It’s that time of year again! Winterizing the cabin or cottage is an important step and not to be forgotten about. Cottage season goes by so fast and it’s time to get ready for winter. If you own a cabin or cottage or are thinking of buying one, you will want to be prepared for some extra annual maintenance to make sure that nothing goes awry over the winter. Wintering the cottage or cabin is not too difficult if you have a plan and take steps early in the year to prepare.
We have made the mistake in the past of not taking the time to do all of the steps needed to winterize our cabin for the colder and damper weather. We live on the West Coast, Vancouver Island, so fortunately our winters are pretty mild. If you are in other parts of Canada, you will need to take additional steps to get ready for colder weather. Whether you are winterizing a cottage or a cabin, here is a checklist of what we do each year to prepare for the winter ahead. Hope these give you some reminders on how to winterize a cottage or cabin of your own, now or in the future 🙂
1) Repairing any Leaks, Cracks
Hopefully by the time the winterizing gets done, you have already done regular maintenance to repair any leaks in the roof, gutters, or gaps/cracks in windows, door sills, etc. If not, now is a good time to seal things up. Sometimes it might just be a bit of waterproof caulking that is needed, or a shingle added, etc.
In our case, we are in a rainforest. Although we do get freezing weather during the winter, we also get a very large quantity of rain. I mean downpours. We have found the water tries to penetrate wherever it can, including splashing against door sills, windows and patio doors and of course off the roof. So making sure the seals are all intact is key to winterizing the cottage or cabin.
2) Finalize Staining and Painting
Another maintenance item that is key to the wood surviving the winter is getting caught up with staining and painting while the weather is warm. Since we put in our new dock, we kept delaying putting the stain on the railings. Unfortunately, the wood was a little mildewed, but I slathered on the stain anyway this last trip just to give it some protection. We will see in the spring weather the dock railings have to be replaced or not. I also stained the steps into the cabin and the lower deck (part that was dry enough). Oops, I should have done this sooner. At least all the wood on those is treated lumber so it should be fine until spring. I like to use an oil-based stain on wood. It seems to protect the best.
I had sanded and stained the main deck earlier in June, so it was ready to go for winter. I used to stain the deck at the end of the year, but then I realized it made more sense to stain the deck in the spring/early summer. This way we can enjoy it all cabin season.
3) Moss Removal and Tree Removal
You would think that the maintenance of a cabin is easy, but there is always more to think about. The roof will grow moss no matter what. We have had the original roof replaced about 10 years ago and the moss removed 2 years ago. Last year we also removed a few leaner trees and pruned branches that were overhanging the cabin, so it looks quite clear on that side. So ‘we think’ this year should be okay. We will definitely need to de-moss again next year. It’s a good idea to remove moss every 2 years minimum.
4) Draining Water from all Pipes and Holding Tanks
Firstly, we don’t have electricity, so anything that can freeze will. We always get a few days on Vancouver Island that the temperature drops below freezing. Our water system is a gravity fed water system.
During the cabin season, we pump water from the lake into a water tower and then it is gravity fed into the cabin when we turn on the taps. We also have a hose for water access below the cabin. Below is the feed pipe from the lake.
For winter, that means draining the water from the water tower, and all the pipes and hoses. Once that is done, we also have to drain the water out of the pump. To do this we remove the lower screw from the pump itself and let all the water drain out of the pipe going up the hill, as well as the pump itself. It’s a steady stream!
I was surprised how much water our water tower holds! It must have been almost full this year because it took me an hour to drain the water tower via the sink taps, and then another half an hour to drain the pump and pipe up the hill. I always make sure we keep the right set of wrenches on site so that we can remove the screw. I usually tap it with a hammer or another wrench if it doesn’t want to budge and that does the trick. My hubby isn’t always with me on the last trip of the year, so I may as well winterize while I am out there!
Draining every part of the water system is key so that hoses don’t freeze and taps don’t burst. As well, the very important water pump could freeze and you don’t want that!
If we decide to make a trip out in the winter, guess what? The bucket works well, and we haul up water as needed by bucket. Nothing like getting those steps in!
5) Store Propane
Generally, we always make sure we shut off the propane when we leave the cabin each time. So that is another step to just make sure we have turned it off and put away tanks for winter.
6) Store any items that would rust, blow away or rot or get stolen
The west coast weather is pretty harsh on wood and metal, so we always make sure we store away any items that could rust or blow away in the shed.
We also bring in all our patio chairs, beach lounge chairs, our patio umbrellas and anything else that would just go green with mildew and mold over the winter. Our propane patio heater, barBQ and kayak get stored side the cabin as part of our cabin closeup each trip.
7) Stock up for Winter and Cover the Wood Pile
We usually have multiple wood piles of cut and or bucked wood. A good tarp is key to covering the wood and making sure it will stay dry and be ready for next year. The tarp can easily be weighed down with a few rocks or attached with bungie cords. We also make sure we have enough wood in case we want to do a trip out in the winter. Our supply dwindles pretty fast when you have to keep the stove going 24 /7. It’s cold!!!
8) Remove all Food and Canned Goods from the Cabin
Every fall we remove all dry and canned goods from the cabin. I don’t like to leave any food at the cabin over the winter, or alcohol! If the mice ever got in, I figure they don’t need any snacks. Any other two-legged creatures that might break in should not be encouraged to stay by leaving them food or alcohol for an extended visit. I also like to make sure food doesn’t expire. By taking it home, we can use up the dry food and canned goods so that we can bring fresh supplies in the spring.
9) Take away Bedding and Pillows that might go musty
We always bring home our good bedding and pillows or other linens and blankets, so that they don’t go musty over the winter. I also like to flip the mattress up on its side to avoid any further moisture gathering. Our cabin has been pretty good though and we don’t really have any mold forming inside thankfully. (Tip: if you have moisture, find the Dry-Z products that are good for pulling the moisture out of the air. They work really well!)
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10) Remove any valuables and sentimental items
This is an area that I am more diligent about with each passing year. We have been fortunate to only have 2 break ins, in 20 years of owning our cabin. The first time, they broke into the shed and stole my dad’s chainsaw and fishing kit. Boy I was mad! The second time they went from cabin to cabin and tried to gain access to each cabin. At ours, they took out a window instead of breaking it, but didn’t enter. Probably because our cabin faces our friend’s full time residence across the lake and is in full view.
Regardless, as I get more sentimental, I remove any items that I would regret losing, such as items from my parents or special vintage decor. I also take our cabin diary. This has a record of everything we have done at the cabin, and all our visitors. If the cabin burned down, I wouldn’t want to lose the record of all our memories and history. My good bestie who bought me the first diary 20 years ago, has just replaced it with a new diary. So now I bring it back and forth with me to the cabin each time. The original diary is safe and sound at home.
11) Store or take home any Generator and Solar Equipment
At the end of the season we bring our generator and solar panels and batteries home for winter. It’s kind of nice to have a generator in town in case we lose power for a few days. But also, we don’t want it to get stolen. As well, we like to start up the motor over the winter to make sure the it runs well and is ready for spring use.
Ideally for solar you want to bring home the equipment to make sure it doesn’t rust or get stolen. Also, prepare to maintain the solar deep cycle batteries over the winter as per manufacturer’s instructions.
12) Tie up Boats
Normally our little aluminum boat is tied up to the dock all winter and our smaller dinghy is left on the dock. In the past, this has caused some damage, as the winds come in and the boat bobs and weaves next to the dock. We sometimes lose a fender from a passerby as they see an easy item to take. Oh well. I also didn’t want to have any damage on our new dock! So, this year we tied up our boats to the shore anchor for the dock. That way they will be able to float up and down with the water level, but not come anywhere near the new dock.
13) Check and repair any possible entry points for rodents
Sometimes you might have done some repairs during the year and unintentionally left a gap over a door or a crack. Or maybe you repaired a drainpipe, but didn’t make sure it was sealed. It’s a good time to check that all of your exit points from the cottage or cabin are sealed tight so that rodents don’t get in over the winter. Fortunately we only had rodents one year out of 20, and that was due to a repair job not quite being sealed up.
14) Check supporting beams and where water might gather
One last step…literally
So last year we replaced our cabin steps ourselves. The support beam needed a little top up to the base as water could gather around it. Since we had done the work on our stepping stone path, I now knew how to mix concrete. I was able to add a bubble of cement to the post surround, just to make sure it is fully protected from water. Yay! If you have any similar scenario, you might want to just do the extra step. This will help prevent any water gathering where it wasn’t meant to 🙂 It’s always a good idea to check for these situations and rectify before winter.
That’s it for us for winterizing an off grid cabin. Your cabin or cottage may have a few extra items to address each year depending on your set up. The rest of the To Do items on the list are regular closing up items. These include as emptying the porta-potty, locking up, storing anything out of site, and doing a final clean so everything is tidy when you come back.
If you want to see our original post on Our Cabin in the Woods, check out that link. Or these:
Off The Grid Cabin – all about living off the grid while we are at the cabin;
So You Want to Buy a Cabin? – our journey to buy a cabin and some tips;
I hope this post on Winterizing the Cabin was helpful to you! Please leave me a comment below if I have missed anything or if you have enjoyed this post. Enjoy your time at home and hopefully you have other warmer getaways planned for the winter season.