Design & DIY

Electronics in the cold

What kind of temperature limitations are placed on electronics? Can I safely leave my equipment in my non-winterized cottage over the winter?
—Daniel Baker, Toronto

This calls for a Cottage Life Simulation Test! The results? Our DVD player-recorder spent two weeks in a chest freezer—set at the coldest temperature—and survived just fine. You’ll notice that we didn’t attempt this freezer test with a $1,500 TV, or our laptop. Sophisticated electronics that have plasma or LCD screens (for example, TVs and some digital cameras) as well as equipment with hard drives (computers, MP3 players) are more sensitive to cold than other devices. Experts say that the damage starts at –20˚C. Your cottage may not get that cold—it depends on factors such as sun exposure, insulation, and what kind of temperatures Old Man Winter decides to lay upon us this year. Keep in mind that it’s not necessarily the cold per se that affects electronics, but the wide temperature fluctuations that lead to condensation, which may corrode the parts inside.

Manufacturers will often recommend optimum temperatures for operating and storing equipment, so you can check websites—or the paperwork that came with the item, assuming you kept that stuff—for specifications. But it really comes down to how much you value your tech. Maybe you’re okay with risking a $50 DVD player. Your PlayStation 3? Perhaps not. If you do leave equipment at the cottage, remember to unplug everything or remove any batteries. And if you visit mid-winter, allow the equipment to warm up to room temperature before you turn it on.