As the summer approaches and the promise of hot weather and sunny days drive many Manitobans to lake country, we are faced with the annual ritual of opening the cottage and ongoing maintenance. For some, the weekend retreat to the lake may seem like a continuing battle with repairs and painting, while others may enjoy relaxing on the deck with a cold drink. We will explore several items requiring attention at yearly start-up, as well as regular maintenance issues, that make the latter scenario more of a reality. There are a number of components on a seasonal home that require regular checking or repairs, which will vary considerably, depending on the type of property and the services available. For our purposes we will concentrate on a few of the most common issues, such as the exterior of the building and plumbing.
Many cottages and summer homes are traditional wood frame construction, but often have wooden exterior siding and interior wall coverings, rather than drywall and stucco, to give them a more rustic feeling. Wood is ideal wall sheathing for seasonal buildings as it is less affected by extreme temperature changes than other materials. This property is important for buildings that are not heated year-round and many of our summer retreats fall into this category. Unfortunately, the main drawback of wooden siding is that it is subject to deterioration from moisture and Ultraviolet radiation. To combat this, regular painting or staining is required to keep it in good condition. Annual visual inspection of the condition of the wooden trim on the exterior and signs of moisture stains or deterioration on the inside is a must. Probing wooden siding and trim suspected of moisture damage or rot, with a sharp probe or screwdriver, will determine whether replacement is required or simple refinishing. When repainting or staining, good surface preparation and cleaning combined with high quality materials is essential to prevent the chore from being an annual one.
Opening the cabin for the first time each season is always exciting, sometimes in ways that are not desirable. Four-legged intruders and other pests have a way of sneaking into our living space, during the long winter months, especially in unoccupied areas. Mice, squirrels, raccoons, skunks, and even bears look for sheltered areas to hide from our extreme winter elements and may have decided that our summer home fits the bill, nicely, for their winter one. Damage from furry intruders can range from simple droppings and minor disruption of contents to major damage and mess.
Safety is always a major consideration and the entire exterior of the cottage should always be inspected for signs of damage or intruders before entering. If doors or windows are open or broken, or holes are seen in the floor or walls, safety precautions should be taken before going inside, as the unwanted guests may still be there. Cleanup of any droppings should be done with breathing protection and use of disinfectant cleaners as some animal feces, particularly deer mice and bats, may cause serious health issues. Keeping the exterior of the building free from rot and damaged areas or openings will help prevent unwanted pests.
In continuing the inspection of the exterior of the cabin at time of spring opening, the roof and eavestroughs are the next logical area to check. The roof should be visually inspected from a ladder for damaged or missing shingles, loose flashings around vents or chimneys, and damage from trees. This is ideally done while cleaning out the eavestroughs of leaves and tree debris, which is a must-do to prevent blockage and overflowing during heavy spring and summer rains. Keeping a can or large caulking tube of asphalt cement and a few different types of nails in the shed is ideal for those minor repairs. Once the roof and gutters are in good shape, the steps, decks and other exterior components can be looked at. Decks supports and pads often shift during the winter and spring thaw, handrails may come loose and may need securing. A few nails or screws and some shims may be enough to fix these minor defects.
The final exterior check is often the nastiest, and may require donning coveralls and rubber boots. The underside of the cottage, whether open or enclosed in a skirted crawlspace, should always be scrutinized with a good flashlight and breathing protection. If the area has standing water and is not accessible, opening vents, re-grading soil around the building and use of a portable sump pump may be needed to dry out the crawlspace. Standing water inside a crawlspace for a lengthy period of time may allow mould and rot to grow and can cause major damage to wooden building components. While underneath the building, the final major item under discussion can be inspected.
Anyone who has spent more than a few seasons in cottage country knows that there are two favourite topics of conversation. The weather, and plumbing! Most cottages with full indoor plumbing are serviced by private wells and septic systems, which may vary considerably depending on location. The water supply, whether from a private well or pumped from a nearby lake, requires a pump and pressure tank arrangement to get water to the plumbing fixtures in the home. If the heat has been off for the winter and the pipes drained, the pump will have to be reconnected, primed and the power turned on to provide water for the cottage. A quick visual inspection for loose or damage water pipes should always be done under the building before hooking the water back up. Joints on copper supply pipes can easily open up in the winter if not completely drained of water and crimp rings or twist and turn connections on plastic water lines may also have failed. Minor repairs with a propane torch and some solder or new fittings may be required before pressurizing the system. Always remember to completely fill the electric hot water tank before turning the power on, or you will surely be replacing a damaged element or two.
Removal of sewage waste from a remote summer home is often a difficult task. Many cottages will have a holding tank that will required frequent pumping while others may have complete septic fields. Others in small beach towns may have a full sewer or a low-pressure system incorporating a holding tank and sewage pump arrangement. Familiarizing oneself with the specific operation of the system in your summer home is essential for trouble-free operation. There is nothing worse than coming out to the lake for the long weekend with a houseful of guests to find out that the sewage system has overflowed or backed up. Contacting the local septic specialist or plumber for regularly scheduled pumping or maintenance may save a lot of headaches.
As with any home or building, regular maintenance will prevent excessive damage and deterioration to the components. The saying that; “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”, was never more appropriate than with our summer homes. Getting to know the specific properties of your cottage or cabin such as plumbing, electrical and support structure is essential for simple maintenance. This is even more important in remote locations, as proper professional help may be more difficult to find. An early season trip to the lake and visual inspection, before opening, is always a good idea to ensure you have the necessary tools and materials to complete the necessary repairs prior to enjoying the first weekend with the family.