It was a dark and stormy night, and not a creature stirred in the cottage.
You see, a storm had rolled in a few hours earlier and knocked out the power to dozens of cabins in the area. It meant dinner was cancelled, catching the big game on TV was no longer an option, and the book that turned so much of a page would have to wait.
While it’s nearly impossible to prevent such a scenario, there’s a lot you can do to prepare for it, says a local cabin builder.
Oscar Dyson, owner of Dyson Construction, says a growing number of cabin owners are turning to diesel-powered standby generator systems like Generac to power their cabin’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 appliances for up to 48 hours.
Such a system is not cheap. The generator itself can cost up to $6,000 and installation can add another $4,000 to $5,000 to the price. Still, Dyson says it’s money well spent for people who plan to spend a lot of time at the lake, especially those with newer cabins 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 more than 30 years and is a cottage owner himself.
“If your sump pump suddenly shuts off and your house floods, you’re looking at thousands and thousands of dollars in repairs, plus there’s the downside of maybe being out of your cottage for months. if you bring someone in to fix things. Even if your insurance covers it, you still see the inconvenience and (higher) insurance costs.”
If a generator isn’t in your budget, Dyson says there are plenty of other things you can do to make sure your cottage is ready for storms.
One of the first things cabin owners should do when visiting their home for the first time in the spring is to do a visual inspection of its exterior. Dyson advises homeowners to ensure that no trees or large branches fall over the winter and damage the roof, which could allow moisture to easily access the roof or walls in a storm. This is also a good time to make sure no shingles have come loose or been blown off.
While you’re at it, you should also check that no creatures have entered your attic and caused damage. Dyson says it’s common for squirrels and raccoons to lift air vents and then enter the attic, which can have serious consequences.
“It’s common for squirrels and raccoons to lift air vents and then enter the attic, which can have serious consequences.” –Oscar Dyson, Owner, Dyson Construction
“If they lift those vents, water will seep in. If you have heavy rain for three or four days, you can end up having a lot of water in your attic. All of that can get into the cottage and cause significant damage,” he explains.
Another thing to watch for on that first spring visit, Dyson warns, is a buildup of leaves and branches in your cottage’s gutters and downspouts. Cleaning them early in the season will help prevent rainwater from running down your cottage’s foundation and potentially into its basement or crawl space.
Ah yes, the crawlspace, an important part of many newer cabins that is often overlooked. Dyson suggests checking it in early spring to make sure everything under the ground is working properly in a storm, including the sump pump. He recommends installing a backup pump at a higher level to ensure water continues to be pumped out of the space even if the other unit suddenly stops working. Many cabin owners also install small video cameras in their crawl spaces so that they can monitor what is going on there all year round from a distance.
There are few things more comforting on a stormy evening by the lake than sticking a few logs in the fireplace or woodstove and warming yourself around a nice warm fire.
Shawn Goodman, owner of Mantario Chimney Sweeps & Services, warns that it’s important to make sure any wood-burning appliance has been properly cleaned and in working order before lighting it for the first time in the year .
He recommends hiring a certified Wood Energy Technology Transfer (WETT) technician in the spring or early summer to ensure the unit is ready for another season of use and to remove any potentially harmful materials from the fireplace like creosote.
“Creosote is a different type of soot. It’s very tarry and highly flammable. It can easily start a chimney fire,” Goodman says.
Cottage owners can also do their part to ensure their wood-burning appliances are working properly and safely. Goodman says it’s extremely important to use properly seasoned wood in fireplaces and wood stoves. Insufficiently seasoned wood can cause a buildup in the chimney, which can lead to a chimney fire. Goodman also warns against stoking a fire too much, which can damage a fireplace or stove, or overfill it with wood.
A CAA Manitoba spokesperson says it’s important that cottagers and seasonal homeowners be prepared for any emergency.
An important part of these preparations is having a fully stocked emergency kit with the essentials for up to three days for all family members and pets. The CAA advises that such a kit should include two liters of water per person per day, food that will not spoil, a manual can opener, flashlight and batteries, first aid kit, cell phone charger and extra battery, and any prescription medications that may be needed.
In the event of a power outage in cold weather, the CAA also recommends people avoid opening chalet doors and windows to ensure the interior stays warm. It is also a good idea to close the main water valve and drain the taps if there is a risk of the chalet freezing and to unplug electrical equipment to avoid power surges when power returns.