25 ultimate upgrades

High performance solutions to get your cottage in top working order

By Richard BrignallRichard Brignall


9. Protect your waterline

It doesn’t take much to cause a break in a waterline: wave action rubbing it side to side on a rock, a snagged fishhook, or an anchor deployed from a boat. And all it takes is a pinhole to make it harder for your pump to move water to the cottage. Protect your line with 4″ corrugated polyethylene pipe, often called Big O, or weeping tile. Just slide this inexpensive pipe over the waterline, from the submersible pump or foot valve all the way to where the line emerges from the water, ending it at least a metre up from the high-water mark on shore. Piling rocks over this pipe, especially at the shoreline, will enhance its protection from wave and ice action.

10. Locate the thermostat

Every room with baseboard heat should be individually controlled by either a wall-mount or built-in thermostat. A wall-mount model should be installed on an interior wall opposite the heaters, where it will accurately gauge a room’s temperature. If the thermostat is on a cool exterior wall, it will be influenced by the outside temperature, making baseboards, or other heating systems, run longer than they should. Built-in thermostats, installed right on the baseboard unit, take a reading near floor level and usually under a window, so they’re also apt to be fooled by a cold draft.

11. Keep creatures out

Insects and mice have an innate ability to find any hole that leads to kitchen cupboards, broom closets, and warm stud spaces. As well as seeking food, they’re looking for places to stay warm — walls full of insulation are a hot winter hideaway and a gap under the floor is a rodent maternity ward. Electricians often give these living headaches an entry by running wire below the cottage and then drilling holes up to feed receptacles and light switches. All holes between the outside and inside need to be filled with a combination of caulking and steel wool — caulking will stop bugs, while steel wool will take care of the rodents.

12. Position baseboard heaters

As cottage upgrades go, electric baseboard heaters are super — they require no ductwork, little space, and are relatively inexpensive to install. However, they can be expensive to run, especially if they’re not installed properly. They heat a room through convection: The air around the electrical elements is heated and rises, warming the room and pulling more cold air through the elements. Baseboard heaters should be installed on exterior walls and are most effective when installed under windows — the chilliest places in a room. In winter, the air around a window is cold and heavy, and with a baseboard installed underneath, the falling cold air will be heated by the rising warm air coming off the baseboard’s element. You need about 10 watts of baseboard heat for every square foot of floor space – more if your cottage is drafty. Ideally, a heater will be at least as long as the window is wide. Properly sized heaters, positioned under the windows, will fully compensate for the cold air coming from the window, but if they are too small, the rooms will be cold and the electric bills sizable as the heaters work overtime trying to keep up.

13. Pipe thickness

As with one of those extra-thick milkshake straws, your pump moves water more easily, and with more volume and pressure, through a 1 1/4″ (or wider) waterline, instead of the usual 1″-diameter line.

14. Send moisture outside

Cottagers would rather hear the sounds of nature than the drone of an exhaust fan, but the latter is a necessity if there’s a full bathroom in the cottage. You can usually get away without one in the summer by opening a window, but in cooler weather, and especially winter, this isn’t a practical option. Without proper ventilation, moisture can cause everything from peeling paint to mould, and even structural damage. In the winter, these problems intensify as improper bathroom ventilation can lead to windows icing up, window seals breaking, and condensation freezing on the walls. Problems will fester in a cottage that is used intermittently — on winter weekends, for example. It heats up for a couple of days, gets moist, then stays cold for the rest of the week.

Ventilation goes hand in hand with a vapour barrier; one gets the moist air out of your living space, while the other blocks moisture from infiltrating wall cavities and the attic. Sometimes cottagers make the mistake of venting moist air into the attic space, where it will condense and freeze in the winter. This can ruin your insulation, and in spring, can melt and drip down into the living space below. It’s important to use an insulated vent duct, with its seams sealed with foil tape, so moist air stays warm when passing through the cold attic to the outside in winter. If it’s not insulated, you’ll get that familiar condensing and freezing inside the pipe and, like cholesterol in an artery, ice will collect over winter, block airflow, and may melt back into the cottage or even cause a break.

15. Seal the vapour barrier

If you’re insulating, paying attention to the details is key to a warm, cozy and, most importantly, energy–efficient winterized cottage. For vapour barrier, use 6-mil polyethylene, then get out the caulking gun and seal any seams well with acoustical sealant. To keep this envelope continuous, don’t forget to seal those big, drafty holes you cut for electrical boxes in exterior walls and the ceiling below the attic space. Encase the boxes with inexpensive moulded plastic covers, sealed to the polyethylene sheet. This will stop cold drafts from entering the walls and prevent heat and moisture from rising out through light fixtures into the attic. Any penetration in the vapour barrier — say, where wires enter an electrical box or pipes poke through a wall — is a potential draft and must be sealed with caulking or tape. Remember that any weak points in an insulating job let cold air in and, even worse, your money out.

This article was originally published on February 5, 2006

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