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Winter is coming

Closing down your cottage for the season the right way saves you time and money next year

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You’ve had your fun-filled summer of swimming and hiking and reading but now it’s time to close up the cottage and get back to real life.

“You never know what you’ll find when you make your way back to the cottage the following spring, so it’s really important to set aside the last two days before closing up to thoroughly inspect the cottage and repair things that aren’t in good working order,” says Brodie Bott, communications manager at national home and auto insurer RSA Canada.

Whether you’re a new cottage owner or aren’t sure you took all the right steps last year, we’re here to share some handy tips.

Water damage is one of the most common causes of cottage insurance claims. The problem is frozen pipes, which can happen when the heat is shut off for the winter, but there’s still stagnant water in the pipes.

Tammy Buchanan owner of Halifax’s Small Jobs Plumbing says: “If the water freezes, it expands, and then it can blow fittings apart. You could have that happen in various spots throughout the cottage and then you don’t realize there’s a problem until you turn your water back on. Then you’ve got water spraying everywhere, so it’s pretty important to shut it down properly.”

Bott and Buchanan both recommend getting a plumber to walk you through the process if you’ve never done it before, especially since there are a few variables involved. For example, your process is going to be a little different if you draw water from a well than it will be if you draw water from a lake. “The bottom line is that you need to be able to successfully shut off the water and drain everything down that exists inside the cottage,” says Buchanan.

Wanson Hemphill has a cottage in Flat River, P.E.I. Because he built the cottage himself, he was able to customize it in a way that makes it easier for him to winterize.

Hemphill starts by shutting the power off and draining all the water. He opens the taps and drains them one at a time and, with the taps still open, drains the hot water heater. When he built the cottage, he used water taps that came with “bleeder screws,” little screws that you insert into the lowest part of each pipe. This makes the pipes easier to drain—he just removes them and lets the water run out.

“All the water is pretty well drained from opening the taps previously,” says Hemphill. “So this is just to get the extra water out.”

Next, he removes all the traps (the u-shaped pipe that catches the debris from your sink) from under the kitchen and bathroom sinks, and below the bathtub. He lets the water drain out into a bucket.

Then he works on the toilet.

“I use a little styrofoam coffee cup, and I get as much of the water out of the toilet tank as I possibly can,” says Hemphill. “I get 90 per cent of the water out the toilet that way.” Then he adds plumber’s antifreeze so that the toilet bowl contains about 50 per cent antifreeze and 50 per cent leftover water to keep the toilet bowl from cracking.

Hemphill owns a submersible pump that connects to his cottage. It’s set up on a gentle slope, which makes it easy for him to disconnect from the cottage for draining. He leaves it open, and then takes the pipe off of the top of the submersible hose that comes up from the well. Then he blows through the line from the pump pipe to the cottage until he hears air coming out the other end. When he’s done, he puts it all back together again.

Although frozen pipes are one of the most common causes of water damage, Bott says ice damming can be a major issue too. This is when the ice gets so thick around the edges of your roof that it prevents water from running off. Instead, the water gets backed up, causing leaks. To prevent ice damming, pay close attention to your eaves and flashing when you’re doing your initial walkaround.

Follow these steps and when spring comes back around, you should be set up for a great first weekend. And if you have any questions about what you need to look for, just call your insurance broker. They don’t want claims any more than you do.

Winterization checklist

Step 1: Take a look around Start by taking a thorough look around for any possible problems. Check the siding, caulking around windows and doors, and make sure your eaves and flashing are working properly. If you’re not sure what to look for, Bott recommends asking your insurance company. Once you finish your walk-around, trim back any overhanging trees and branches.

Step 2: Protect your cottage Test the batteries in your smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors. Replace dead and weak batteries.

Step 3: Keep away the critters Look around for any holes mice or insects could use as a winter door. Block any holes with steel wool.

Step 4: Shut it down Turn off the main power and close any propane tank valves.

Step 5: Clear your pipes Drain all the water out of your pipes so they don’t freeze. This is probably the most complicated thing you’ll need to do, so make sure you follow all the steps outlined below.

Step 6: Lock it up Lock all your doors and windows. If you have a neighbour you trust, ask them if you can leave them your keys and phone number in case of emergencies. If they’re particularly nice neighbours, they might even be willing to check on your cottage over the winter.

Step 7: Check your insurance Remember that insurance document that came in the mail this summer? Better make sure you did something with it. If you aren’t sure, give your insurance company a call and make sure everything’s in order.

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