There are lots of reasons to keep your cottage open all winter. (It’s pretty darn relaxing, for one.) But, unless you have a cottage in Florida, you’re going to have to heat your home away from home for several months every year. What’s your most economical choice? Well, that depends on a few factors, so ask yourself these questions:
Some heat sources simply aren’t available in all areas, especially ones that are more remote or accessible only by boat. Others are ridiculously expensive or unreliable. Propane might be a good choice if your cottage is off the grid, but if your cottage isn’t easily accessible, delivery will increase your costs. Electricity can be convenient to install, and can be left running at low temps to stop your pipes from freezing, but can also be expensive to run, depending on your area. If you’re not sure what’s best, ask around—your neighbours and local merchants or contractors will probably have some good advice.
How much are you willing to pay up front?
Some energy-efficient systems—an all-climate heat pump, for example—cost a lot to install, but have lower operating costs than electricity, propane or oil, will provide air conditioning in the summer, and can even heat your water. Other systems, like electric baseboard heaters, are easier and cheaper to install, but tend to have higher operating costs, especially if your cottage isn’t well insulated.
How much work are you willing to do?
Wood stoves tend to be economical, but they’re labour intensive, both to collect the fuel and to maintain a consistent temperature. If you like the feel of wood heat but don’t want to chop and haul wood, consider a pellet stove instead.
Will you need a backup heat source?
You’ll probably need a backup system either to augment your primary heat source or fill in if the power goes out. Heat pumps, for example, may need supplementation during an extreme cold snap. Also be mindful of how reliable your power system is—if you regularly lose electricity, then any system that requires power to work will need a non-powered backup like a wood stove, or will need to run from a generator.
Should you make other changes too?
No matter what heating system you choose, it won’t work at its maximum efficiency if you don’t improve your building envelope as well. That means making sure drafts are sealed, walls are insulated and windows are updated.