Cottage building 101

What to consider before buying cottage property

By Allan BritnellAllan Britnell

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“Location, location, location” is an age-old axiom in the real estate business. And nowhere is that more applicable than in cottage country where the building is often just a setting for taking in the view. But what if you could combine your dream home with your ideal vista? That’s the reality of building a cottage from the ground up.

Questions to ask

There are two options for finding a building lot: Buy an existing cottage and tear it down, or buy vacant land.

One upside to teardowns is that you may be able to capitalize on many of the existing amenities, such as road access, hydro lines, and possibly even the septic system. And you can often build on the old footprint – which may be a lot closer to the lake than the new regulations permit. On the other hand, buying vacant land is usually the cheaper option. When lot shopping, be sure to ask questions, such as:

Does the lot have road access (or do you have to boat or fly in)? Is access year-round?

Is the lot serviced with hydro (and telephone) lines? If not, what would it cost to bring utilities in?

Is the shoreline suitable for a dock, and for swimming?

What are the local zoning restrictions related to new construction and septic systems?

How are the sightlines from possible building sites?

Design dilemmas

You’ve got a few choices when deciding on a building for a vacant lot. You can opt for a prefabricated cottage, an entirely original design, or buy one of the many cottage plans on the market today.

Prefab may cost less and gives you the benefit of a tried-and-true design. You may even be able to visit a model to see exactly what your cottage will look like before construction starts.

Instead you might opt to hire a professional to design the retreat of your dreams. If you go this route, the process will likely take longer and is often more expensive but, in the end, every room will be precisely how and where you want it.

Don’t let setbacks set you back

In an effort to preserve the beauty and ecological health of Ontario’s lakes, governments have created stringent rules for lakeside development. Exact distances for minimum building setbacks vary by municipality; in some, you may be allowed to construct a boathouse with a guest suite, in others you might be restricted on how and where you can build a dock. Consult with the municipal building department for specific bylaws in your area. Many post this information online. Not sure what your municipality’s website address is? You’ll find it on the Association of Municipalities of Ontario website.

Knowledge is power

When building a cottage from scratch, you’ll have to make dozens of decisions about which materials to use, from flooring and bathroom fixtures, to siding and roofing. One of the best sources for unbiased info on building materials is the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation. On their searchable website you’ll find planning guides, fact sheets, and videos on a variety of construction-related topics.

Price check

Before deciding on a general contractor (or any other tradesperson) you should get a minimum of three estimates for the work. Ask for a detailed breakdown of the costs so you can accurately compare each. (A number scrawled on the back of a business card is not sufficient, a detailed summary of what your dollars will buy is.) It’s also essential to ask for, and to check, references. To help get a sense of what various materials and services cost and gauge the accuracy of each quote, check out “Renovation and Building Costs” on the Ontario Contractors website. Contractors do pay to be included in this listing, but it can be a good starting point for your research.

This article was originally published on January 1, 2007

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