Don’t let stormy weather get you down

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It was a dark and stormy night, and not a creature was stirring in the cottage. 

See, a storm had rolled in a few hours earlier and knocked out power to dozens of cottages in the area. That meant dinner was cancelled, catching the big game on TV was no longer an option, and the book that’s such a page-turner would have to wait.

While preventing such a scenario is virtually impossible, there is plenty you can do to prepare for it, says one local cottage builder.

“It’s common for squirrels and raccoons to lift up vents and then make their way into the attic, which can have serious consequences.” – Oscar Dyson, Owner, Dyson Construction

Oscar Dyson, owner of Dyson Construction, says a growing number of cottage owners are turning to diesel-powered backup generator systems like Generac to power their cottage’s electrical system in the event of an outage. Depending on the type of generator, it can power a cottage’s furnace, hot water tank, sump pump and other devices for up to 48 hours.

Such a system doesn’t come cheap. The generator itself can cost as much as $6,000 and installation can add another $4,000 to $5,000 to the price tag. Still, Dyson says it’s money well spent for people planning to spend a lot of time at the lake, especially those with newer cottages that have a basement or crawl space.

“It’s the best money you can spend on your cottage,” says Dyson, who has been building cottages in Manitoba for over 30 years and is a cottage owner himself.

“If your sump pump suddenly goes out and your place floods, you are looking at thousands and thousands of dollars in repairs plus there’s the inconvenience of maybe being out of your cottage for months if you get someone in to fix things. Even if your insurance covers it, you’re still looking at the inconvenience of it and (higher) insurance costs.”

If a generator isn’t within your budget, Dyson says there are plenty of other things you can do to make sure your cottage is storm-ready.

One of the first things cottage owners should do when they visit their abode for the first time in the spring is to conduct a visual inspection of its exterior. Dyson advises owners to make sure no trees or large branches fell over winter and caused damage to the roof, which could allow moisture easy access to the roof or walls in the event of a storm. It’s also a good time to make sure no shingles have come loose or were blown off.

While you’re at it, you should also check to make sure no critters have gotten into your attic and caused damage. Dyson says it’s common for squirrels and raccoons to lift up vents and then make their way into the attic, which can have serious consequences.

“If they lift up those vents, water’s going to get in there. If you have a heavy rain for three or four days, you can end up getting a lot of water in your attic. That can all come into the cottage and cause significant damage,” he explains.

Something else to watch out for during that initial spring visit, Dyson cautions, is a buildup of leaves and branches in your cottage’s eavestrough and downspouts. Clearing them early in the season will help prevent rainwater from running along your cottage’s foundation and potentially into its basement or crawl space.

Ah yes, the crawl space, an important part of many newer cottages that is often overlooked. Dyson suggests checking it out in early spring to ensure that everything below the floor is functioning properly in case of a storm, including the sump pump. He recommends installing a backup pump set at a higher level to ensure water continues to be pumped out of the space even if the other unit suddenly stops working. Many cottage owners are also now installing small video cameras in their crawlspaces so they can remotely monitor what is happening down there throughout the year.

There are few things more comforting during a stormy evening at the lake than sticking a few logs in the fireplace or woodburning stove and cozying up to a nice warm fire.

Wood that is insufficiently dry can cause buildup in the chimney, which may result in a chimney fire.

Shawn Goodman, who owns Mantario Chimney Sweeps & Services, cautions that it’s important to make sure that any woodburning unit has been properly cleaned and in working order before firing it up for the first time of the year.

He recommends hiring a Wood Energy Technology Transfer (WETT) certified technician in the spring or early summer to ensure the unit is fit for another season of use and to clear any potentially harmful materials from the chimney such as creosote.

“Creosote is a different kind of soot. It’s very tarry and highly flammable. It can easily cause a chimney fire,” Goodman says.

Cottage owners can also do their part to make sure their woodburning units function properly and safely. Goodman says it’s extremely important to use properly seasoned wood in both fireplaces and woodburning stoves. Wood that is insufficiently dry can cause buildup in the chimney, which may result in a chimney fire. Goodman also warns against over-stoking a fire, which can damage a fireplace or stove, or overfilling it with wood.

A spokesperson for CAA Manitoba says it’s important for cottage owners and owners of seasonal homes to be ready for any emergency.

An important part of those preparations is having a fully stocked emergency kit with essentials for up to three days for all family members and pets. CAA advises that such a kit should include two litres of water per person per day, food items that won’t spoil, a manual can opener, a flashlight and batteries, a first aid kit, a mobile phone charger and extra battery pack, and any prescription medications that may be needed.

In the event power goes out during cold weather, CAA also recommends people avoid opening cottage doors and windows to ensure the interior remains warm. It’s also a good idea to shut off the main water valve and drain any taps if there is any danger of the cottage freezing and to unplug electrical equipment to prevent power surges when the power comes back on.

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