10 chores to get the cottage in shape this May Long Weekend

a-tree-stump-being-moved-in-a-garden Photo by Svetlana8Art/Shutterstock

The May long weekend has long been the unofficial start to cottage season in Ontario. It’s the time of year many people are opening up their cottages for the first time after a winter hibernating in the city. While everyone wants to head up, relax and enjoy the long weekend, there may be some housework and light chores that need to get done in order to get the cottage back in shape for the season, and to maximize summer enjoyment of the property.

Matt Creelman, builder of some amazing properties in Ontario, who grew up in Haliburton, Ontario, has shared his experience create the top 10 list of things to prepare your property for an enjoyable, stress free summer.

Water issues from the thaw

A heavy volume of spring runoff can actually change the way water drains on a property. It’s important to check to ensure water is draining in the right direction, through the right channels and not backflowing into the cottage. Check culverts, as they can clog up and cause some serious damage. “Many people don’t realize how much damage water can do”, Matt says, “it’s really important to make sure culverts and any underground drainage did not get blocked with debris during the winter. Look out for eroding driveways, patios, pathways and shorelines”.


Even cottages with covered eaves’ can get leaves and debris caught in it over the winter. “Best practice, in my opinion, is to clean eaves troughs every spring and fall,” Matt recommends. Being on top of this chore will ensure the eaves and downspouts are functioning properly. Clogged eaves may retain a lot of water and the eaves can buckle under the added weight. It is best to be proactive and avoid a potentially costly repair.

Check the condition of the dock

Whether the dock is a permanent install or if it’s removed from the water during the winter, it is best to look over the dock at the beginning of the season to make sure it is in good condition. Rotting planks and broken joists can make the dock unsafe to walk on and unable to bear the load. “Checking the dock is the first thing I do in the spring. I like to know if it needs work before I put it back in the lake. That way, I can order new lumber and get it repaired right away”.

Barbecue maintenance

There is nothing more synonymous with time at the cottage than enjoying a barbecue. While many people protect their grills with a cover during the winter, few bring their grill indoors to really protect it from the elements. “I see a lot of corrosion and moisture buildup in barbecues that are left out in the winter, especially built-in grills that are part or a deck or patio that cannot be stored indoors” says Matt. Remove the grill from the barbecue and inspect all the lines to make sure gas is able to flow properly throughout the grill. Spend some time to clean the gas lines and brush away any debris that may block the gas from coming out of the perforations under the grill. A little bit of effort at the start of the season will allow the grill to be enjoyed all summer long.

Septic system check

Nothing puts the breaks on a vacation at the cottage quicker than a septic tank issue. Always check the septic system to make sure it has not been damaged over the winter. “If you don’t know how to check your septic system, it’s best to hire a professional,” Matt says, “they will be able to inspect your tank, the leeching bed, as well as any other parts of the system that may require servicing”. A certified contractor with experience in septic systems is recommended.

Check for nesting animals in motion lights and chimneys

Winter is cold and wildlife may seek refuge from the weather in the cottage. “Chimneys and light fixtures are a favourite spot for nesting animals to hunker down for the winter,” says Matt. It would be awful if, trying to enjoy a fire over the weekend, the cottage gets filled with smoke because the chimney is obstructed. Open the flue and shine a flashlight up the chimney. If any obstructions are observed, do not make a fire. Clean out the obstruction, if it can be done safely, or hire a chimney sweep to fix the problem. It is also a good idea to have chimney’s swept once every year or two, especially if it is a well-used fireplace.

Inspect the roof

Even with a newer roof, strong winter winds can cause damage to roof shingles and may require attention in the spring. “If the roof is relatively new, a quick visual inspection should be enough to know if there was any damage caused over the winter”. Waiting for rain to see if there’s a problem is not a good idea and can end up increasing the cost of repair, especially if water damage starts happening inside the cottage.

Test the water quality in shallow wells

While this is not an issue for most modern, deep wells, many cottages still have older shallow wells. “The issue with a shallow well is that ground water can get in that may not be safe to drink,” Matt warns, “you may have to boil your water, or even use bottled water, depending on the level of contamination”. Shallow wells should be tested at least annually, and more frequently if there is a dramatic amount of rainfall that could affect the water quality.

Remove debris around the property and power lines

Winter weather can cause a lot of damage to trees and shrubs around the property. It is important to remove any debris, downed branches and trees in danger of falling onto driveways, docks, power lines and even the cottage. Most of the cleanup can be done with a hand saw, some work gloves and a little elbow grease, but it is important to be very careful around power lines. They should be inspected for dangerous, leaning trees and branches close to the lines. It is important for everyone’s safety to disconnect the power before getting anywhere near the lines. “Most people don’t know this,” says Matt, “but Hydro One will actually grant most rural properties a free disconnect/reconnect each year for just such an occasion.” So, it is best to be proactive, call ahead of the cleanup day, and ensure that a disconnect will occur before any cleanup starts. “Hire a professional to remove any dangerous trees, especially those around power lines”.

Check smoke detector batteries and functionality

“This seems like a no brainer,” says Matt, “but so many people just assume that the smoke detector is working until the replace battery warning is heard.” This is simply not the case. A smoke detector may run out of battery in the middle of the winter and, by the time the cottage is reopened in the spring, the “low battery” warning has long faded. Check to make sure that smoke and carbon monoxide detectors all have new batteries in the m and that they are functioning properly. Carbon monoxide detectors have expiry dates on them, so make sure they are all up to date.

It may seem like a lot of work, but this quick, 10-point checklist will help to get summer properties in ship shape, and give piece of mind so everyone can sit back, relax and enjoy the cottage.

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