Birds can fly south for the winter, but if you’re a seasonal cottage owner, October is the time to knuckle down and roll up your sleeves to prep and close your summer property for another unpredictable Canadian winter.

Neglecting that to-do list can eventually bring on unnecessary damage and expense. Doing it right means full enjoyment of your cottage, while extending its life and look, in addition to adding property value, should you decide in future to place it on the Ontario real estate market. With chores done, you can kick back and look forward to next summer at your getaway.

Keep this essential task list of 12 handy tips for closing up your cottage:

1. Eliminate water issues:

Water is the source of life, but if you don’t drain it from your pipes, it can be your worst enemy. Pipes have the potential to burst during the freeze-thaw cycles, causing extensive damage, so ensure you turn off that water at the main valve, including water supply valves to your toilets, sinks and other fixtures.

The Canada Safety Council advises filling supply pipes with non-toxic anti-freeze, and wrapping them at major junction points to protect against freezes.

Keep in mind that it takes time for water to drain from pipes, so make it your first job, allowing you to attend to other chores.

2. Furnace options:

Some cottage owners choose to turn off their furnace completely, while others set the thermostat to the lowest degree of heat. Both options have pros and cons. The former scenario means you incur no substantial energy bills and you exercise kindness to the environment. Keeping the heat on low, though more costly, minimizes the risk of bursting pipes. The choice is ultimately yours, but turning the heat to low, if you don’t have a well-insulated cottage, may prove wiser.

3. Shut off electricity:

Hydro One recommends turning off all appliances, including the water heater and electrical room heaters, before turning off the main switch at the electrical panel. If you leave your electricity on for security or lighting, shut off the power supply to your major appliances at your main panel, and turn off the power to any space heaters.

4. Avoid critter squatters:

Nothing is more unsettling than to reopen your cottage in spring to nesting rodents that can cause property damage, fire (chewing through wiring), and human health concerns. Decrease this risk by tightly sealing all holes and cracks, large and small, leading into the cottage, and also inside cupboards and closets.

Don’t forget to board up dog doors and block off chimney flues and woodstove pipes that are, otherwise, convenient entry points for birds and other creatures.

Don’t feed the critters – take all your food home! Empty the fridge and freezer, and all cupboards with perishable foods, dry goods and even canned foods. Clean ovens and microwaves; clean and defrost your cold appliances, leaving the door ajar to prevent mold and mildew.

5. Keep the burglars out:

Avoid becoming the next victim of a burglary by taking these measures:

• Ensure all doors and windows are securely locked

• Board up windows to deter the prying eyes of unwanted visitors

• Leave no valuables or alcohol

• Take inventory (and photos) of all your belongings left in the cottage, not only in the unfortunate circumstance of theft, but also weather damage or fire. Keep them in a safe place in the event of an insurance claim. The process will go much more smoothly and efficiently.

6. Seal doors and windows:

Are your doors and windows properly sealed? Replace any seals that have worn out or collected moisture. Taking these precautions will avoid unhealthy mold, condensation and mildew buildup.

7. Inspect the roof and trees:

A leaking roof causes extensive water damage inside and outside of the cottage, and the repair is costly. Whether as a DIY or through a reliable roofer, inspect the roof and, if necessary, replace any missing or broken shingles.

And while you’re outside, check that overhanging trees are trimmed, so that wind and snow don’t cause them to fall and damage your cottage, roof and property.

8. Keep eaves troughs and gutters clear:

Falling leaves accumulate in eaves troughs and gutters. They should be cleaned out to avoid the risk of overflowing or clogging gutters during rains and snow-melts.

Do you have a skylight? One source recommends placing an upside-down box over it or any other vulnerable roof section to act as a barrier from heavy snow. The task of snow-clearing will be easier too.

9. Prevent fire:

Let a professional inspect your chimney or woodstoves to ensure they haven’t accrued hazardous amounts of creosote that could cause a fire.

10. Pack up tools and equipment:

Leave no extras unturned, when it comes to extending the life of your tools and equipment and to prevent them from being stolen. Bring any lawn furniture, boating supplies, outdoor decor, and BBQ propane to storage areas that have a secure lock.

Don’t have a storage area? You could invest in a storage shed that locks, or simply bring the articles home. Larger items can be covered with tarps to protect them from weather damage and, then, chained down with locks.

11. Get a reliable key-holder to check your property:

Gain peace of mind by depending on a key-holder (friend, family member or hired caretaker) to check in on your cottage regularly and to alert you to a break-in, weather damage, or animal nesting in your cottage.

12. Last looks:
Before locking up the doors to the cottage and storage sheds, take your list and have a last look around. Have all utilities and appliances been unplugged? Have potential fire hazards been removed, including the removal of garbage, old newspapers, chemicals?

Buying a cottage entails work, no different from your primary home, but you’ll also enjoy happy and memorable times to share with family and friends. Adhering to this basic to-do list for maintaining a clean and safe cottage in the winter months, makes you a responsible, trusted cottage owner – not to mention a smart property owner at resale time.

Zoocasa is a real estate brokerage based in Toronto.

Sheila O’Hearn is a freelance and creative writer, and has worn many hats throughout her career, from general staff reporter to magazine editor. With a keen interest in business entrepreneurship, she writes for several print and online outlets. Check out her LinkedIn for more info.


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