Battening Down the Hatches on Your Cottage for the Winter

Share this Article

  • Email

September 29, 2023

As we hit the tail end of summer and fall beckons, many Up North cottage owners opt to batten down the hatches for the winter months and don’t plan on returning until the spring.

During that time, particularly if the winter is harsh, a lot can go wrong. Pipes can burst, snow can drift in if you have any holes that need repairing, and pests can enter the cottage. If you plan to button up your vacation home for the winter, you will want to take steps to protect it from these and other risks.

The key is to be meticulous, which requires a detailed routine and a checklist so you don’t miss anything.

If you do it right, you’ll reduce the chances of having a nasty surprise when you return in the spring. 

Start with the Outside

The outside is a good place to start to ensure your vacation home is protected:
  • Store all of the outside furniture in a safe place. If you have nice chairs and a table and don’t have a shed, try to store them inside the cottage.
  • Since wildfires have become unpredictable and can strike anywhere (note the recent tragic wildfires in Canada), take steps to protect your home in case one flares up nearby. Store firewood at least 30 feet from the cottage.
  • Clear all leaves around the perimeter and clean out the rain gutters.
  • Insulate pipes in crawl spaces underneath the home to protect them.
  • Clean out gutters and inspect the roof for shingles that are raised or cracked; leaking roofs and clogged gutters can lead to significant water damage.
  • Check for air leaks around electrical wiring, windowpanes and doors. Use caulking or insulation to plug gaps and holes.

Jettison the Water

To help avoid damage from frozen water pipes, you should:

Drain the water heater. Be careful during this process and turn off the circuit breaker for the heater before draining it. Close the cold-water intake before proceeding and, after you are done, make sure to close the hot-water tap.

Drain the pipes. In many cottages, after you cut the power to the water pump, the water will drain out, but some water always remains, typically in the U-shaped traps under sinks. You can pour a healthy cup of anti-freeze into the drains (including sinks, baths, showers, laundry machine and toilet).

Handy tip: If you plan to drain the pipes, consider attaching a hose to the lowest point in the plumbing and blowing out any water with an air compressor.

Cut the water supply. This will ensure that a leak won’t develop. A small leak will grow over time and destroy the cottage’s flooring, walls and furniture.


Many of your interior duties are aimed at keeping critters out and preventing water and other damage:
  • To keep varmints from entering your property, place mothballs under the cottage and inside near doorways and windows.
  • Close the damper for the fireplace. Seal the box to prevent critters from entering the cottage.
  • If you did not drain your pipes, consider opening cabinet doors to allow heat to get to uninsulated pipes under sinks and appliances near exterior walls.
  • Unplug and empty out the fridge, and leave the door cracked open a bit to prevent musty odors.
  • Store all nonperishable foods in plastic, airtight containers.
  • Put mothballs or dryer sheets near linens.

The Last Steps

Before you leave for the winter, you should:
  • Disconnect all electrical appliances and fixtures.
  • Turn off the main breaker for the cottage.
  • Snap photos of all valuable items in case of theft or damage.
  • Make a final walk-through of your cottage and property to make sure you didn’t miss anything.
  • Lock sheds and any other detached structures.
  • Take any portable valuable items with you, such as computers.
This information is being provided for general informational purposes only. Meemic Insurance Company does not assume any liability in connection with providing this information.
Questions & Feedback