Cover image for Cottage water systems : an out-of-the-city guide to pumps, plumbing, water purification, and privies
Cottage water systems : an out-of-the-city guide to pumps, plumbing, water purification, and privies
Burns, Max, 1948-
Personal Author:
Updated edition.
Publication Information:
Toronto, Can. : Cottage Life Books ; Willowdale, Ont. ; Buffalo, N.Y. : Trade distribution by Firefly Books, [1999]

Physical Description:
150 pages : color illustrations ; 28 cm
General Note:
Originally published: Toronto : Cottage Life Books, 1993.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
TD920 .B87 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks-Oversize
TD920 .B87 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area-Oversize

On Order



If you have a pump, a well, a septic system, or an outhouse ...
If you winterize your water system or use it year round ...
Or if you simply care about the quality of the water your drink,
Cottage Water Systems will save you time, money, and headaches

Cottage Water Systems is written specifically with cottages -- and cottage problems -- in mind. It explains in a clear, easy-to-understand style how each component of the water system works, with dozens of tips on installation and repair, as well as troubleshooting guides to help you diagnose what's wrong with your system. Each chapter is accompanied by explanatory diagrams and illustrations.

Cottage Water Systems includes:

how to choose the pump that's right for your property a guide to water quality and types of water purifiers foolproof methods for priming your pump the ins and outs of composting toilets and other alternatives how to extend the life of your septic system step-by-step instructions for closing a seasonal water system in the fall and opening it in the spring how to build a first-class outhouse ways to get water in winter how to keep the cottage's environmental impact low North American sources for water-system components plus wells, gray water systems, and more.

Author Notes

Max Burns is a regular contributor to Cottage Life magazine, and how won several National Magazine Awards for his work. He specializes in how-to journalism, and the subjects he writes about are as varied as his interests -- everything from docks to butter tarts. He is currently building a passive solar home within shouting distance of his cottage in northern-Ontario. Cottage Water Systems is his second book.



Chapter 1: Overview The cottage, the world, and this book The practice of trooping off to the cottage doesn't go back generations in my family, as it does in some cottage dynasties I know. My folks started making the trek about the time Dad bought his '49 Ford. Initially, it was to Treasure Island on the shores of Lake Ontario near Kingston. By the time Dad bought a '56 Ford, we'd moved westward and were now cottaging on the Bruce Peninsula, Lake Huron side. About two years after he traded the '56 in on a '58 Ford, we'd moved to Montreal, spending summers by Lake St. Louis or down in the Eastern Townships. By '65, we were back in Ontario but, despite his having bought another new Ford, Dad's interest in cottaging waned. Looking back now, I think he was more of a Ford man than a cottager. I was hooked, however, and I now live full-time in cottage country. You couldn't drag me away, even with a new Ford. Historically, this thing we call a cottage, cabin, camp, or chalet has been a vacation home, at one time nothing more than a rustic building to keep most (or at least some) of the rain and bugs away whenever we weren't frolicking outside. For many, this minimalist vision of the cottage remains. Yet for others, the cottage has slowly edged towards becoming a second home, complete with most of the conveniences of life back in the city. What binds these apparent opposites together is the object -- outdoor fun. The cottage is permission to break out of one's role in life, if just for the weekend. It is a place where good relations with neighbors and families are not only still possible, but also encouraged. It is also the closest connection many of us have to Mother Nature. THE ADVANTAGES OF DOING IT YOURSELF The most obvious connection to nature is via the cottage water system. This system is whatever means we use to obtain water and whatever means we use to expel it (including the water that has been run through the human digestive system) after use. It includes all manner of conventional cottage connections such as a water pump to an intake line, and a toilet to a septic tank -- as well as more traditional alternatives such as a rain barrel and an outhouse. The cottage water system is a private system; we are the owner/operators, totally responsible for all its strengths and failings. It can be a serious pain when it ceases to function -- because as the owner/operators, it's our job to fix it. Granted, there's genuine pleasure to be derived from do-it-yourself projects, particularly at the cottage where part of the fun is in the fixing. Repairs, construction work, landscaping -- nothing seems beyond the cottage handyperson equipped with a $10 tool box (tools included). The other neat thing about doing it yourself is the control it affords. You're not waiting for a tradesperson who might be out wind-surfing because the wind's up, instead of fixing your broken pump or pipe. (Can't understand this lackadaisical lifestyle cottage country seems to foster.) By doing it yourself, you get the work done to your schedule -- running water, no waiting. And, of course, the money you save ends up in your new-boat fund instead of the plumber's. Even if we don't do the work ourselves, it sure saves money to know why it's being done a certain way. (Or maybe why it shouldn't be done a certain way.) Because when the trades-person does find time to visit, nine times out of 10 we're standing over the poor guy, paying out umpteen dollars an hour for the privilege of interrupting to ask dumb questions. So Cottage Water Systems is not just a how-to book, it's also a "why?" book. It has always been my belief that given the reasons why, folks are more likely to do the job right than if they're simply told how to go about some esoteric task. Knowledge converts the drudgery of work into understanding. Understanding puts you in control, which is where you should be as the owner/operator of your own water and sewage system. Books on basic plumbing abound (some are even worth reading), but plumbing as it pertains to cottaging has been largely overlooked. What makes cottage plumbing different from that serving other rural residences is that cottages are used on a part-time basis, they're sometimes more remote and on more rugged terrain, and cottagers are willing to entertain alternative approaches to water and waste management. System oddities are often viewed by cottagers not as hardships, but as part of the cottage experience. Cottage Water Systems emphasizes those components and processes that pertain specifically to cottages, giving them links to mainstream plumbing. THE ENVIRONMENTAL ARGUMENT The most important link, however, remains that direct connection to Mother Nature. Regrettably, it hasn't always been a good one. In the introduction to Bungalows, Camps and Mountain Houses, a book first published in 1908, author William T. Comstock wrote, "Often the lake or stream which has been the most attractive feature of a site has been rendered noxious by the drainage from the dwellings on its shore. Whereas, this matter, if properly considered at the start, could have been so handled as to maintain the original purity of the adjacent waters." Writing styles may have changed since 1908 but the facts haven't -- the connection between cottage and nature can be good or bad. While it is true that agriculture and industry are the principal villains in the degradation of cottage water resources, cottagers themselves are certainly not innocent bystanders. But can one faulty septic system really ruin an entire lake? Although I don't normally stoop to advancing the theories of economists, one member of this profession did have a good idea. During the '60s, Alfred Kahn came up with a concept he called the tyranny of small decisions. This catchy phrase describes the cumulative effect of a series of small decisions. For example, adding "just" the overflow from my septic system after a long weekend admittedly won't seriously pollute a large body of water. But add to that the effect of similar contributions from my neighbors and gradually the water becomes unfit to swim in, let alone drink. As every little bit helps, so too can it hurt, another reason to know the "whys" of our actions. As part of the research for this book, I contacted 48 states, 10 provinces, and several federal agencies for information pertaining to regulations governing private water and sewage systems. (Alaska and the Canadian territories were left off the mailing list because they don't have enough summer; Hawaii, because it doesn't have enough winter.) The response was overwhelming, to the point that I might even take back some of those disparaging remarks I've made on occasion regarding the work ethics of government bureaucrats. Or at least say thanks. JURISDICTIONAL OVERLOAD The common theme to this amassed collection of regulatory paperwork is diversity of approaches and policies. I have on file about 60 different ways of "doing it right". In some jurisdictions a cottager is darn-near free to follow the whims of conscience, while in others it's easier to get a divorce than to put up an outhouse. (In my jurisdiction, friend Dave was recently threatened with divorce if he didn't soon provide a suitable indoor replacement for the outdoor loo.) Out from under this mound of jurisdictional divergence of opinion come the obligatory caveats. Do not purchase any specialized piece of plumbing equipment or make any alterations to the cottage water system without getting prior approval regarding use and installation, preferably in writing. It may be necessary to get this approval from several government agencies and levels of government, such as those responsible for the environment; natural resources; conservation; public health; navigation of waterways; the welfare of fish; building, plumbing, and electrical codes; and local bylaws. Hard to believe that many people could be interested in your family's toilet etiquette, but sometimes that's what it takes to flush out potential polluters. And to make this ball of red tape even stickier, you may discover that what's legal back home isn't legal at the cottage, and vice versa. So be patient; most bureaucrats are helpful to those appreciative of their efforts. (Gee, that's the second nice thing I've said about government bureaucrats in one day.) GO FOR THE BEST Cottage Water Systems generally aims for the highest common denominator, although the reader should keep in mind that even this goal is often based on the minimum standards of the more progressive jurisdictions. Minimum standards always yield minimum acceptable results for that area. The financial cost of exceeding those minimums is often negligible, even from my sedentary wallet's point of view, so go for the best you can buy. Less expensive is no bargain if it doesn't do an effective job. Speaking of which, buy only from knowledgeable sources that specialize in (insert your current need here). This greatly increases the odds of getting a successful solution to your problem. Membership in relevant trade associations can be an indication of professional competence, but it's definitely no guarantee. Sometimes affiliation with a recognized association merely provides an honorable shield for shysters to hide behind. So get references from people capable of judging the particular skills or services of the company or person involved. After many years of dealing with retailers and tradespeople, a few (but certainly not all) with ethics that would embarrass the devil, I have developed this simple rule for character judgments: Never deal with anyone who talks faster than you can think. It's a rule that only fails me when I ignore it. Some of the things discussed in Cottage Water Systems may contravene regulations in your cottage's locale. Unfortunately, with so many variations in the laws, this is unavoidable. So again: Read, and then check with the relevant authorities before taking any action. It is my belief that the cottage experience, this unspoken permit to relax and enjoy the company of nature and neighbors, is a thing to protect and preserve. The goal of Cottage Water Systems is to enhance that experience through sensible approaches to water-system design and management. The rewards are reduced maintenance, greater understanding, and the preservation of a small part of the earth that we can be proud to pass on to the next generation. Some folks have a fancy name for that small piece of the earth, but we just call ours "the cottage". Excerpted from Cottage Water Systems: An Out-of-the-City Guide to Pumps, Plumbing, Water Purification, and Privies by Max Burns All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Chapter 01 Overview
The cottage, the world, and this book
The advantages of doing it yourself
The environmental argument
Jurisdictional overload
Go for the best
Chapter 02 Sources Of Cottage Water
How to tap into the available options--Using surface water
Rain-water collection
How to locate ground water
Recommended setbacks
Types of wells
Avoiding well pollution
Chapter 03 Pump And Circumstance
How to put together a pump system that works
Pump theory
Types of pumps
Non-electric options
Matching pump to cottage
Where to put the pump
Features to look for
Chapter 04 Hooking Up The System
How to keep your pipe dreams from turning into plumbing nightmares
How to install intake lines
Repairing cracks and splits
Foot-valve failures
Pressure tanks and switches
Putting in the plumbing
Troubleshooting guide
Chapter 05 Checking Your Water Quality
What could be lurking in your lake or well?
Waterborne pathogens
Minerals and chemicals
Hard, soft, acid, or alkaline?
Nutrient enrichment
Is it safe to swim?
Getting a water report card
Chapter 06 Purifying The Water
A guide to choosing a treatment device
Types of treatment systems
How they work
What they remove
Minimum requirements
Operating costs
Troubleshooting guide
Chapter 07 Dealing With Septic Systems
A guide to what happens when you flush at the cottage
The parts of a septic system
Why things go wrong
System maintenance
The environmental effect
Septic do's and don'ts
Troubleshooting guide
Chapter 08 The Ins And Outs Of Outhouses
Everything you wanted to know about privies--and a few things you didn't
Advantages of an outhouse
Design and site
How deep to dig
Building the structure
Controlling odor
Special touches
Chapter 09 Alternative Toilets
John by any other name
Composting toilets
Incinerating toilets
Chemical toilets
Odors and other drawbacks
Required maintenance
Before you buy
Chapter 10 Dealing With Grey Water
A grey area in the plumbing regulations
Putting in a leaching pit
How to calculate pit size
Testing soil permeability
Leaching-pit alternatives
Advantages of a grease trap
Recommended setbacks
Chapter 11 Closing And Opening Up
Or how to decrease the odds of nasty spring surprises
Draining and storing lines
Shutting down the pump
Where to use antifreeze
Tanks and appliances
Priming the pump
What-to-do checklists
Chapter 12 Getting Water In Winter
Designing a system for use when the temperature plunges
The hole-in-the-ice approach
Winterizing the plumbing
How to insulate the lines
Self-draining lines
Heated lines
Defrosting frozen pipes
Chapter 13 Books And Products
Where to go for more information
Chapter 14 Index