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8 ways to save energy at the cottage

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Power at the cottage is expensive. Whether you’re on the grid or not, keeping a cottage heated, lit, and powered can be a serious investment, both in up-front costs and ongoing maintenance—especially if you use your cabin year-round. Plus, wasting energy isn’t exactly in keeping with the simplicity and love of nature that makes cottage living so enjoyable.

The good news? With a little effort (sometimes no effort at all) and some DIY skills, though, you can make changes both to your cottage and to your habits that can not only save you money, but reduce your impact on the environment around you.

Replace your fridge

If your fridge was manufactured before 1993, it’s an energy sucker of the first degree, eating twice as much energy as newer models. Buying a compact, freezer-on-top Energy STAR-rated fridge can save you big-time on your electricity costs. And that clunking, whirring retro model you’ve got out in the shed that holds your beer? Chuck it—but take the doors off first.

Use the earth for heating and cooling

If you use your cottage year-round and you’re on a lake, pond, or river, think about installing a geothermal heating and cooling system, which draws heat from the earth in the winter, and extracts heat in the summer. Although these are more expensive to install up-front, you can save up to $3,000 per year over other heating sources, and can keep cool without resorting to an air conditioner. Plus, renewable heat from the earth means less pollution from fossil fuels.

If you’re going to use wood, upgrade your stove

If you heat your cottage with a wood stove, consider getting a new stove. Modern wood stoves create fewer particulates and burn more efficiently, meaning you use less fuel and breathe in less smoke. If you have electricity in your cottage, consider a wood pellet stove. Pellets can burn at 85 per cent efficiency and create far less ash and creosote—meaning less pollution in the air and less maintenance on your chimney. Pellet stoves cost more up front, but they can save you money on fuel in the long run.

Look at solar and wind options

If you have a cottage on the ocean or other large body of water, see if you get enough wind to power a turbine or two. And if you’re in a sunny location—a roof that’s in sun from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.—solar panels are becoming less expensive every day. Simple solar systems, available at most major hardware stores, can be installed by a confident DIY-er. They may not be enough to power your entire building, but you’ll be able to run lamps and small appliances.

Dry outside

Yes, a hot-air dryer is a convenient option when you’ve got a pile of wet towels—but think about setting up a good old-fashioned clothesline and letting the wind and sun do that work instead (in the summer, at least). Clothes, towels, and sheets get naturally bleached by the sun and get that wonderful dried-on-a-line smell—all without using extra energy or chemicals.

Seal up drafts

Even if you’re only at the cottage in the summer, sealing up drafts and improving your insulation can help keep the building cool—and, for year-round cottagers, can really reduce your heating costs. Replacing your doors and windows is a more expensive option, but can also make a real difference in maintaining a comfortable temperature no matter what season you’re in.

Collect rainwater

If you’re on a well system, using a rain barrel can help conserve water and extend the life of your pump. Simply place a barrel under your downspout, cover it with a lid or mesh, and use what collects to water your garden and grass. If you’re away from your cottage for long periods, consider investing in a larger barrel or tank, or disconnect the barrel from the downspouts while you’re gone—this will prevent any damage from the barrel overflowing in heavy rains.

Think about a tankless hot water heater

Energy is expensive—so why use it when you don’t have to? Tankless hot water heaters—which can be powered by natural gas, electricity, or propane—heat hot water on demand, so you’re not paying to keep water hot when you’re not using it. If you don’t have natural gas hooked up at your cottage, a propane unit can be both inexpensive and efficient. Electric models are available, but require some serious wattage behind them.

What are some of the ways you conserve energy at the cottage?