We’ve built a lovely little cabin on a bit of property down by a nearby lake, but during winter it’s almost impossible to reach. The roads in aren’t ploughed, and while a determined hike could get you there during an emergency, for all intents and purposes it’s just a summer cabin. But with the cold months in full swing, there are a few things you can do to ensure your cabin can be re-opened when the weather warms up, with as little fuss as possible.
I do this every winter, so it’s almost a routine now. But if you’re new to owning a cabin or want to see if there’s anything you’ve been missing, keep reading and I’ll explain everything I do to get our cabin ready for the first snow of the season.
Start outside first
The first job is to cut back all the grass, weeds, branches and trees that either give a path for critters to find safety or may potentially damage the cabin in a big storm. None of these will grow much during winter so you really only need to do it once at the end of the season, and all the debris either gets burnt in our fire pit or the logs stacked to dry in our woodshed.
Cleaning out the gutters is an easy one, we’ve not got a lot of trees in the clearing we built ours so these rarely fill. But if you’ve got lots near yours, take the time now to clear out the leaves and other debris. Rats will nest in there, and while it won’t matter while it’s cold, you want the drains to work properly once the snow melts or you’ll flood your cabin.
We’ve not got a whole lot of outside furniture (we like things to be packed away when we’re not there), but that we do have gets pulled inside and stored in the shed. The little boat that usually sits by the lake, the chairs and anything else that’s not tied down gets picked up and stored inside to avoid getting damaged when it snows.
Oh, and all the power tools and equipment get properly broken down and motorized. Drained of fuels so they don’t freeze up, and give them all a good clean before they get stored away. This is important, and each will have their own instructions for winterization so make sure you refer back to any booklets that came with the gear for the steps to follow. Oh, and make sure the jump-starter kit is charged and working so we don't have any issues getting them working again in summer.
Move inside next
Coming inside we give everything a good clean out, and box up and remove any spoilable food that might be left in the shelves or in the fridge. Being survivalists, we don’t remove everything (our cabin is one option for bugging out, and it’s important to us there is at least some supplies there), but it’s stored in tough plastic tubs to deter rodents from getting at it.
What’s next is critical, and that’s because water expands when it freezes so it will burst pipes if they’re not drained and emptied. Turn off the water at the source, run your taps until they are dry, and flush the toilet too. If you’ve got an air compressor, you can use it to push any last water out of the pipes, and then zip-tie the main valves shut.
For us, we switch off the gas and power lines too. Some people like to have this running non-stop, but we stopped after we saw the bill for one winter. Now it’s all about properly closing up so that nothing is damaged even when the temperatures drop below zero, and done right we’ve yet to have any issues opening it back up again in the spring.
Covering the furniture with old sheets and light tarps to keep the dust off and any moisture out, and I’m pretty generous with the moth balls that go into the linen cupboards so things stay fresh when we’re not there. Windows get locked shut and shades drawn, and everything that’s been sitting out gets unplugged, and packed away in the cupboards.
Oh, and our fireplace needs the damper closed to prevent any ambitious animals finding their way inside. We forgot one year only to find a family of possums had made their home out of our living room. You don’t want this, and cleaning up the mess they left was just horrendous. Animals will be looking for shelter, so don’t give them a clear path to come in.
One final check
With the inside done its time for one final check around the perimeter of your cabin. If you’ve got storm shutters on the windows these need to be securely closed, and remember to lock any (and every) entry point to the cabin. The tougher you make it to get in, the better your chances that no animals or other people break in while you’re gone.
I’d also recommend checking the skirting boards around the base of your cabin are tightly secured. Racoons and other animals are stronger than you think, and they will break through, and wreak havoc on the insulation and all your pipes and wiring underneath. We have a heavy wire gill (and access gate) to stop this happening, and it’s worked well so far.
Once you’re done, you’re done. Knocking out everything on this checklist will ensure your cabin is ready for the cold and the snow to come, while also minimizing any damage the weather (or any four-legged creatures) can inflict in the months to come. It’s time to head home, and you can sleep a little easier knowing your cabin is safe and sound.