The cool, crisp weather has me bundling up, cooking soup and taking drives out to the country for the scenery. This time of year also signals that summer is over and it’s time to close up our cottage and get it ready for winter. Before closing it down each year, we head up to our cottage for the last time over Thanksgiving weekend. In that sense, it’s bittersweet. I love spending time with our family, eating a big delicious turkey dinner and taking in the spectacular views of the changing colours while hiking. But closing down the cottage is also sad because it means everything associated with summer — the breezy weather, water activities, and fun in the sun – is over (albeit, temporarily). If you’re gearing up to close down your cottage, whether you are a long time cabin owner or a newbie, here are my tips for a quick, efficient and effective close-down!
Tip #1: Clean up as if you’re moving out
Put all of your belongings away in bins, including toys, pillows, linens, cutlery, pans and pots. The benefits of storing away your everyday belongings are twofold. First, it helps prevent critters from getting into your stuff over the winter. Second, it makes opening up the cottage more efficient come spring or summer. You can easily restock all of your items in their original place without needing to wash or deep clean everything.
When you’re cleaning up and putting everything away, you should also take the time to declutter. Throw away anything that is broken, donate items that you haven’t used in ages, and bring home valuables or other items you can make use of over the year. For example, if you are planning a trip down south, you may want to pack your child’s lifejacket or water toys.
“Put drawers back in upside down. This will help ensure critters don’t turn them into their home base over the winter.”
Lastly, but most importantly, clean out the fridge, freezer and food cabinets completely! You can donate the non-perishable items you won’t need over the winter to a food bank; throw out anything that might expire; and bring home anything you can still enjoy with the family. After you clear out the fridge and freezer, thoroughly wipe them down. Decide whether you are going to unplug your fridge and freezer and plan accordingly. If you unplug them, leave the doors slightly ajar to avoid mold and mildew build up and make sure to soak up any water that might flow out from melted freezer frost.
Tip #2: Empty and remove any water
Shut off the water pump and drain water from pipes. Remember to also completely drain the hot water heater. We remove our water pump entirely and store it over the winter. Once all of the water is out of your pipes and toilet (we use a small bowl to scoop out any visible water from the bowl and tank), pour a little plumbing anti-freeze into the sinks and toilet bowls. The last thing you want to discover is that water froze over the winter causing your pipes to burst. Unfortunately, we learned this the hard way when we first became cottage owners.
Tip #3: Add additional (but temporary) structural support
In older cottages with open spaces, you can often add a temporary pole in the middle of your cottage that lines up with the main support beam. Be sure to attach a rope to the beam so it won’t cause any damage if it falls over. This is helpful for older cottages (like our bunkie-style cottage that was built in the 50s) because the beam can provide extra support should too much snow pile up on the roof.
Tip #4: Turn off the electricity
Shut down all electricity. Remove plugs from sockets and turn your main power switch off! This will help protect against fires and reduce your electricity bills when the cottage is not in use.
Tip #5: Clean out the gutters
This tip is especially important if you are not planning to check on the cottage over the fall and winter seasons. Clearing your eaves troughs will help ensure that leaves and sticks don’t pile up too much, and that you clear an appropriate pathway for water, allowing for proper drainage. This will also help prevent waterfalls that pour off the roof or create icicle buildup. Excess water that doesn’t go through the gutter system properly (which is designed to move water down from the roof and away from the foundation) may end up getting inside your cottage ceiling and walls.
Tip #6: Put outdoor furniture and equipment away
Leaving furniture and accessories outside (such as Muskoka chairs, tables, and toys and games) during the winter may cause them to get wrecked or damaged from winter weather, so try to bring them indoors. Also, store your boat, canoe, kayak, paddle boat or any other water craft properly. This will help you maintain them in better condition and ensure their longevity.
Finally, after you lock up your cottage, take a moment to reflect. Sit down on your porch or deck and look around. Think back to the amazing summer you had in cottage country, the quality time you spent with your family and loved ones, the celebrations and memories made, and take a deep breath. You might be closing up for the season but before you know it, spring will arrive and you’ll be heading up to your favourite spot again.