cottage on a lake
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The first-time cottage owner’s weekend checklist

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Congratulations on becoming a cottager! As you eagerly anticipate the May Two-Four weekend, you’re about to face your first challenge as a cottage owner: opening the cottage after a winter away. While there are lots of things you’ll need to do each time you open, there are some things that are unique to your very first time—so here’s a comprehensive opening weekend checklist that will tick off all the boxes.

Before you go

Advance preparation is key to a successful opening weekend, so make sure you take care of this stuff ahead of time. Your real estate agent may be able to help you make local connections to get any key maintenance work done beforehand.

  • Check your insurance. That means cottage, boat, trailer, and anything else that might be needed. Make sure it’s up-to-date and covers everything you need. For example, your boat may not be covered by your homeowner’s policy unless damage occurs on your property—which doesn’t do much if your boat is sideswiped on the drive to the cottage, or if it hits a shallow rock on a fishing trip.
  • Get any licenses you might need. That means a boating license, fishing license, or any other permits you’ll need.
  • Get everything hooked up. If you’re on the grid, call the local utilities to get your electricity, phone, and any other services turned on before you get there.
  • Assemble your tools. Yes, you’ll need tools. And batteries, duct tape, filters, cleaning supplies, a first aid kit, and lots more paper towel than you think should be necessary.
  • Make a packing list. As you think of things to pack, write it down. (A shared Google doc can be helpful if you’re heading up with family and friends—it means multiple people can contribute to the list.) Food, water (if necessary), clothes, electronics chargers, and libations of your choice—write them all down. Trust us—you’ll forget things that seem glaringly obvious at home.
  • But don’t buy too much in advance. Leave some purchases—like deck furniture and outdoor tools—until after you’ve had a chance to live with the cottage and the property. You may find that the patio set you’ve been eying in the city doesn’t fit in with your rustic cottage. Likewise, you may also find that a power lawnmower isn’t necessary.
  • Take easy-to-prepare food. Don’t stress yourself out planning gourmet dinners for your first weekend at the cottage. You’re going to be busy, and slaving over a stove will not be enjoyable. Pack stuff that’s easily thrown together in a few minutes—and don’t forget the marshmallows. Once you’re there and have settled in, make a list of what you need to stock the pantry, and plan to do a big grocery shop in town or before you come up next.

When you get there

Make a visual inspection. Look for damage to window screens, doors, or the roof, which may indicate that critters have made their way inside. Check for out-of-place shingles, eavestroughs that may have come loose, cracks in the foundation, and loose boards and railings. Make note of branches that are in dangerous spots, and note whether any electrical lines are down. If you’re on a lake, go down to the shoreline and see whether there are areas that are being eroded, or whether your dock needs fixing. Add repairs to an ongoing list of things to do—and keep a tally of what needs to be done most urgently.

  • Air the place out. Once you’re in, open the windows and doors to let in fresh air. Look around for any evidence that moisture or animals have made their way inside. If you’ve got serious mould or indication that there’s an infestation, call in the pros.
  • Turn on the lights. Make sure the electricity is working by flipping on the lights and appliances. Check to make sure there are no chewed or deteriorated wires, and no smell of burning. If you have one, turn on the heating and cooling system to make sure it’s working—because there’s nothing worse than freezing or boiling when you’re trying to enjoy your time at the cottage.
  • Replace the smoke and carbon monoxide detector batteries. You do have smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, don’t you? If you don’t, buy them right away.
  • Turn on the water. You’ll need to turn on the taps and the hot water. Fortunately, there’s a handy step-by-step guide here.
  • Check the septic tank. If you’re not sure when the septic tank was last emptied, call in a pro to inspect it and ask to be put on their regular service schedule. If the area around the tank is wet or squelchy (or if it…ahem…smells bad) call the service company right away.
  • Put your dock in (if necessary) and get your boat in the water. You did get a boating license, right? Make sure your motor is working properly.
  • Go explore. Take a walk down your road and take a slow ride around the lake. If you haven’t already been there and it’s convenient, check out the closest town and see what they’ve got.
  • Introduce yourself to the neighbours. Cottage neighbours are vitally important—the best ones can help keep an eye on your property and have the potential to become lifelong friends. The worst ones can chase you away from your cottage for good. Make sure you get off on the right foot by saying hi and getting to know the folks around you. Ask about life in the community—do people socialize? Is it important to attend the yearly chilifest and lake regatta? Or do people generally keep to themselves and avoid impromptu get-togethers? Be up-front about what your expectations are, too—if you’re not up for socializing, telling your neighbours (nicely) right away that you’re there for the solitude and quiet will help discourage any unannounced drop-ins.
  • Practice being a good cottage neighbour. Remember some basic cottage etiquette—music travels long distances over water, so avoid playing loud music outside, and turn speakers away from the lake. Try not to run your power tools early in the morning or late at night, and if you’re going to be doing noisy work (or having a party), let your neighbours know. Offer to help out when it’s appropriate—there are always cottage chores that need more than one hand, and the best way to get help with your big jobs is to help your neighbours with theirs.
  • Relax and enjoy. You’re a cottage owner! Make sure you take some time during your first weekend to sit on the deck or around the fire and really soak up why you’re there—the peace, the quiet, the connection to nature, the time with family and friends. It’s a destination that quickly becomes a lifestyle.