As you read this, Lake Martin’s Plug Day 2017 should be comfortably behind us. Lord willing, spring rains and Alabama Power should be combining to raise the lake’s water level – inch by inch, day by day.
It’s Christmas morning every morning for people like me who love Lake Martin. How much fun is it to check your favorite source for the water level and see that the lake has risen higher than it was the day before? Each time I see a rise, in my head I can hear Johnny Cash ask, “How high’s the water, Mama?” It is glorious.
Have you squandered the time after September? Are you one of these folks that shuts your lake home up tight after Labor Day and doesn’t crack it open until Memorial Day? If so, shame on you. It’s your loss, really, because you are missing some of the best weather that the Lake Martin area offers.
Of course, people have their reasons for seasonal abandonment, one common excuse I hear from absentee owners is that once they winterize their cabins, they don’t want to summerize it just for one weekend, only to have to turn around and winterize it before they leave. Too much trouble, they protest.
One might ask, “what’s winterizing?” Basically, it involves preparing a home to be on its own over the winter. Each family at each home has its own winterizing ritual. Some people just lock up and leave. Others drag in all the outdoor furniture, put covers over the indoor furniture, and hide the TVs and the liquor. All of them, though, drain the water lines. The number one enemy of a winterized home is frozen plumbing.
Winterizing is a big deal around Lake Martin. It’s not that we live in an arctic climate. In fact, in a normal year there really is only two or three times that it gets cold enough for long enough so that pipes will freeze. My guess is its importance is due to the fact that many of the homes in the area are older and built in a time when ski boats only cost $1,000 and cabins were only used in the summer. They just weren’t designed with new fangled city conveniences like insulation.
If you have ever spent time looking at homes for sale during the winter, you are all too familiar with the practical effects of large scale winterization. Over the course of a seven hour showing day, it is not unusual to walk through eight or nine homes. Morning coffee and healthy hydration can combine to spur the call of nature. Many is the potential home buyer that has used the bathroom in a winterized cabin and heard the dreaded silence after the attempted flush. Silence in a toilet means nothing is happening. The bad stuff isn’t flushed away and new water isn’t being pumped in to replace it. Then the embarrassed home buyer must, with hands a-wringing, admit to the real estate agent that they went, but the toilet didn’t cooperate. There’s only one thing to do if you are a proper real estate agent.
You have to fix it.
You can’t summerize the house for one flush. No way. Risky even if technically possible. No, the best thing you can do if you’re the agent is to start looking around for a bucket. Usually there is one sitting under the house or in the shed. You grab the bucket, walk to the lake, scoop a healthy ladle of water, and trek back to the house. If you’re lucky, you can do this from the dock and keep your shoes clean. However, many is the home without year round water, and this means walking in a possibly muddy lake bottom to get near enough to the water to scoop. Whether you kick off your shoes to do this, or put out a board to walk on is a game time decision, but muddying up the inside of the home is not an option.
Once you have your water in the bucket, simply fill up the tank in the toilet and flush. Hopefully, one flush will do it. If not, rinse and repeat.
There are all kinds of complicating factors. Once, I couldn’t find a bucket and had to use a small salad bowl; it took five trips. The tank might be leaky so you might have to fill it up repeatedly and flush quickly. I won’t mention the myriad of problems that might surface from a “number two” situation. They ain’t pretty. However, I do think it is a rite of passage of sorts for Lake Martin agents. I say you aren’t an initiated member until you have dipped a bucket in the lake on a cold winter day.
Despite the challenges of a winterized home, I still think that it’s worth it to come to the lake house and summerize, even if it’s for one weekend or one day.
If the winterizing and summerizing of your lake home is particularly onerous, I would challenge you to make it easier. Use the winter to learn about your home and figure out if there’s a better way to do it. For instance, much of the trouble centers around draining all of the plumbing lines to make sure there is absolutely no water present. For home owners of old homes, or for old home owners, the prospect of crawling underneath the house with a flashlight and a monkey wrench is not appealing. But maybe you can hire a plumber to install an additional drain line that is easy to access and operate.
Also, you might accept that a certain amount of failure should be viewed as feedback. No matter how much we plan, we still make mistakes, no matter how “professional” we think we might be at winterizing. This winter, I myself suffered the shame of frozen pipes at the lake. I thought I had drained my plumbing lines perfectly, only to be met with the dreaded hissing when the water was turned back on after a cold weekend.
My father thought this was hilarious. You have to know him to know why, but generally he delights in situations that cost me money, especially if he’s afforded an opportunity to not-so-gently mock me with questions like, “What? Don’t you know how to winterize your house? It’s pretty simple.”
After I recovered from my embarrassment, I vowed to learn from the incident. I crawled under the house and studied the complex network of iron and PEX and came away with a plan to change it a bit for the better. Maybe next time the temperature dips, I will be able to get all the water out in a fast, effortless way.
That’s my encouragement to any home owner who says that it’s too much of a pain to winterize. I ask you, “Why is it so much trouble? Why not make it easier?” You are missing out on a lot. Lake Martin is too beautiful to only enjoy it above eighty degrees.
Note: I originally published this article in my monthly column in Lake Magazine. I am proud to write about Lake Martin Real Estate for Lake Magazine. This article was also published on the ACRE (Alabama Center for Real Estate) website and AL.com.