Cottages can be so much more than simply a summer vacation home. Or even a two or three-season getaway when the weather permits.

With more and more families embracing the unique experiences all four seasons have to offer in cottage country, it’s time to explore how to turn your cottage into a four-season oasis!

how to winterize your cottage
Winterize for year-round comfort

Why limit yourself to three season when you can have four!

In this article we explore how to winterize your cottage, plus some key considerations to successfully convert your beautiful cottage into a four season home.

I’ll share my hands-on experiences as someone currently updating and renovating our own cottage to pass along any insights that may help point you in the right direction, and even save money.

Let’s get into it!

How To Winterize Your Cottage

My first piece of advise to anyone considering a four season upgrade; do not underestimate the harsh winters your cottage needs to withstand if it’s located in the northern regions where temperatures can quickly plummet and catch you off guard.

You don’t want to be snowed in and suddenly realize your pipes have frozen and you’re without plumbing. Or that you don’t have adequate insulation and your heating system can’t keep up.

We don’t want your first taste of winter be enough to sending you packing for Florida! Not that there’s anything wrong with that…

With some careful planning, a realistic budget, and the necessary skills, you (or your local contractor) can transform your cottage into a year-round home that also comes with the benefit of significantly increasing your property value.

Just check out the prices of cottages nowadays and you may be surprised to see how valuable cottages have become. And this is especially true for year-round lakefront cottages.

Just be sure to tick off every box beforehand so when winter sets in you’re ready to simply snuggle up in your lovely cottage knowing you’ll be warm and toasty for the winter months ahead.

How To Create A Four Season Cottage?

Before you even get started it’s important to know that turning your cozy cottage from a summer getaway into an all-season living space is a big investment, and it takes a lot of work.

Do not expect it to be done quickly, or easily. The steps you will need to take will of course depend on your cottage. Some cottages are real fixer-uppers, while some are almost year-round ready. For example, some cottages are built on concrete floating pads with no foundational walls, while others are on a proper cinderblock foundation. This makes a significant difference in terms of time and budget. We discuss this further below in this article.

Install Year-round Insulation For Winter Comfort

Be Sure You Have Proper Heating

Let’s get started by taking a look at your heating.

While wood stoves and fireplaces are tough to beat in a seasonal cottage, they may not be up to the task of keeping you warm in the dead of winter. But even if you do have a BTU beast to keep you warm, you may grow to resent your charming wood stove when you have to keep feeding it wood day and night.

You should also consider the times when you are away from the cottage. If you rely on a wood as your primary heat source, what would you do if you went away on vacation for a week or two?

But lets assume that you’re only going to rely on a wood stove as a secondary source of heat, and of course the aesthetic charm and unbeatable smell that you can only get from burning natural wood. What size wood stove you need depends on the size (square footage) of your home.

For example, if you have a 1200 sq. ft. cottage, you need a wood stove with a BTU output of 36,00 BTU. Or if you have a 2000 sq. ft. cottage, you need a 60,000 BTU wood stove.

800 sq ft24,000 BTU
900 sq ft27,000 BTU
1,000 sq ft30,000 BTU
1,200 sq ft36,000 BTU
1,500 sq ft45,000 BTU
2,000 sq ft60,000 BTU
2,400 sq ft72,000 BTU
2,500 sq ft75,000 BTU
3,000 sq ft90,000 BTU
4,000 sq ft120,000 BTU
Data provided by PICKHVAC

If you are serious about creating a four season home, you should also consider installing a furnace if your cottage and budget can accommodate one. Although this isn’t an inexpensive choice, it will give you the creature comforts you have grown accustom to if you have a home in the city.

If your cottage/cabin is in the country, your furnace would likely be a propane furnace with a remote propane tank located near your driveway so it can be filled up by your local propane service provider.

We trenched to run the propane line from the top of driveway
Installed Propane Tank

This is the route we chose for heating when we updated our cottage. And let me tell you, the difference between relying on electric baseboards and a wood stove to heat the cottage in the winter, versus the convenience of a no-fuss furnace, has been transformational!

Electric baseboard heating is an expensive way to heat a cottage. Plus, when we looked ahead to the future where we may want to introduce solar panels, electric baseboards would be a big drain. So our goal was to dump the electric heat and keep the wood stove, but only rely on the stove for aesthetics.

When we look back to the times when we used to keep the heat on at a very low temperature during the week to keep the plumbing from freezing, then heat things up on Friday night when we arrive by firing up the wood stove, those memories now seem so retro.

Especially when you consider most of today’s furnaces come with the ability to download an app on your phone so you can control your furnace from anywhere in the world with a WIFI signal.

Now, before we head up to the cottage we go online and dial up the temperature so by the time we arrive the cottage is nice and warm. This is a luxurious game-changer we can’t imagine being without!

Plus, it also means not having to get up in the wee hours of the morning to put more logs in the stove.

Now the purpose of the fireplace is to enjoy the ambiance you can only get from a natural wood burning fireplace. Nothing says cottage cozy like a beautiful fire in a wood stove or fireplace.

In summary, no matter what type of heating system you choose, just be sure to invest in a heating solution that will support your lifestyle and provide dependable heating when the temperatures drop. You’ll never regret investing in a heating system that you don’t even have to think about in the dead of winter.

You may want to consult a local heating professional to explore your options so you’re sure to end up with the ideal heat source for your cottage.

Install Adequate Year-Round Insulation

Having a heat source isn’t enough. If you do not have appropriate insulation, then all that heat you are using will just escape, and you will end up running high costs just to stay warm. You need proper insulation in your cottage if you are planning on living out the winter there.

Existing attic with pink fiberglass insulation
Adding another layer of blow-in insulation

Even if your cottage already has insulation in the attic it may be inadequate for year-round comfort. Building codes have changed over the years so it your cottage is old, it may not be in compliance with the new building codes. Aim for R-50 to R-60 to be safe.

Should I remove old attic insulation before adding new?

Professional insulation contractors my suggest removing old fiberglass insulation before installing new cellulose insulation due to the possibility of mildew, mold, or rodent excrement existing in your current insulation. There is no point in putting new insulation over nasty insulation just to save a few bucks. Think long-term.

When it comes to the walls, be sure the insulation includes a proper vapor barrier as this will prevent condensation from developing inside the walls. This protective layer is absolutely vital as condensation is just a stepping stone to mold build up and rot developing.

Rot and mold are not covered by some insurance policies and so adding in this protective barrier will not only save you money but will also make your cottage live and last longer as well.

Make Sure Your Electrical & Septic Systems Are Up-To-Date

Making the transition from seasonal usage to four season usage will put more demand on your electrical system and septic system.

Electrical

Depending on the age and amperage of your electrical panel, your home/cottage may be underpowered. Before the 1950’s you would find 60-amp services. Then in the ’50s, 60’s, and ’70’s, 100-amp panels were common. In the ’80’s the current 200-amp systems were introduced and became the standard we still use today.

Septic

It may be said that you never appreciate something until you don’t have it. Well, your septic system easily fits into that group! Nothing says “run for the woods and call the plumber” like a backed-up septic.

Septic’s are something worth taking a look at before you run into problems. Don’t wait for the winter to have an inspection done. Inspections are fast, easy, and well worth the peace of mind. We just had our septic inspected by our local municipality for free. They did a quick walk-about to inspect the septic field. Then he put a measuring stick into the tank to check sludge to fluid ratios, and that was it. Good to go!

Pinterest – How septic tanks work

It is wise to have these two systems properly inspected by a licensed plumber and electrician. These professionals can tell you what work will need to be done to properly winterize your utilities and keep them safely running throughout the winter months.

Take Measures To Prevent Frozen Pipes

Typically, if you close down your cottage for the winter, you will have to drain the pipes. Yet, if you are not closing it down and instead intend on hunkering down in there, you will need running water, which means that you need to make sure that your pipes are protected and insulated properly so they do not freeze and end up bursting.

This means you need to make sure that your water system and water pipes are protected from the elements.

Let’s start at the source and work our way up to the cottage.

Is your source of water coming from a drilled or dug well? Or is it drawing from a lake? These are two entirely different scenarios. Personally, I’ve experienced both.

Before we bought our own family cottage, my passion for cottage life as a kid began at my parents cottage. They bought the cottage back in 1964 for $5,000. And for $5K back in those times, the cottage price included a boat, motor, and dock! Times have changed…

The plumbing system was upgraded after they purchased the cottage so we could come up in the winter. Back at the time the system seemed fairly advanced. It included an insulated, electrically heated waterline that ran from the cottage to the lake.

The water pump was a submersible well pump suspended off the lake bottom in a custom surround. The water was pushed up from the lake and into the water tank in the basement as needed. Once the water tank was filled, the line drained back to lake level so no water was in the line to freeze.

Or at least, that was the theory!

The more common or traditional cottage water pump systems have the water pump located in the basement, with a line leading to an exterior water source such as a lake or well.

However, when it came time for me to decide what type of water supply system I was going to install for our new family cottage, the decision was easy. Why? Because I had spent too many years fighting wintertime plumbing issues. Nature tends to win!

I spent $7,500 to have a drilled well put in. Nowadays that cost has probably doubled. But I’d do it again. And because I’d experienced just how miserable life without winter plumbing can be, I took the added step of using a special heated water line between the cottage and the well so frost wouldn’t shut us down.

I highly recommend you consider a drilled well if your cottage is subjected to cold winters. And I also highly suggest the heated line. I used a product called Heatline Retro-Line that is designed for this specific application. I even added this companies heat trace cable system for our sewage pipe exiting the cottage after learning the hard way that sewage pipes can also freeze on route to the holding tank.

With the well providing us with crystal clear water year-round, and the heated lines in place, our water source has proven to be a dependable four season system, and we have been thrilled with it.

Next, let’s look at the water pipes.

If your cottage is built on concrete cottage pads (concrete blocks on the ground), hopefully the pipes are accessible so they can be insulated. And hopefully your cottage includes a knee wall surrounding the perimeter of your basement to keep the winter elements away from your pipes.

Again, back to my experience at my parents cottage, a 2-foot perimeter wall had to be added because the underside of the cottage was fully exposed. The perimeter wall was built of wood with 2″ rigid Styrofoam insulation glued to the inside.

Either way, you need to ensure your pipes don’t freeze in whatever type of basement you have.

If you have a traditional block foundation, consider insulating the interior walls if they don’t have any insulation. The R-rating (insulation value) of concrete block walls is about R-3, so not good.

Our new cottage foundation is built using 10″ concrete blocks. (if I was doing it over again I would use ICF blocks – insulated concrete forms). When it was built I added 2″ (blue) rigid Styrofoam insulation to add R-10. And last year I had a local service provider add spray foam insulation on top of the rigid insulation to more than double the R-value. Now the basement is nice and cozy in the winter, and cool in the summer.

Mission accomplished!

With the water supply from the well protected, and the basement water pipes protected, I can sleep soundly in knowing we’ll wake up to running water even in the most extreme temperatures.

Give Your Windows And Doors An Upgrade

Do not forget your windows and doors too. Sealant is very important. You can insulate all you like, but if there are gaps in the sealant of your windows and doors, heat will still escape your cottage.

Will new windows save you money?

A Department of Energy report estimates today’s energy efficient windows could save you between $100 and $500 if you’re replacing single pane windows. For doubled-paned windows, energy efficient windows could save you more than $100 per year.

Windows can account for up to 25% of the total heat loss in a home, with air entering through cracks and crevices around them driving up your energy consumption. Energy-efficient windows provide better insulation, reducing heat loss or gain and lowering your energy bills.

Properly sealed windows and doors will prevent drafts from coming in, and your warm air from getting out.

Depending on the windows and doors you have installed, you may need to swap them out entirely for a year-round alternative, this can mean installing double-pane windows into your cottage to replace single pane.

Window replacement is a very expensive project. The national average for replacing a window is $650, excluding labor. Although that might sound like a manageable cost, when you consider that your cottage may have as many as ten windows – or more (usually more), that cost suddenly leaps to $6,500.

According to a HomeAdvisor report, window replacement costs between $300 and $2,100 per window with an average cost of $850, with labor alone making up $100 to $300 of the total. The materials making up the rest of the cost, based primarily on window size, frame material and glass type.

Your window costs will vary depending on the type and material they are made from. Below is a guide:

Vinyl$100 – $900
Wood$150 – $1,300
Fiberglass$500 – $1,500
Aluminum$75 – $400
Composite$300 – $1,200
Estimates Provided by HomeAdvisor

Cost to Replace Windows in an Old Cottage

If you are updating an old cottage or cabin, the installation labor can double or triple in pricing. Older homes can come with unique challenges, such as:

  • Custom pieces made to fit nonstandard sizes.
  • Repairing or replacing rotted or broken trim.
  • Match historical architecture.
  • Removing counterweights.
  • Upgrading to current code standards.
  • Filling empty areas with insulation.

However, new doors and windows are a great investment that can yield up to a 70% return when you sell your cottage. And in the meantime, transform a drafty cold cottage into a cozy, energy efficient sanctuary.

Other Non-Renovation Expenses

Beyond the direct costs of winterizing your cottage, don’t forget to consider expenses such as snow removal services and any additional maintenance expenses you can foresee.

You may also want to ask your insurance agent about any possible insurance implications of treating your cottage as a four seasonal home. And if you decide to offset your renovation expenses through rental income, be sure to inform your broker of this to ensure you have the correct rental insurance.

I wish you all the best in your renovations and be sure to takes lots of before/after photos so you can send them along to us here at Today’s Cottage Living so we can share them with your fellow cottage owners and learn from your new expertise and any tips you can pass along.



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Greg Jones

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