One of the most bittersweet times of the year is the end of the summer, when it’s time to close up the cottage for the winter. The last of summer’s warmth is fading, and soon your schedule will be full of things like helping your kids with schoolwork, enjoying fall colours and treats, and getting your main house ready for winter.
If your cottage is not too far from the city, many owners try to stretch out the season as long as they can. If you find it hard to let go, keep in mind that while early fall is a great time to enjoy your cottage, if you wait too long freezing temperatures will be here before you know it, bringing potential damage to your property and belongings.
In winter, your cabin or cottage’s main enemies are water (which expands when it freezes) and mice. Most of your work will involve protecting against these two forces of nature. To help you get every last moment of enjoyment from your cottage, we’ve arranged the tasks in chronological order so you can spread the work out over a few weekends. Even if your cabin is winterized, there are lots of items on this list that will still help you.
1. Roofing Check and Gutter Cleaning
Take care if this item on a sunny day for safety, as you’ll be up a ladder.
Start with an inspection of the roof, including shingles and seals around chimneys. Repair or replace anything that’s needed. Trim back any overhanging branches that may be brought down by ice.
Then it’s time to clean all gutters and downspouts. If they’re full of leaves or needles, meltwater can’t drain away easily and you may get water damage.
2. Put Away Boats and Sporting Goods
Canoes, kayaks, and other small boats should be stored upside down on sawhorses or a rack inside a locked boathouse. For extra security chain them together and padlock them. A coat of oil will protect any metal parts from rusting. Wood treatments may be needed for some items.
If your boat is made of fibreglass or kevlar, it can be left outdoors but should be stored upside down on wooden blocks or (for larger boats) right side up on a cradle. A tarpaulin will keep leaves and debris out.
Motors should be removed and stored separately if possible. Some people like to drain the fuel into a gas can and take it home, but you can also use fuel stabilizer if the manual says it’s safe. If you can afford it, storing larger boats at a marina is a nice option.
3. Haul Out Your Dock
Most docks break down into sections for easy removal and storage. The sections don’t have to be indoors, but anything that is made of wood should be protected from moisture with tarps.
If you clean and repaint the crib, it will be ready to go in the water on that first warm day of spring.
4. Store Outdoor Furniture
Picnic tables, patio furniture and other items should be cleaned and stored somewhere where the snow and ice can’t get at them. Some wooden items will benefit from a coat of teak oil.
5. Window Check and Clean
To keep critters from chewing holes in your screens while attempting a break in, remove and store them. Give them a good clean while you’re at it. If you board up your windows, now is the time – it will definitely provide the best protection against break ins, both human and animal.
6. Clean and Store Outdoor Tools
For any gardening or other tools you’ve been using outside, a good cleaning and coat of oil is in order to prevent rust. Sharpening any tool blades will help you get ready for spring. Motorized items like lawnmowers should have the gasoline removed and taken home.
Take home any containers or other items that clutter up your storage area. Latex paint in particular doesn’t improve with freezing, and other compounds like caulking and adhesives might be vulnerable as well. The labels should tell you everything you need to know.
7. Prepare the Crawlway Under Your Cabin
Once the temperatures drop your cottage will start to look very cozy to the local critters. To discourage them:
- Remove any garbage that may lure them or stored items that might offer shelter.
- Inspect the underside of the building for openings and seal them. Mice can get through even the smallest holes. Steel wool can be stuffed into finger-width holes (mice can’t chew through it), but larger ones should be properly sealed with a wood or other panel.
- Discourage rodents by spreading mothballs, especially around support posts.
8. Clean Stoves, Fireplaces, and Barbecues
Whether they’re propane or wood burning, they all have to be prepared.
- Disconnect tanks and store them somewhere safe
- Clean the barbecue or stove. Anything left outdoors should be covered.
- Clean out all ash completely. If you have an outhouse, you can put the ash in there to control smell and encourage decomposition. In a few years you’ll have some extremely high quality compost (but you shouldn’t use it on food plants).
- Oil any moving parts.
- Inspect for loose items, soot buildup, or damaged gaskets/seals and repair or replace if needed.
- Close the damper vent.
- Ensure there’s a supply of wood and kindling on hand ready to go.
9. Seal Up Mattresses and Other Soft Furniture
Mice love anything soft to nest in, so seal all mattresses, cushions or furniture with thick plastic sheeting. Including a few sheets of fabric softener inside will help discourage them as well.
10. Clean Outhouse or Septic System
Outhouses just need a good sweep, but it’s also smart to remove any toilet paper that will provide nesting material for mice.
Septic systems should be pumped out if they’re close to their due date. If not, a dose of good bacteria like Septic Smart will help break down the sludge.
11. Drain Water System and Add Antifreeze
To avoid frozen and burst plumbing, all water must be drained from the systems in non-winterized cottages.
The first step is to disconnect the water pump and prepare it according to the manual’s instructions. If you have a water heater, it should be done next. Don’t forget to shut of the power before you begin, and disconnect the intake. Use a hose to drain any remaining water from the heater, and take the opportunity to perform a thorough inspection.
Drain the rest of the lines in the system, usually just by opening all the taps and flushing the toilet until the tank is empty. If you can, leave all taps open after draining for a few days to allow any water remaining in P-traps to evaporate.
Next, fill all pipes in the system with non-toxic antifreeze meant for drinking water supplies. Don’t forget to pour some down sinks, showers and the toilet tank if you have an indoor toilet.
Wrapping key pipe junctions with insulation is a good idea for maximum protection.
12. Remove all Food from Cupboards and Fridge
If you have a fridge, empty it and defrost the freezer compartment. Give everything a thorough clean. Put an open box of baking soda in the fridge, and use a small spacer to keep the door open slightly to prevent mildew.
Cupboards should be emptied and wiped down to remove any stray crumbs that may attract mice. New shelf liners will make for a welcoming touch when you open up next spring. Take home any dry goods, as they may become musty or mouldy. If mice find them you’ll have a mouse poop bonanza waiting for you in spring, not to mention that the food will no longer be safe to eat.
While some people keep canned goods over the winter just in case, cans can develop small splits when they freeze and allow bacteria in. It’s best to take them home too.
Last but not least, unplug any appliances to protect from surges if there’s a lightning strike.
Lock Up…and Look Ahead to Next Summer
A final inspection will help ensure nothing’s been forgotten. While you’re at it, take some photos for insurance purposes, in case there’s a break in, fire, or water damage over winter.
Assemble anything you’re taking home at your car. Don’t forget to take your electronics, rubber boots, and anything that might not do well in the cold.
Once you’ve shut down any electrical power and made sure everything is locked, you’re ready to have that last fond look around. But if you’ve done everything on this list, everything should be nice and ready for when you return next spring.