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Written by: Meaghan Demeester, M.A.
Winter is on its way, and though we may not all look forward to it, it will be here before we know it. For many cottagers, this is the time of year to close and winterize the cottage, and whether you plan to shut it up completely until the spring, or to come up periodically during the winter, there are some things you should know. There are many problems that can occur in your absence.
If you don't plan on taking advantage of your cottage and experiencing winter in Muskoka, you need to shut off and drain all the water from your pipes and tank. With no heat in the building, pipes can freeze and burst, causing lots of damage. John Tracy of Fire & Ice Property Management suggests putting a bit of anti-freeze in the toilets, as this will ensure that if there is any water left, your pipes won't burst and the toilet won't crack. If the place will be sitting empty for the season, then there is no need for any heat to be on. But if you plan on enjoying a few weekends here and there at the cottage, then you can either turn it off completely and have someone else — someone you trust — come in before you arrive and make the place warm and inviting, or keep the heat to a minimum. According to Tracy, 10 degrees Celsius is enough to keep the pipes from freezing.
You need to be aware of the type of heating in your cottage, and from there decide if it's proper for you to leave the heat on. Tracy, who is also a volunteer firefighter, says that baseboard heaters are cottage burners and encourages people who use baseboard heating to shut them off for the winter.
Muskoka is notorious for receiving a healthy amount of snow, and a build-up of it on your roof can cause some serious damage to the building, and as a result, should be shoveled at least once a season. Stephen Fitzmaurice of Fitzmaurice Property Maintenance says that Even if there's only 16 inches of snow on the roof, it should be shoved because of ice build-up. If it rains, it gets extremely heavy and could cause leaking. He also suggests that you put boxes over roof vents and skylights to prevent damage to them from shovels.
In regards to keeping your driveway and decks clear of snow, Fitzmaurice advises that you scoop the snow as far away from the building as possible to avoiding buildup against the walls. Also be sure to shovel the snow away from all doorways so that there is easy access in case of an emergency. Decks should also be shoveled, and if there's a new railing, make sure to have a removable section so that you don't have to lift the snow over the railing, suggests Fitzmaurice.
If you're not going to be around to do any of the shoveling yourself, Tracy highly recommends either hiring a company or having a friend come in and making the place look lived-in. We may not like to admit it, but cottage break-ins are a huge problem, especially while the owners are away for months on end. To prevent this, you can have someone shovel the drive just enough so that a car would have access, the walkways, and even just to walk around the place to leave some tracks. Having the place checked is also a good idea if you've left the heat on, because if the heat is on, then the hydro is on, and there is a much higher risk of fire.
You could even board up or completely cover the windows, because, as Tracy says, it's not as tempting if you can't see it. Of course you should not leave any valuables at the cottage at all, especially outside.
Any outdoor equipment and tools, such as lawnmowers and boats, should be secured properly. Elaborate outside stereo and entertainment equipment, including speaker systems should be taken down to prevent temptation. Docks should be either taken out or secured to prevent damage from ice, and above all, make sure that everything is turned off and secured. This will give you peace of mind to enjoy everything that the winter season has to offer.