Design & DIY

Top winter projects for your home or cottage

Backyard skating rink

Spring and summer might be the prime months to wheel your chop saw out into the driveway and get started on the reno projects you’ve been dreaming about all winter, but the turning of leaves shouldn’t be a reason to put your plans on pause. From projects to help you enjoy the outdoors to upgrades that keep your cottage running at peak efficiency, there’s no shortage of work to be done during the winter months. Here are just a few for tinkerers of every skill level.


It’s one thing to make your home or cottage more cozy during the dreary winter, but it’s also worthwhile to tackle projects that make the outdoors more inviting. Whether you’ve got kids or just a group of friends who are kids at heart, there’s no surer way to get people outdoors on a frigid Canadian Saturday than a backyard rink. It might require a bit of maintenance, and it will only last as long as the season, but your effort will pay dividends in the chattering smiles of everyone who laces up to glide across the ice.

Pro Tips

Build your base: Before framing your enclosure using 2×6 boards and a plastic liner, make sure the depth of snow in the base is no more than 25 centimetres. And unless you live in the coldest parts of Canada where you don’t have to worry about thawing, don’t rely on snow for your base—you’ll need the wood.

Night is right: You might be more comfortable spraying down your rink during the day, but warmer temperatures and windier conditions make for rough skating. Spray at night when it’s colder and there’s less wind, and use your hose’s full flow, not the “spray” nozzle, which can lead to bumpy ice.

Take it inside: Pick a day that isn’t windy to lay down your plastic liner. Better yet, piece it together in a large indoor place like a local gymnasium before bringing it outside to your rink.


Thermostats have come a long way in the past few decades. Whereas the thermostats of yesteryear were simple dials that required constant tinkering to achieve any sort of efficiency or comfort, today’s models match the best of Silicon Valley in their technology and design.

Pro Tips

Know your system: Some HVAC systems have separate heating and cooling units, and others have variable speed settings. Some systems also allow you to set different heating and cooling zones. Knowing these details about your system will help you pick the right thermostat.

Digital is a must: Technophobes might relish the simplicity of an older analog thermostat, but digital units are far more efficient and can save you big bucks on your heating bill.

Check your planner: If your family has an erratic calendar, go with a thermostat that offers seven-day programming. You’ll then be able to set a different heating schedule for every day of your busy week.


Don’t be the cottager who wakes up in cold sweats in the middle of January, wondering whether the rusty locks on your cottage door are doing their job. With a new, stronger lock, you’ll sleep soundly knowing your home away from home is safe. You also won’t have to worry about showing up on Family Day weekend to find your old lock so rusted over that it won’t accept the weathered key you keep hidden under the porch.

Pro Tips

Measure first: Make sure you know the diameter of the holes in your door before you go shopping for a new lock.

Check your list: If you’ve distributed keys to friends or family members who need them, be sure they get copies of the new key.

Ditch the hidden keys: That fake rock in the corner of your porch isn’t fooling anyone. If you need to give guests access with a hidden key, consider a combination lock instead.


LED bulbs have come a long way in the past few years. Once expensive, undimmable, and prone to casting harsh, uni-directional light, these bulbs are now warmer, more versatile, and profoundly more efficient than their incandescent ancestors. And there’s no better time to upgrade than in the winter, as the days are darker and the energy bills are steeper. If you haven’t made the switch yet, there’s no time like the present.

Pro Tips

Look for listed bulbs: Many manufacturers are rushing LED bulbs into the marketplace, try to look for “UL Listed” bulbs rather than “UL Compliant.” The listed bulbs are guaranteed to have been tested.

Don’t be sticker shy: Despite drastically dropping in price in recent years, LED bulbs will be a lot more expensive than incandescent bulbs. But don’t be deterred; your lower energy bill will more than make up for the initial investment.


Electric heat might be easy to zone within a home, but it can be hard on your wallet. If you’re still relying on it, weigh the costs and benefits of adding auxiliary heat from a heat pump. Newer models operate at astounding efficiencies, pulling heat from outdoor air that’s as cold as -30 degrees and pumping it into your living space. Beyond their efficient heating capabilities, a major bonus of heat pumps is their ability to reverse the heat-transfer process and serve as an air conditioner during the summer months, which is especially useful for homes with other non-vent heating sources like in-floor radiant heating.

Pro Tips

Insulate first: Before you upgrade to a new heating source, be sure to bump up your home’s thermal envelope to get the most from your investment.

Prepare for noise: Despite loving their home’s increased heating efficiency, some heat-pump converts have a hard time adjusting to the low-level noise that the wall-mounted units emit. Before you upgrade, see one in action so you know what to expect.

Situate for snow: Heat pumps do wonders with cold air, but they can’t work with snow. Be sure your outdoor unit is mounted at least two feet off the ground, and place it beneath an overhang to keep snow off.