Design & DIY

10 DIY projects that help reduce your cottage’s environmental impact—and your utility bill

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Spending time at the cottage this winter? You can only snowshoe around the lake so many times, so we’ve rounded up a few ideas for DIY projects. They’ll help you reduce your cottage’s environmental impact (and your utility bills), and you could tackle most of them in a weekend or two.

1. Lighting: Switch out your incandescent light bulbs for CFL and LED bulbs, which use much less electricity and (just be sure they’re suitable for your light fixtures—not all LED bulbs work efficiently with dimmable switches, for example). Start with the fixtures in your kitchen ceiling, living room (table and floor lamps), and bathroom vanity—they tend to get the most usage.

2. Replace old caulking and weather stripping around windows and doors to prevent heat loss and lower your energy bills. Outside, seal up any gaps around and electrical sockets using Tuck T or spray foam. You could also check for loose flashing and holes in your soffit, which could become access points for squirrels, raccoons and other vermin, says Rod Thompson, sales and service manager at GBS Contracting Services in Gravenhurst.

3. Shower head: Install a high-efficiency shower head, which can reduce water usage up to 70 per cent with little difference in pressure (you’ll also use less energy to heat water). Shower heads start at about $25.

4. Faucets: Did you know that a leaky faucet can waste up to 50 litres per day? Stop drips quickly, and while you’re at it, clean or replace the tap aerator. These water-saving  devices start around five bucks and can be installed in minutes.

5. Toilets: Buy a low-flush toilet, which can reduce water usage per flush by up to 50 per cent, depending how old your toilet is. (Check for government and utility rebates for this and other water-saving upgrades.)

6. Crawl space: If your cottage was built on concrete piers, you can fill in the crawl space beneath, says Thompson. “If you fill that in using Styrofoam or boards, like plywood, you eliminate that cold air from rushing under your cottage. Your floor will be a little warmer, and it will take less energy to heat up because you’ll have less cold air coming in.”

7. Water run-off: When it rains, silt and limestone can wash off your driveway and into the lake. “It’s not natural for the environment,” says Thompson. He advises channelling run-off so that it weaves back and forth, giving the water more time to soak into the ground.

8. Septic system: Yep, have a crapload of septic-system projects (pun completely intended). If you don’t have a septic system, get one, says Thompson. “If your kitchen sink is dumping grey water into the ground, the phosphates end up in the lake.” If you have a septic system, check if it needs emptying, and inspect the septic bed regularly for mushy spots and water. “That means your septic system isn’t doing what it’s supposed to, and the grey water is going right into the topsoil and ending up in the lake,” says Thompson. Lastly, clear any weeds, tree roots and saplings that are encroaching on the septic bed and could cause damage to the system.

9. Shoreline: To slow down shoreline erosion, you could add a few native plants, or at least let those within the first few metres of the shore grow up. (That’s good news for you—less mowing!) “Their roots will absorb water and reduce the amount flowing into the lake and taking everything with it,” says Thompson.

10. Boat: Take care of winter boat maintenance. “Before putting the boat away, disconnect the gas line while the motor is running and let all the gas in the engine get used up so you don’t have bad gas in your engine in the spring,” says Thompson. He also suggests adding fuel stabilizer to the gas tank, which will help protect the engine.



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