Your cottage may be locked up until summer, or you may still be heading up there throughout the winter—but safety is a subject that should always be top of the mind. While most cottagers are aware of basic hazards like water, fire, and falling trees, there are some threats that aren’t so obvious. So, just to keep you in a safety-conscious frame of mind, here are our top 10 safety hazards you might not be aware of.
Preserving veggies by canning them is a great way to keep a taste of summer all year round—and do something useful with that bumper crop of zucchinis you grew last season. Be careful, though—food that’s been improperly preserved can develop Clostridium botulinum, the toxin that causes botulism. A rare but potentially fatal illness, botulism causes nerve dysfunction and, in severe cases, death. Food that’s developed the botulinum toxin may look and smell normal, so check to see whether the container is leaking, bulging, or swollen, if it looks damaged or cracked, if it spurts liquid when opened, or the food is moldy, discoloured, or smells bad. The best rule of thumb? When in doubt, throw it out.
Metal bristle barbecue brushes
If you’re in the habit of cleaning off your barbecue grill with a metal-bristled brush, you might want to trade it in for something a little less hazardous. Those grime-busting bristles can break off the brush and become embedded in food, making it a quick trip to becoming stuck in your throat or tongue. The metal filaments are beasts for surgeons to remove, so many doctors now recommend getting rid of metal brushes altogether. Good alternatives include half an onion, a wad of tinfoil, wooden scrapers or a bristle-less brush.
That woodsmoke that reminds you so strongly of the cottage is also full of carbon monoxide, particulate matter and volatile organic compounds. These can cause eye, nose, and throat irritations, nausea, headaches, and dizziness or, you know, can actually kill you. So what’s a wood-fire lover to do? Well, choose a low-emission stove or fireplace insert to reduce the amount of nasty things getting into your air, maintain and clean your stove and chimney regularly, and use dry, seasoned wood that’s cut up into small pieces.
Thin ice seems like it should be a no-brainer, but every year people are injured or killed falling through ice they thought was solid. Ice will never be completely safe, but there are ways to reduce your risk. Dress for the weather, including flotation gear, and carry an ice pick or axe to help give you some purchase if you fall in. Never walk on ice alone, and carry a change of clothes—including coat and boots—so you can change quickly if you fall through. Check with local authorities—or knowledgeable locals—to see whether unfamiliar ice is safe. And while you can’t rely on your eyesight alone, look for visual cues that the ice is unsafe: white, grey or dark black ice, flowing water near the edge or just underneath the ice, cracks and holes, or ice that appears to have thawed and re-frozen.
Cracked/nibbled extension cords
Extension cords can be surprisingly vulnerable both to changing temperatures and to opportunistic rodents. Before packing up the cottage, store your extension cords somewhere sheltered, in a pest-proof box, and make sure to inspect them when you bring them out again. Damaged cords can very quickly cause an electrical fire.
According to the National Fire Protection Association, space heaters account for 79 percent of fatal home heating fires. They’re the second leading cause of fire death behind careless smoking. Never leave space heaters on when you’ve gone to bed, and keep a metre between a heater and anything that may burn. As well, unplug your space heaters before you close up the cottage for the winter—cold weather may cause them to turn on automatically.
Candles are great for atmosphere, not so fabulous for fire safety. Make sure never to leave candles unattended, and for extra safety, only burn candles in holders that have a glass “lamp” attachment. Blow out all candles before you go to bed—or even if you’re just popping outside for a quick walk. Better safe than sorry.
Many rural properties have a standard property number or rural address sign that’s used by emergency personnel to quickly locate a house that may be off the beaten path. Make sure your number is clearly visible from the street and isn’t blocked by debris, snow, or leaves. Make your place extra easy to find with a name plaque or another identifying element, and keep the road access to your property well lit.
Not enough carbon monoxide detectors
You probably have a CO detector in your home and at the cottage (you should have one on every floor), but you also need one everywhere you have a fuel-fired cooking or heating appliance. That includes your RV, your shed, and your boat.
Intellectually, we know that driving is a hazard. For most of us, though, the route to the cottage is a well-worn one that we can travel in our sleep—and that makes driving dangerous, especially in the winter. Make sure you use common sense when you set out on a trip: charge your phone, fill up your tank with gas, and know what to do if you get stuck. Stock up your emergency kit: a blanket, a small shovel, some non-perishable food, a few candles, weatherproof matches, a battery-powered flashlight and radio, extra batteries, booster cables, flares and a tire repair kit. If you get stranded, only run the heater intermittently, and make sure your tailpipe isn’t blocked with snow. Finally, if you’re driving after a freeze-thaw cycle, be on the lookout for potholes. Don’t go roaring through a puddle, either—there could be an axle-busting hole lurking beneath the water.