the valves, & basically leave the rest of it alone, or would you change it out to PEX as I described, with no joints, other than the tie-ins required at the copper risers? I don't intend to change anything with the DWV piping as it's working well.

2. Would you insulate the joist space? I can't see any downside to doing this, and was surprised it wasn't done originally. The original owner/builder didn't scrimp anywhere else when he built the cabin, so I don't believe his reasons were economic.
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Old 06-28-2014, 07:44 AM   #5
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I would do as you planned--Pex from a manifold and plenty of insulation--

However,if you plan in using the cabin during the freezing months--you will need to heat the crawl----

Unfortunately, PEX is not allowed in my area---so I have no real world experience with it---I like the freeze/thaw ability of the product and believe it is ideal for that cabin---

I'm jealous---that place sounds great---we have two plumbers from Idaho who will know what works in that climate---
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Old 06-28-2014, 10:46 AM   #6
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Cheers Mike, always good to have some positive reinforcement for one's plan.

I'll look forward to hearing what the Idaho guys think about it.
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Old 06-28-2014, 11:03 AM   #7
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The way we water pipe crawls in my neck of the woods is to have the mains strapped to the bottom of the joists.
We tee of the top and run along the side the joists when needed.
The insulators will fill the joist bays and but a blanket over the pipes that are under the joist.

I do not use a manifold very often- only when piping under slabs. But thats a personal preference- manifold are fine.

I would also replace ALL the copper. If you have visible leaks or weak joints- then the hidden ones are no better off.
I often put risers to fixtures up through the floor rather than the wall. Especially in a re-pipe situation- can save some wall patch.

I also don't rely on a simple drain down system- but blow it out with air or inject antifreez.
I antifreeze the fixtures as well
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Old 06-28-2014, 11:25 AM   #8
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Personally, I am a cheapskate! If you are near Yellowstone then you have a pump and tank to supply your water. I would place a hose bib where the major supple line leaves the tank. I would fix all the leaks and in the fall, winterize it like you would a camper. Drain the tank and pump. Drain the hot water tank. Buy a small air compressor (Harbor Freight for $69) and blow air through all the fixtures where they connect at the valves under the sink, tub, toilet, and outside hose bibs. The valve next to the tank should be opened so the water can go out of it. I would wait an hour and do it again. I would then fill the pump with camper antifreeze and pour a couple gallons down the piping through the coldwater valve at the sink farthest from the pump. Remember to shut the valve at the pump. I would also dump camper antifreeze in all of the drain to keep the P-traps from freezing.
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Old 06-28-2014, 02:00 PM   #9
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pex piping is more resistant to breaking when it freezes. Saying that you must consider it is also more prone to belly's since it is a flexible pipe. Hose like in how it works.

Since this is an un heated cabin you must install your water so it is easily drained at end of season. This means you need to pitch your water same as you would pitch a drain. You can not have any traps in your water system that will not allow itself to drain. The best scenario is at end of season you open all faucets and fixtures go to the low end open up a hot and cold boiler drain and it is self draining. Then dump RV antifreeze in all traps and toilets drain your hot water tank after killing the power. This is what you need to do.
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Old 06-28-2014, 03:31 PM   #10
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Thanks everyone; lots of good ideas here and I'll certainly take them onboard.

What are your thoughts about heat tracing and insulating the PEX? There's some low wattage density (3 w/ft) heat trace like Frostex, which ought to be suitable for running on the bottom of the PEX, then some preslit, closed cell polyethylene insulation over it?

If I'm going to drain & winterize anyway, is there anything to be gained with the heat trace & insulation? Probably not, unless we'd want to occupy the cabin in cold weather? There's supposed to be some real good wolf spotting in the winter at Yellowstone......
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Old 06-28-2014, 08:20 PM   #11
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Only if you plan on using it for the winter. Is there heat in the cabin?
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Old 06-28-2014, 11:11 PM   #12
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Summer occupancy only, I wouldn't insulate anything. Considering some winter occupancy would completely change how I would do the plumbing install, freeze protection and insulation. That's a whole different ball game. Consideriding heat trace cable would depend on the reliability of electric power for me to go that route.
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Old 06-29-2014, 05:08 PM   #13
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I could see wifey wanting to go there at least once during a winter, just to say she's done it. She spotted a pair of snow shoes in storage there, and is determined to try them out. Little does she know she'll have to train like a triathlete to walk more than 100 yards in them. Particularly at 7,500 ft. Personally, I think they'd make a great wall decoration......

But yes, since it looks like we might make infrequent use of the place during the winter, I guess I'd better prepare the plumbing for cold weather use now & then.

The place is all electric (built when hydro power was plentiful & cheap), and there are baseboard heaters all throughout the cabin, and they do a good job and can warm the place up in about 2 hours on a 35 degree day. It also has regular windows plus storm windows, and is very well insulated, except for those floor joists. I probably ought to consider putting a radiant heat system in to keep the floors warm, but that's getting a little outside the scope of work here.

Fairview, your comment about power company outages is very relevant. I'm told the power goes off now & then during the winter, but only once in 10 years has it gone off for more than a few hours, and that time it was off for several days in the dead of winter. So perhaps a little 10kW standby generator wouldn't be a bad thing to have around.....
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Old 08-27-2016, 01:09 PM   #14
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Re: (Re)plumbing a Montana seasonal cabin?


Hi,
I have a cabin in a cold environment in Canada. I have also been researching similar problems.
I suggest that the plumbing was done that way because it is easier to work on. Before you rip everything out I suggest you consider insulating the walls rather than the floor. Even if there are vents to the outside as required. This approach has been suggested to me several times.
My cabin has an insulated floor but even when it is -10 (Celsius) the cellar is warm. The walls of the cellar are not insulated and there are vents to the outside. The plumbing is run through the uninsulated crawl space - probably because the plumbing is a recent retro fit. My plumbing doesn't freeze while we have the heat on.
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Old 08-27-2016, 06:00 PM   #15
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Re: (Re)plumbing a Montana seasonal cabin?


Welcome to the forum jw. Nice info, but you dug up a two year old thread. Sometimes posters never come back to post final results. i'm sure it's re-plumbed by now.

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