Off the Grid  Retirement at our remote log cabin in Colorado

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Winterizing and Heater Woes

Posted by: Rick

This post really has two related topics. I'll start with winterization.

It gets cold at the cabin. It is not unusual to see a day or two where the temperatures are -30°F, and that is without the wind chill. So, if we don't keep the cabin heated in the winter, it is wise to winterize it so we don't suffer from broken water pipes. (We actually do try to keep it heated in winter, but not always with success. But, that is the second part of this story.)

Winterizing is not really that difficult. Here are the steps:

  1. Turn off the water pump at the electrical panel
  2. Open all the faucets and run water until there is no more pressure, flush the toilet until the tank does not fill any more
  3. In the crawlspace, open a faucet that drains the pressure tank
  4. Also, open the two faucets that drain the hot and cold water lines that feed the sinks, tub and toilet
  5. Pour RV antifreeze into the drains and toilet
  6. Turn the hot water heater to the "Pilot" setting

It seems there should be some risk of the peanut butter and jelly (and other liquid-ish food items) freezing, but that has never happened.

I don't drain the hot water heater. I used to. But, nowadays I just leave the pilot running with the thermostat turned down. I think the small amount of heat from the pilot light keeps the tank warm enough to prevent freezing. I hope so. It has so far.

One could argue that we don't really need to winterize since we have a propane forced-air heater that we set to 45°F when we are gone. That is meant to provide enough heat to keep the cabin from freezing, which is not only good for the plumbing, but for everything else from the logs to the furniture. However, I still winterize just in case the heater doesn't work.

The heater could "not work" for a variety of reasons, most notable is the loss of electricity. Since the house is powered by the sun, if we lose the sun for several days or if snow accumulates on the solar panels preventing them from working for a few days, it is possible to drain the batteries to the point where the inverter shuts down and stops providing AC power. In that case, the heater won't work, of course.

But, we've been suffering from a greater heater woe for a couple of years. The pre-ignition blower will come on to evacuate any accumulated gasses and equalize pressure in the system, then a pressure switch activates and allows the burner to ignite and the main blower to come on. The problem is that the pressure switch never activates, so the heater never comes on. And, in the meantime, the pre-ignition blower just blows and blows and blows until it drains the batteries.

Last year, Grant from Laramie Heating came up and cleaned everything and got it working. And, he left me with a replacement pressure switch in case it acted up again -- which it did. So, I replaced the pressure switch and everything was working when we left last September. A neighbor has checked on the cabin once a week since then, and this week discovered the pre-ignition blower blowing. And, blowing. And, blowing. It could have been going as much as eight days! So, he turned off the heater.

I am sure glad the cabin is winterized!

I'll call Grant and see what he thinks. It may be time for some new heater guts or even a new heater because we can't have it not working next winter! I'll keep you posted via comments or additions to this post.

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