When it comes to cottage exterior maintenance, proactive care trumps procrastination. Taking the time now to maintain the building envelope will pay it forward in the saved time from a larger repair later.
Take it from the top
On a mild day, don soft-sole footwear like sneakers to climb up and inspect your roof. (If the pitch is very steep, best to leave this job to a pro roofer.) Bring a can of roofing tar with you, and look for damaged or loose shingles. A dab of tar applied to the underside of a loose shingle tab will secure it back to the roof.
Inspect the flashings at the intersections of roof and wall, vent, and chimney. Fill in any voids or cracks with a similarly coloured caulk. I prefer water-based types such as Dap Alex Plus for ease of cleanup and low toxicity. One of the oft-neglected tenets of caulk application is laying down an adequate body of caulk so that it has sufficient volume to shrink without cracking; think bead, not film.
Window to the wall
Pressure wash the walls from the top down with no more than 2,500 PSI, being careful to not drive water into any spaces between siding or where caulk is missing. Again, examine the condition of caulk at flashings and intersections. Water is insidious, and from entry in cracked caulk, it can travel a surprising distance, wreaking havoc along the way. Clean the existing breached caulk with a mild multi-surface cleaner such as Nature Clean, and rinse well before applying a paintable water-based caulk.
Lightly misting a freshly applied bead of caulk with water also makes tooling smoother in hot, dry weather. If your wood siding’s finish is worn away in places, it’s time to lightly sand any rough areas and the edges of bare spots. Touch up with the original finish before you apply an entire coat to help even out the look.
If you discover cracks in your masonry, master mason Stefano Marmina in North Bay, Ont., advises that a mixture of one part cement to five parts sand, with the maximum recommended amount of plasticizer (read the package), is the mortar of choice. With high adhesion and a thinner viscosity, it works well when using a brick jointer to force mortar into those gaps that let water (and ice) do their nasty business. If you can erode your mortar with a fingernail, call a pro, as this indicates a degraded lime-based mortar; replacing it requires an experienced mason.
Get to the bottom of things
Look for breaches at the intersection of walls and bedrock, then clean and caulk. Lastly, examine the lay of the land; to be safe, soil should be sloped outward at least 1″ per foot. This encourages rain and snowmelt to flow away, not toward, the cottage.