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Almost by definition, a cottage is a seasonal residence, meaning that it is likely that it will be closed up for part of the year. Preparing for winter is an important part of cottage upkeep when you know that temperatures will fall far below the freezing point. Unless you heat your cottage throughout the winter, most of your close-up activities should be completed before the first serious frost in the fall. Generally, we close up at Thanksgiving, or, at the latest, by the end of October. We may return for weekends after that time, but we accept that we will have to carry in water from the well, and heat water for washing and dish-washing on the wood stove.

Conversely, in the spring, the cottage needs to be opened up, which requires its own set of tasks, the reverse of the close-up tasks.

This section deals with the tasks necessary in fall and spring. It presents a typical checklist that you can use yourselves, and modify as needed.

Fall Close-up

Frosty Leaves

I always feel a touch of sadness when closing up, as it signals the end of another summer and fall season, and I feel regret that it could not go on longer. However, the tasks have to be done, otherwise you can let yourself in for a lot of headaches the following spring. My checklist attempts to order the tasks as logically as possible, so that you will not find you have put anything away or taken any action that will have to be reversed for a later task.

The summary checklist below is expanded later:

Outside Tasks

  • Put away garden and patio furniture
  • Put away gardening tools
  • Chop wood and kindling ready for winter visits, and stack in cottage
  • Store snow shovels where they are easily accessible
  • Store ladder in accessible place if shovelling the roof will be necessary


  • Pull boats out of the water
  • Winterize and store away motorboats
  • Store away canoes, paddleboats, sailboards and sailboats
  • Remove and store dock

Inside Tasks

  • Pack perishable items to take home
  • Store non-perishable food items properly
  • Sweep and vacuum
  • Clean out fridge
  • Guard against mice
  • Replace bed linen on the beds
  • Turn off water pump and water heater
  • Winterize the water system
  • Empty water out of appliances and vases

Outside Tasks

All garden and patio furniture that could be damaged by heavy snow or freezing water should be stored in a safe place. Some things, such as heavy picnic benches, can be left out, as they have the strength to handle the weight of more than a metre (3 feet) of snow.

If you are planning to visit the cottage in winter (or even if you are not, it would be wise to be prepared), and you have a wood stove, you should chop up enough wood to feed the stove for a full day or more, and store it in the cottage ready for use. For the same reason, put your snow shovels and ladder in accessible places in order to have them readily available. A snow shovel will be no use to you if it is stored under the cottage, and you have to dig away three feet of snow to get to it.


Naturally, you will not want to leave your boats or dock in the water where they can be damaged by ice. Wooden boats and canoes are best stored out of the weather in a dry boathouse, garage or shed to minimize deterioration of the wood. Modern fibreglass or Kevlar canoes and sailboats can withstand being left out in the open if you can't store them indoors, as long as they are overturned and raised off the ground with blocks of wood, so that water can't accumulate and freeze in them.


Motor boats are a different matter, as they are impractical to overturn because of their motors. Depending on the size of the boat, you may want to take it to a marina for winter service and storage, store it yourself in a garage at home or at the cottage, or cover it with tarpaulins to keep out rain and snow. If you cover it, make sure that the tarpaulin is well supported so that it will not sag with the weight of rain or snow, otherwise there will not be much benefit to covering it. If the boat is to be stored in unheated conditions, then be sure to expel any water in the motor by manually and slowly pulling on the starting cord to turn the flywheel while the fuel tank is disconnected. It will require several turns to expel the water. If you have an electric-start motor, the flywheel can often be accessed by taking off the engine cover and using a rope to turn it. For larger motors, consult the manual, or take the boat and motor to a marina for service.

Using marinas for storage is simpler than storing the boat yourself, as the marina will prepare the boat and motor for winter, and will ensure that the battery is charged as needed. For a Cottage Life article on winterizing your outboard motor, click here.

If you have a removable dock, it will have to be brought out of the water and stacked away. If your dock sections are wooden, then it is best to cover the stack with a tarpaulin or other cover to keep out the rain or snow, in the interests of preventing the wood from deteriorating.

Inside Tasks

All perishable items should be packed up to take home. These include:

Some electronic devices may suffer harm from low temperatures, and you should check the manufacturer's instructions for each one. Small and expensive electronic devices such as cell phones and Blackberries are susceptible to low temperatures, but you are unlikely to leave these at the cottage anyway, except by mistake. We have a couple of radios, a TV and a DVD player that we leave all winter. However, we make sure that they warm up to regular room temperature before turning them on when visiting the cottage in cold weather. Battery-operated clocks can be left, but will often slow down in cold temperatures, so don't rely on them to give you the right time on arrival in winter. To save running the batteries down, you could remove them. We also unplug the clock radio in our bedroom, as there is no point in leaving it on when power cuts over the winter months are inevitable.

Frosty Leaves

It is best to clear out the fridge completely, sponge it out with soap and water, and turn it off. Leave the doors partly open to prevent it getting smelly. We have neighbours who leave their deep freeze on all winter, which seems to work OK.

To some extent, you can guard against mice by sealing all possible entry points into the cottage. This can be difficult, as mice can get through a hole only the size of a nickel. Small holes can be plugged with steel wool - they can't eat their way through that - but if you find larger holes they may have to be sealed with pieces of wood. Any foodstuffs should be kept in a mouse-proof cupboard. We also plug in electronic mouse repellers at strategic points. These emit a high-pitched noise that mice can't stand. It is possible that dogs and cats can hear them, in which case you should unplug them when your pets are around. Other weapons in the war against mice include various poisons that can be left at strategic points, but, again, you should remove these when your pets are around. We have done a pretty good job of sealing our cottage, but mice still get into our utility room where there is no panelling on the walls. At times we can hear them scurrying about behind the panelling or above the ceiling in other rooms.

Changing the linen on all beds means that they will be as fresh as possible on your next visit. Electric blankets (if you have them) should also be put on the beds, so that when you visit in winter the beds can be aired and warmed up fairly quickly. Without electric blankets, the beds can stay very cold, even when the interior of the cottage has warmed up to comfortable levels.

You should empty water out of all appliances and vases to prevent ice damage. This includes electric steam irons, and the hoses in washing machines and dish washers.

Your water system will also have to be emptied and winterized. This is such an important task, that it is dealt with separately in the page on Water Systems.

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© 2009 - 2019, David Mallinson. --- Last updated 17-Oct-2019