How To Get Clean Water At Your Cottage

By Joe Callaghan • Last Updated July 12 2022

Water.

You can’t live without it. Finding out what kind of water system your cottage runs on will likely be one of the first questions your realtor addresses when showing you the space.

For those lucky cottagers who are in places where they can be connected to a municipal supply, then this section is likely skippable content. For the others, your water system will be determined by your surroundings and will likely fall under two possible options:

  1. Wells (drilled or dug)
  2. Pumped lake water

1. Wells

Wells are fairly common in Canadian cottage country. Dug and bored wells are ones that are much shallower, and are connected to the water resources that lie closer to the surface. Drilled wells, however, go much deeper, connecting with water systems sometimes hundreds of feet below the surface. 

What to know from the get-go?

First, regardless of what kind of well it is, you’ll need to have your water source thoroughly inspected before purchasing. You can negotiate this section with your real estate agent, but it would be wise to include a clause in your offer that the well water must first pass an acceptable water test. 

What does the difference in these wells mean for you?

If your cottage is on a dug well, then you should also ask your real estate agent if it’s possible to dig drilled wells where your cottage is located. Unlike drilled wells, dug wells are much shallower and are therefore intrinsically linked to the weather. Because of this, you’ll need to be more cognizant of your water consumption. For instance, if you expect to have a lot of guests staying with you, all of whom will be showering daily and perhaps even wanting to do laundry, you might want to install a water meter to track your water usage. This also means that if it’s a particularly dry summer, and you find yourself spending most of your time at the cottage rather than the city, then you might find your well running dry more often. You can always pay to have your well filled in a pinch. But know that this can sometimes cost hundreds of dollars to do and if you’re in a less accessible spot, this might not even be feasible. 

This is where drilled wells can be a solution to your water woes. Drilled wells go much deeper than their dug counterparts. They’re more expensive to construct, but ultimately more reliable. If you find your drilled well going dry, then the world has far graver problems to confront than the fact that you can’t turn your taps on. However, not all geographies can support these kinds of super wells. If the groundwater, for instance, is brackish (salty), then drilling will be a no-go. Be sure to check within the municipality that you’re planning to buy in about their policies around drilled wells.

Both dug and drilled wells run on submersible pumps or jet pumps. So if the power goes out, then you’ll need to forgo the showers for some time and make sure that you’re well stocked with bottled water for cooking and drinking. There are high-tech generators you can purchase, however, that will switch on as soon as the power has been out for five minutes or longer.

Why your water can have an odour

When you’ve been away from the cottage for some time, even a couple of days, the water coming from the taps on a well might have a bit of an odour. This sulphuric smell isn’t harmful, but it can be quite off-putting, particularly for guests unfamiliar with your home. Let the water run in the kitchen and the bathroom for a few minutes when you first get there and the smell should dissipate.

2. Lake Water Pumps

Many cottagers in the southern Ontario region are familiar with this option. If you have a lakefront property, it would only seem natural to rely on this fresh-water supply to keep you hydrated and clean throughout the summer months. Your real estate agent should know if your property comes equipped with one of these beforehand, particularly if they’re showing you a property with a water pump connected to the nearby lake, but some lakes require permits before you hook up your system. Be sure to check with your realtor or the local authorities about this.

How does it work?

  • Hooking up to the lake functions similarly to how a well works, but instead you’ll need a jet pump and a long feeder line that will go into the lake. This pump runs on electricity, like a well pump would, so this also means if the power goes, you’ll not only be without electricity but water as well. 
  • Water from lakes can’t be used as drinking water unless it’s been treated. You can achieve this through a primary filter to remove pieces of debris and then a second system which purifies the water to kill any potential microorganisms that can make you sick. Ultraviolet, chlorine or reverse-osmosis water filtration systems can all achieve this and are fairly simple to install yourself or pay for someone else to do. 
  • Remember that lake water pumps are seasonal and will need to be removed when you shut down the cottage for the winter. There are tips and tricks to winterize your water line over the frostier months if that's the route you decide to go down.

Power outages: What to know

Should the power go out, cottagers relying on well water or lake water will be out of luck. Even if you find yourself equipped with a backup generator, it’s important that you stock your cottage with an emergency supply of bottled water and chlorine tablets should you be without power for longer than your generator can last.