Design & DIY

Questions to ask yourself before winterizing your cottage

Man calking wall

There’s nothing better than spending a snowy weekend tucked away at the cottage, cozy in front of the fireplace. If you’re the owner of a three-season property, the vision is enough to make you consider winterizing your cottage for year-round use.

But turning your cottage into an all-seasons getaway is often a big investment. Not only can it be expensive, it may also take more time and cause more headaches than you’re prepared for. Given the high cost, here are some questions that you should ask before jumping headfirst into a reno project:

How often will you realistically visit in the winter?

Committing to renovating your cottage also means committing to spending time at the cottage. In terms of finances and holiday time, this might make your annual visit to the Dominican Republic a no-go. Alternately, are you willing to rent out your cottage during the winter months?

What recreational activities are available?

When the closest services are closed for the season and it’s much too cold to go swimming, what will you do to pass the time? Similarly, nearby facilities and activities will be important factors if you plan on turning your cottage into a part-time rental property. If the water stays open and you’re unable to go skating, ice fishing, or access good snowshoeing trails, then what’s the point?

How is the drive to the cottage in the winter?

Is the cottage’s main road ploughed regularly? Will you be able to easily access your cottage in the winter via both main highways and local roads? And if your cottage is located at the end of a long uphill driveway, you’ll want to investigate the cost of hiring a maintenance company to clear snow and ice. (Otherwise, start training now to get out and push.)

What are the plumbing options?

Is your septic system designed for year-round use? According to renovation expert Mike Holmes, summer-only cottages often need to have their piping entirely redone to prevent bursts.

What are the heating options?

Even if you have electric heating or a woodstove, these may be expensive or unreliable options during the winter months. You may need to install a furnace and ductwork throughout.

What are the insulation options?

The cottage will need insulation, sealed cracks, and double-paned windows. To prevent moisture build-up—and mould—you may also need to tear out your existing drywall in order to install a vapour barrier.

Are electricity upgrades necessary?

Even though you may still be planning on using your cottage as a vacation home during the winter months, higher electricity use in the winter months may increase your load. Upgrading may be expensive and will require licensed electricians.

Can you get the necessary permits?

Holmes wrote in the Globe & Mail that renos may be considered “new constructions” and  “will probably fall under new building codes that weren’t in place when the cottage was first built.” Bringing your cottage up to code may result in unexpected expenses.

Is there enough storage space for all of the extra stuff you’ll need?

You’ll need someplace to keep all your new winter toys! (Well, that and less fun stuff like shovels and snow blowers.)

What will be the return on investment?

What will be the overall value of the cottage as a four-season property—both in terms of personal use and resale potential? Chris Winney of Royal LePage ProAlliance Realty in Northbrook, Ont., weighs in on the issue here.