Winter has a way of approaching us much faster than we would like, especially when you have a three season cottage to put to bed. Problems can occur in cottage country when you are absent from your cottage for the winter season. To prevent winter damage, be sure to take the proper steps to close and winterize your cottage; doing so is a proactive step toward managing risk and maintaining the integrity of your investment.
We live and work in cottage country and have seen a lot of things happen to cottages as a result of winter damage. Here are some of the tips that we have learned to mitigate damage:
Don’t rush or take shortcuts:
We suggest that you set aside a few days to do a thorough inspection of your cottage and to become completely familiar with what needs to take place during the winterizing process. This process should include identifying the repairs and maintenance that need to be completed before the snow flies. Taking the time to close up your cottage properly and not taking shortcuts can prevent unexpected winter damage and is certainly more conducive to a uneventful and routine spring opening.
Check your insurance policy:
Be sure to check with your insurance company to clarify what your policy requires you do when you are not using your cottage, and to ensure that you will be fully covered over the winter months. Some insurance companies require you to drain and blow out water lines; some require you to just drain the water lines; some require that your cottage be checked regularly or at pre-determined intervals to avoid the policy becoming invalid. There are a number of variables that contribute to your insurance policy requirements, so it is important that you know and follow your contractual agreement. This avoids the possibility that you may be left with a hefty repair bill that your insurance company will not cover.
Have someone check on your cottage:
Even if your insurance policy does not require someone to check on your cottage, we think that it is prudent to do so from time to time. Either plan to do so yourself, or have someone else do it for you. If there is a problem such as a break in, fire, roof cave-in, etc., the sooner you are aware of the problem, the sooner you can report it and begin mitigating any damage.
Take photos of the cottage as you leave it for the season. If you are leaving any valuables behind, be sure to take pictures of these and record the serial number or any other identifying feature. In the event of a theft or catastrophic loss you will have a record of your valuables.
Complete your outside maintenance: Make sure that all roof maintenance has been done; shingles secured, replace missing shingles, clean out and secure gutters, and secure all trim to avoid winter damage or spring leakage. Your siding should be secured as well and any entry points for water or rodents repaired. All windows should be fully closed so water does not leak in. Make sure all decking is attached so it will be able to the handle snow load.
Think about the snow load:
The Parry Sound-Muskoka district is known for its abundance of snow, and therefore it is important to be thinking about the snow load on your cottage roof and decks. Before the snow falls, take some pictures of your roof. It is a good idea to send these pictures to the person who will be shovelling at your cottage so that the location of vents and/or skylights are identified and therefore not damaged during winter shovelling. You may also choose to cover them. Do not have your roof shovelled too often as it can cause shingle damage, and the more someone walks around on the roof or shovels, the more chance shingle or roof damage can occur.
Snow loads on decks should be cleared off to prevent deck damage or movement. In the spring, deck and railing safety must be assessed and any repairs made before being used. With a metal roof, snow and ice often comes down with enough force to seriously damage whatever is in its path, so be sure to consider this when putting items away.
Draining your water lines:
All water supply should be shut off, and the pipes, hot water tank, dishwasher, and washing machine need to be drained and/or antifreeze added to the lines. Taps should be drained (outside ones too) and left open, toilets turned off and flushed and any remaining water bailed or vacuumed out. Another option is to pour antifreeze into the toilet bowl and down sinks so that it sits in the traps. Be sure you use the pink RV antifreeze or some other environmentally friendly type. Pumps (in lake as well), and well systems should be winterized according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
Unplug your electrical appliances:
All electrical appliances should be unplugged as anything left plugged in will draw power even if turned off. The electrical bill can add up over the winter if appliances are left plugged in. All baseboard heaters need to be turned off and the furnace or heating units shut down as per manufacturer’s instructions. If you are required to leave your heating system on, or this is your personal preference, turn the temperature down to 14 degrees celsius (55 degre
Clean out your fireplace:
The fireplace should be cleaned out and the damper flue closed. We suggest covering the chimney to prevent any rodents or a raccoon from nesting in there over the winter.
Keep the rodents out:
Assess and secure any rodent entry points. Rodents have their bags packed and are just waiting to move in when you leave. All food sources should be removed, all spills wiped up, and thoroughly check all rooms for any food scraps (i.e. in cushions, under couches & beds etc.). Bears can also sniff out food and they will cause a lot of damage in an attempt to reach a food source. Be sure to put any paper products such as toilet paper, tissue, or paper towel in a secure location that cannot be accessed by rodents (i.e. secure cupboard, unplugged microwave, or a secure tote bin).
And, remember to take the trash with you when you leave!
ution…this is kind of gross!)Setting mouse traps: (Ca Mouse traps can be set, but be prepared that there may be quite an odour by spring time if your trapping attempts are successful. Using a five gallon pail with a pop can on a metal hanger is another popular way for keeping the mouse population under control.
Here’s what you do:
- put metal rod through the pop can then drill two holes near the rim on opposite sides of the pail
- thread the metal rod with the pop can through it
- put peanut butter on the ends of the pop can
- fill the pail part way with water and antifreeze (cuts down on the smell).
- the mice jump on the pop can for the peanut butter the can spins and they fall in the pail
Look up and check your trees:
Make sure all of the trees overhanging the roof or building are cut back to prevent winter damage. If there are any dead trees or trees that present a threat to the cottage, outbuildings, or decks, you may want to have them taken down in the fall. Installing a product called Moss Boss (zinc strips) from your local building store can help prevent moss build-up or help to get rid of existing moss and aid in prolonging the life of your roof.
Docks & Outbuildings:
Make sure all outbuildings and docking are secure and prepared for winter. Depending on the type of docking system you have, you may need to remove it from the water completely. If you are in an area that does not have significant ice movement, most modern docks will allow you to detach it from the shoreline, securing it so that it can freeze in during the winter and thaw out naturally in the spring.
Think about the spring thaw:
Take a few moments to assess your property and identify where the spring run off is likely to head. Take corrective action to divert the drainage from your building or deck footings. here water will run off from higher levels this will be especially important All deck footings should be assessed and made as secure as possible. If any posts or piers are on a lean or have damaged block (a fair amount of damage), you may want to repair or replace them prior to winter – especially if you know the spring run off is likely to be aggressive. You do not want them to wash out and cause structural damage to your cottage. If your cottage is on a hill or slope w
We understand that each cottage and its components are unique and what works for one may not work for another. So, take the time to get to know your cottage property. If you are new to winterizing a cottage you may want to secure the services of a cottage maintenance company familiar with your area to close your cottage for the winter. If you are interested, have them instruct you in the process so that you can eventually do it on your own. An advantage of using a local maintenance company is that they will likely be able to offer some form of cottage ‘Winter Watch’ program for you also. If you decide to undertake winterizing your cottage on your own, it would be beneficial to do a little research on the internet or talk to seasoned cottagers for suggestions, advice or tips that will make the process easier.
Enjoy your winter!