The top 5 mistakes cottagers make

Bryan Baumler tells us what makes puttering dangerous

By Allan BritnellAllan Britnell


Photo by HGTV

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Bryan Baeumler, host of HGTV’s Disaster DIY, has seen plenty of amateur mistakes. This year, he’s headed to cottage country. We asked him what makes cottage puttering particularly disastrous.

1. Not to code

One episode of Disaster DIY Cottage features a deck tottering on footings made of pizza-oven bricks, with shims and duct tape holding on the railings. In another, a floating dock was held in place with rope and tape. Code may not apply here, but what of common sense? “I pulled off a piece of string and the thing floated away.”

The fix: Following the Building Code—including using the right materials—is as crucial at the lake as it is in the city. Maybe even more so given the distance to medical care.

2. It’s-just-the-cottage-syndrome

“The standards of DIY renovating at a cottage are lower than in the city,” says Baeumler, and this leads to questionable practices. For example, he knows one cottager who built a stone hot tub using a 45-gallon drum as a central firebox. “It’s good for about ten minutes. Then it gets too hot and it’s cooking people.”

The fix: Don’t relax your standards just because you feel more relaxed. Creative workarounds are fine if they’re as functional as a professional solution.

3. Bad electrical work

What scares Baeumler most is cottage wiring. He’s seen severed and spliced extension cords, and speaker wire used to power lights.“Cottagers wonder why the lights don’t work and there’s a burning smell. They find it funny when things are so bad they’re dangerous.”

The fix: Receiving a shock is no laughing matter. While it can be costly to get an electrician out to the cottage, rebuilding after a fire is really expensive. If you’re out of your league beyond replacing a light bulb, err on the side of caution and hire a pro.

4. Underestimated distractions

“People think they’ll go up for a weekend and build a whole deck. Then somebody says, ‘Let’s go waterskiing.’ Four years later they haven’t got anything done.” Half-finished fixes can compound problems by, for example, leaving structural members exposed to the elements, leading to rot and ruin down the road.

The fix: Set realistic (read “very generous”) timelines for tasks, then dedicate a distraction-free time to work on them and “put the blinders on and get the project done.”

5. No maintenance

All those distractions can also lead to neglect. “The work ethic is a little different up north. If there’s a problem at home, it gets fixed. At the lake, it’s ‘Oh well, it’s the cottage.’ ” But the longer little problems, such as leaky eavestroughs, are left, the more damage they can cause.

The fix: Treat your cottage like your home—maybe even better, since extended absences mean you can’t monitor the building’s condition as closely. And if you’d rather play than work, as Baeumler says, “Pay the piper and have someone local do the job.”

This article was originally published on September 17, 2009

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