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The days are getting shorter, the nights are cool and the lazy days of summer have come to an end. Fall means back to routines, and for many cottagers that means it’s time to prepare your home away from home for its winter break. Don’t let your summer hideaway fall victim to the hardships of winter -- be prepared and protect your cottage.
Take the time to thoroughly inspect for existing issues around your cottage. A small roof leak or foundation crack that may not be significant now can become a major problem after a few months of ice and snow. Walk around the property and check things like the roof, foundation, eavestroughs, downspouts and chimney. Don’t leave this inspection until your last day as you’ll need time to fix any problems before closing up for the winter.
When inspecting your cottage, look for gaps, spaces and cracks where critters can get in. Mice and other rodents often get access where pipes, service lines or other penetrations come in. Check these areas as well as your roof lines, windows and door frames where rodents might enter your home and set up camp over the winter.
The easiest solution might seem to be to simply turn off the main power to your cottage, but this means things like security lights, cameras and even your sump pump won’t be able to run. It’s best to unplug and turn off major appliances as needed, like your washer, dryer and stove. When you unplug and clean out your fridge, be sure to prop the doors open. A fridge turned off and left closed may create unpleasant odours and be of little use next spring. One item that DOES need to have power is your sump pump. You should also make sure that it has a source of backup power -- either a battery or generator. Storms that bring heavy rain may also bring power outages, and if your sump pump isn’t running when needed, you could find significant flood damage in the spring. Modern sump pumps even have alarms that will alert you remotely if your unit is not working.
Turn off the water supply to the property and drain all the pipes by opening the faucets and letting them run until the water stops flowing. Water left in uninsulated or poorly insulated pipes over the winter is likely to freeze and cause the pipe to burst and leak. In addition, it is wise to add insulation to any exposed plumbing. Be sure to double check that the water is drained and no water runs from your faucets before leaving.
You’ll either want to turn your heat off completely or turn it down. Turning the heat way down, rather than completely off, will help keep pipes from freezing. If you have gas heating, you’ll want to turn it off completely. Always shut off the gas to your cottage when closing up for the season. If you have electric heating, you can turn the whole system off at your breaker panel. If you have a water heater, you should shut that off too. If you have a fireplace, make sure it’s in good shape and properly cleaned. Definitely make sure the damper vent is closed to keep the weather and critters out.
Of course you’ll store away your patio furniture, tend to the lawns and clean up the yard like you do at home before winter hits. Additionally, you should check to make sure there are no liquids, like perhaps a paint can or a can of gas, left around the property (or inside as well if you’ve turned off the heat) that could freeze, burst and damage your property while you’re away. You should also disconnect and store the propane tank from your grill.
Properly closing your cottage will help it stand up to the harsh months of winter and save yourself headaches and repairs in the spring. When you’ve completed your cottage-closing checklist, it’s a good idea to take photos of the property before heading home so that you have something to provide your insurance company should anything happen over the winter months. You should also check on your cottage (or ask a neighbour) over the winter, especially in areas with heavy rain and snow to be sure ice dams aren’t forming on your roof.