It’s that time of year again when the air is crisp, the skies grow dark earlier, and the leaves begin to change colour. If you own a seasonal property, it’s also time to prepare your cabin or cottage for the winter.
While insurance for cars, homes and life are very common, recreational property insurance is becoming more popular. It’s available for a variety of items, including your boat, RV, trailer and more. There are many great resources out there, so we’re going to summarize a few things we think you should know.
Preparing your heat source for winter
Because of their remote locations, most cottages or cabins rely on wood stoves or electrical heat. Electrical heat is pretty straightforward but a wood stove requires more care and maintenance.
To prepare for winter, all debris and ash should be vacuumed or cleaned out from the bottom of your woodstove and the ash drawer should be emptied. Next, the glass window should be cleaned to check for any cracks. Lastly, check the interior door into the chimney throat (damper) to ensure all debris is removed. Follow the instructions provided with your unit to ensure you cover all the steps required.
Ensure your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are functioning by testing them every time you are up.
If you’re thinking of installing a wood stove, you’ll need to factor in provincial regulations. It’s best to consult with a professional to learn about your options. Here are some things to consider:
- Location of your cottage and local regulations.
- The cost of installing a heat source.
- Whether insurance costs are affected by the type of heat source you have, and your eligibility for insurance.
Before finalizing any details, contact your broker as they will be able to provide you with some helpful insights.
Installing additional insulation
Winter is already cold enough, so you don’t want to let any warmth escape from your cottage. Having proper insulation in your cottage is important, especially if you plan on spending time there during the colder months.
In addition to regular insulation, windows and doors should be properly sealed. Consider these tips:
- Add weather stripping around doors and windows, to keep drafts out.
- Updated windows and doors are a good way to prevent drafts from coming in.
- If your seasonal property doesn’t already have all weather windows installed, you may want to consider this as an option.
You may also consider caulking along the floor boards of outside walls to close any gaps that allow cold air to creep in.
Upgrading your cabin or cottage utility systems for winter
If you only use your secondary property during the warmer months but want to start using it during colder temperatures, consider:
- Upgrading your electrical and plumbing (and septic system) to accommodate all-season living.
- Having a licensed plumber and electrician inspect your property to determine what needs to be winterized.
Preventing frozen pipes
If you plan on closing your cabin or cottage over the winter, you’ll need to drain your pipes and blow out any excess water. This will help prevent them from expanding and cracking over the winter.
Secure your property
The security of your property is a concern year-round. During the winter, you may not become aware of issues right away. It’s important to take preventative measures by following a few simple steps:
- If you have the means, install a security system that you can monitor from home or one that makes a really loud sound that could alert neighbours.
- Lock everything from top to bottom – windows, doors, sheds and ensure hardware and hinges are in good condition.
- Install extra security features around as many openings as possible, e.g. pins in sliding doors.
- Keep all curtains closed so thieves can’t see inside and remove all valuables at the end of the season.
- If you keep an electrical source on, install sensor lights.
Security isn’t just about deterring thieves – you also want to prevent critters from coming in, such as bears and raccoons who can do extensive damage. Proper locks and other physical barriers to entry are essential to prevent this.
Prepare for extra expenses
Here are a few of the extra costs that might come up when preparing your cottage for winter:
- Electricity, water, heating and other utilities.
- Transportation costs (especially if you’re further away from places like a grocery store).
- If you’re not going to be around, you may have to hire someone to clear your driveways and walkways from snow or ice.
- What winter activities do you enjoy? Consider winter toys you might want for the family.
Protect your fixtures and toys
If you have water toys, boats, patio furniture, sheds or any other seasonal fixtures, you’ll want to store them in a dry place and protect them from the elements that can cause damage during the colder months. Even if you’re spending time at your property, anything seasonal should be packed away until it can be used again.
Recreational property insurance differs from the insurance you would have on your primary home. Insurance companies consider how your cottage is used and how often you’ll occupy it. This helps your broker determine what insurance packages work best for you. Be sure to check out Insurance Bureau of Canada for some very useful checklists and great insights regarding your seasonal or secondary home.
Important reminders for closing up your cabin or cottage for the winter
- Check your water supply to ensure pipes are fully drained to prevent your water line from freezing. Some water lines may be filled with non-toxic anti-freeze or they can be carefully wrapped at key junction points to protect against the colder elements. It’s still important to check for wear and tear and drain them before closing up for the winter, even if they are built to endure colder temps.
- Wildlife tends to get more comfortable around your space when human activity is not constant. Make sure all food and garbage bags have been removed from your cottage. You’ll also want to inspect your property to make sure there are no small holes that would make an inviting home to bats, mice, squirrels and other small creatures. Place a wooden cover on your chimney and close your fireplace damper – this will help deter birds from taking refuge.
- If you shut off your electrical system in the off-season, turn off all major appliances including the water heater(s) and electrical room heaters. This will help with a safer start-up when you open up in the spring again.
- If you’re leaving electricity on for your heat, security system or lighting, unplug your major appliances. Otherwise, they may turn on randomly or after an outage. Lastly, visually inspect your hydrometer and power lines for any damage. If you suspect a line is down or damaged, call your Hydro Company.
- Rather than drain gasoline from fuel tanks when storing boat motors and other power equipment, use a fuel stabilizer (available from your dealer or auto parts store). Store anything with an engine in a dry, weatherproof place.
- Even if you’re not using your cottage during the winter, you may want to hire a company or local handyperson to check on it and if necessary, help with general property maintenance. If you do not have temporary supports installed to protect the roof from caving in, you may want someone to come by to shovel it off. For security reasons, have someone you trust check for signs of vandalism and security of your cottage. If there are winter storms or tree damage due to weather, having someone monitor your place (if you’re unable to) will help bring you peace of mind.
- Check your policy wordings or call your broker to learn if you are required to inform your insurance company if you are out of country or away from your property for an extended period.
Does preparing your cabin or cottage for winter affect your insurance?
General winter maintenance most likely won’t impact your insurance. However, if you’re planning on completing more extensive renovations, it could have an impact. The type of work you’re doing may mean that coverage is limited until all renovations are completed or you may have to temporarily add a risk or contractor policy to you plan. And if you plan on renting out, you’ll want to have some kind of landlord insurance in place to protect you and your property.
It never hurts to call your insurance broker to check in. They will ask you questions to learn more about your situation. That way you get the right coverage customized to your needs. If you’d like to learn more, contact BrokerLink today!
FAQs about preparing your cabin or cottage for winter
Why should I cover my cottage's chimney opening during winter?
If you’re not using our property during the winter, it’s important to cover your chimney opening so small animals do not take shelter during the cold weather. You definitely don’t want to open up your seasonal property in the spring to discover birds, squirrels, bats or other wildlife have become unwanted tenants. If your property is located in an area that sees a lot of snow, covering the chimney may also help prevent future water damage when it warms up again.
What is a deep freeze and are they dangerous to cottages?
A deep freeze is when temperatures drop extremely low and it becomes severely cold making it nearly impossible for things like your garden plants to survive. Most people can get away with going outside (if dressed properly), but limiting your time in the freezing cold is best. A deep freeze may also affect your property if not property maintained or insulated. That’s why it’s best to opt for windows and building materials that can survive all weather conditions.
How do I save on my cottage's electric expenses during the winter?
If you don’t plan on spending time at your seasonal property during the winter, you can unplug your appliances and turn off your electricity when you close up for the season. However, if you need some electricity for things like a security system you can choose what outlets to turn off in your main panel.