Real Estate

What not to leave in an unheated shed or cottage over the winter


To heat, or not to heat, that is the question. ‘Tis certainly nobler in the mind to consider the environment and your pocketbook and leave the heat off in your shed or cottage for the winter—but that can come with risks.

Instead of leaving the furnace on, prep your space properly for the cold weather and pack these things up and take them home with you—they won’t survive the slings and arrows of winter’s chill.

Canned food

Turns out “non-perishable” doesn’t mean “completely immune to damage.” Not only can the texture and flavour suffer, but canned food can expand during freezing, causing small breaches in the can—which not only gets messy once the can thaws and stuff starts leaking out, but can also allow bacteria inside and make the food dangerous. Best not to risk a bout of botulism: take your canned food home. Same goes for condiments, even in unopened bottles—do you really want ketchup and mustard oozing all over your floor? And thawed mayonnaise turns into an oily, gloppy, inedible mess. Oils, on the other hand, do fine. They won’t freeze enough to break their bottle, and the cold will help preserve them.

Potato chips

There’s no better excuse to eat an entire bag of chips—they won’t survive freezing and thawing. Well, they’ll survive, but they won’t be crispy (read: edible). So go ahead and break out the salsa.

Prescription and over-the-counter medicines

If the water molecules in your meds freeze, they can damage the formulation, making the medicine less effective. Also medicinal liquids and creams may separate, so just pack everything up.

Hard drives and LCD screens

You should pack up anything with a hard drive or an LCD screen. They’re OK until the temperature drops below -20℃, but with expensive electronics, it’s probably not worth the risk.


Believe it or not, paint suffers when it’s put through freeze-thaw cycles. While latex paint used to be OK through up to five freeze-thaws, it’s less stable now that paint companies are working to remove smelly volatile organic compounds. If you leave your latex paint over the winter, you may come back to a separated mixture, which will have to be remixed at a paint shop. Oil paint, on the other hand, can develop condensation on the inside of the can, which can affect the performance of the paint.

Leather furniture

Leather is vulnerable to freezing and thawing, which can cause it to crack or develop mildew. We’re not saying pack up your leather sofa each year if you’ve already got one, but if you’re in the market for a cottage couch, leather may not be your best bet if you don’t leave the heat on.

Vinyl records

Vinyl’s actually pretty tough—so leaving your records in the cold won’t hurt the records themselves, but repeated freeze-thaws might leave the cardboard sleeves mildewed and musty. Make sure you let the records come up to room temperature before you play them, as cold vinyl is very brittle.

Musical instruments

Even if you only play the cottage guitar around the campfire, and you got it at Goodwill for $5, and it’s bumped and banged, don’t store it somewhere unheated. The finish will suffer, the string tension will go wonky, the neck could separate—it’s just bad news. Drums may fare a little better if things are dry, but make sure your cymbals come up to temperature before you whack them.


Freezing makes them less flexible and can lead to cracking and shrinking. ‘Nuff said.

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