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I have a summer cottage where, each year, I need to unhook a few pex connections to drain the system so that it doesn't freeze.

I'm re-working the system this spring, and want to design it so that it's less painful to unhook in the fall and reconnect in the spring. The frequent disconnecting/reconnecting is also hard on the connections, so I want to make it easy and durable.

I am thinking along the lines of the ease at which air compressor hose / air tools can be disconnected/reconnected via the NPT quick couplers.

I was investigating sharkbite connections, and it seems they're removable (with the removal/disconnect tool).

My question is - is that a durable way to disconnect/reconnect many times as I've described?

Is there an alternative that is better suited to this need?

Update - there's a pressure tank, water softener, water heater, and jet pump. There's NO way that it will completely drain even with a tap at the lowest point. Think about the water in the softener resin tank, etc. I have no confidence that the water will drain enough and out of all parts so that it won't damage when frozen solid. ... or am I worrying too much?

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    Seems like a lot of work. Is there not a way to add a drain valve to lowest spot and just drain the lines without taking them apart? Most people just turn off the water, open up the taps/faucets and open the drain valve.
    – crip659
    Apr 1, 2022 at 11:00
  • Updated question. I worry about the water not flushing completely out (of pipes and components) via a tap at the lowest point.
    – GWR
    Apr 1, 2022 at 13:26
  • Water softener won't drain any better with the pipes disconnected...Water heater already has a drain valve built in at the bottom. Pressure tank will drain completely if you have a properly located drain valve - there's usually one right on the tank tee...
    – Ecnerwal
    Apr 1, 2022 at 13:29
  • Plastic type(pex) pipes usually don't burst easily with being at full pressure. With taps open and most of the water drained they should be okay, even with some water left in them. Tanks and pumps should be drained out, but most of them have their own drain valves, so disconnecting pipes won't help them anyway.
    – crip659
    Apr 1, 2022 at 14:19
  • @GWR If you can get to a point to drain the system (as you're doing), you can put a tap there. If you put something with hose threads, you can even take advantage of a siphon (provided appropriate landscaping) and drain the system better than you are currently doing Apr 1, 2022 at 15:52

3 Answers 3

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Is there an alternative that is better suited to this need?

Yes, it's called a tap. They're installed in all your sinks and showers/tubs.

At the lowest point of the plumbing you can access, install a new T connector, then off of this T, install a valve of some sort. When you want to drain the pipes, instead of disconnecting the plumbing, all you have to do is open this valve. Gravity will help you by forcing all the water above the valve downhill and through the valve.

You could get fancy and make this new valve a garden hose bibb. This will have a threaded end onto which you can thread a garden hose to aim the water to some convenient location for disposal (or, simply, into a bucket) instead of just allowing it to flow onto the floor.

I have no confidence that the water will drain enough and out of all parts so that it won't damage when frozen solid. ... or am I worrying too much?

You're worrying too much.

Take two store-bought bottles of water. Put one, unopened, directly in the freezer. With the other one, open it, take two swallows of water, cap it tightly, then put it in the freezer next to the other one. Come back in 24 hours and see what's happened. The unopened one will be swollen to its extreme, possibly even ruptured. The one with two swallows might have forced some of the concavity out of the bottom of the bottle, but probably not.

It's not like you're running a pipe cleaner with a rag through your pipes now, getting them completely dry. So long as the water/ice has someplace to go as it freezes and expands, it'll be just fine. The problem with freezing happens when a fully pressurized system freezes up. All the pipes are already full of water, so as the ice expands it has nowhere to go but out. With metal pipes it's about a 99.999% chance of a pipe burst. With PEX, the pipe can stretch and, when the ice melts, the pipe will return to its original shape. PEX can take this many times before it actually bursts.

As some other answers & comments have noted, drain some of the water from the heater. The pressure tank will be fine as the ice can expand into where the air normally goes. The pump will drain enough that ice can expand to where the water normally goes.

I'm not certain about the water in the softener's resin tank. I would think that if it were to freeze, but the plumbing into and out of the softener is open (i.e. there are empty pipes) then the ice should be able to expand into those pipes. However, I'd suggest contacting the manufacturer to see if they have recommendations on winterizing it.

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    Boiler drain tends to be the least expensive form (get the 1/4-turn ball variety) and has garden hose threads. And of course you need to open the other valves for effective draining (letting air in)
    – Ecnerwal
    Apr 1, 2022 at 12:53
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    Are you doing this experiment with glass or plastic bottles? (Both can be bought in store, and from my experience, this makes an important difference.) Apr 1, 2022 at 20:18
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    Yep - this is exactly how we always did it. One garden hose tap under the cottage below all the other plumbing to drain everything. Bonus - you now have a garden hose connection. Thirty years with -40C winters and the pipes have always been fine. PEX, though, can be a crap shoot. It doesn't burst as easily as copper, but you're rolling the dice any time you let it freeze with water in it. I've seen PEX burst after freezing just once - it can happen. It's definitely frost resistant, but it's definitely not frost-proof.
    – J...
    Apr 1, 2022 at 21:25
  • @PaŭloEbermann fair point. I'm talking plastic, which is far more common in the class of water I buy. However, "swollen" rarely describes a glass bottle in a freezer, so it should be reasonably obvious from context.
    – FreeMan
    Apr 2, 2022 at 12:51
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I think this is an XY question. If I were in your shoes, I'd install a spigot/boiler drain somewhere near the water supply and when it comes time to winterize, connect a small air compressor to the valve, set it at about 30 psi, and blow out the entire system by turning on faucets, one at a time until you get nothing but air. Even if there is some water left in the pipes it won't harm anything if it freezes because the ice will "have someplace to go" in the mostly air filled pipes. You don't need to worry about the pressure tank freezing (very unlikely) but even if it does all pressure tanks have an air space, sometimes just air over water (older approach), the newer tanks have an air bladder. In either case, there is a "place for the ice to go" so it won't break anything. Assuming no power to the water heater you can drain it partially and provide an air space for (AGAIN! LOL, give the ice a place to go). If you do that, BE ABSOLUTELY SURE THE POWER IS OFF TO THE WH or, if gas, that it's gas valve is turned off. You probably know this, but be sure the WH is completely filled before turning on power or lighting the gas. The only thing I can't give advice on is the water softener. You should probably contact the manufacture for winterizing procedures or go to YouTube University for ideas.

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I winterize my cottage every fall. Freezing the pipes will cause damage, which will likely result in leaks in the spring.

Here's roughly the procedure which works for me:

I do have a garden hose tap on the outside, which I use to drain all water that will come out on its own (with inside taps also open), including the hot water tank, filters, washing machine, etc.

I then connect an "adapter" I made out of a washing machine hose (one end cut off and and an adapter to what believe is an M-type air hose connector. All taps inside are then closed and the adapter is then connected to an air compressor which is limited to 40 PSI.

By opening all available taps inside (sometimes more than once) I ensure that there is very little water is left in the lines. It's important to start the washing machine cycle, too, because it does have a valve and hoses inside which will contain water.

Once only somewhat dry air comes out of the taps - I turn off the compressor and I'm done.

This works every time.

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  • I do similar. I just picture a small amount of water sitting at the bottom of the water heater and freezing around the element, or, for example, a tiny amount of water remaining inside the parts of the water softener, freezing, and breaking some of the plastic for example. Again, perhaps I'm overthinking it
    – GWR
    Apr 2, 2022 at 19:41

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