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DIY Winterizing Tips

9 ways to protect your place from the frosty elements
By Kurt Anderson
Published: October 7, 2011
We’ve all heard the winterizing drill, sometimes passed on for generations: drain your water lines, splash some RV-grade antifreeze in the sewer traps and put on your storm windows. In years past, that standard drill was really all that most cabin owners had to worry about when Old Man Winter frosted up the windows each fall.
    Many of today’s cabins, however, are more complex – in many cases replete with all the luxuries found in a primary four-season house. That means maintenance tasks for these modern cabins also are more complex. So, when the cold winds start to blow, remember that preparing your cabin for winter, whether it’s a three-season or year-round place, requires more than just a once-over. Browse through the following list to make sure you haven’t missed any obvious (or not-so-obvious) winterizing tasks.

   1. Do a Full Drain: If you shut down and drain your pipes for winter, you’re already aware that the main water lines, the pressure tank and the water heater need to be drained. But many cabins also have water softeners, filters, ice-maker lines, dishwashers, and even condensate lines on the furnace or air exchanger. Drain each one of these as well to prevent damage.
    2. Cut Your Power to Central Air: It’s easy to do; while adjusting the thermostat on a chilly winter evening, you accidentally trigger the “cool” setting. Firing up your air-conditioner on a cold day can cause serious damage to the unit, so flip the AC breaker off when summer’s heat goes away.
GUTTERS – Clean out leaves, pine needles and other debris from your gutters.
Photo by Kurt Anderson
3. Gut Your Gutters:
There’s nothing like a properly installed gutter to direct drainage away from your cabin’s foundation. However, a dirty or plugged gutter system can back up melt water during thaws, causing ice buildup on your roof or damaging your gutters. Make sure your gutters are clean, and temporarily remove any downspout extensions that could become plugged with snow.

4. Cut the Water Supply to Your Outside Faucet:
Outside faucets are especially vulnerable to freezing, and a burst water-supply line won’t simply drain onto the lawn; it’ll go into your basement or crawl space. Even if you leave the water on for the rest of your heated cabin, make sure you turn off the valve for each outside water-supply line.

5. Take a Look Upstairs: No, not your loft – the upper upstairs. For cabins with blown-in insulation in the attic, the insulation often settles, which can leave certain areas underinsulated. This, in turn, creates hot spots of air, which cause snow on your roof to melt … and subsequently to freeze when that meltwater hits the eave line. Stick your head up into the insulation clouds; if it looks thin, rent a blower and blow in a few bags of insulation.
CONCRETE – Apply a layer of concrete sealant each fall to prevent cracks from expanding in your sidewalks and poured concrete patios.
Photo by Kurt Anderson
6. Seal that Concrete Patio & Walkway: The same process that causes potholes in northern roadways can affect the exposed concrete surfaces at your cabin; namely, water collects in small cracks, freezes and expands. The crack becomes larger, and the process repeats itself over time, getting worse each time. This can cause significant deterioration, especially if you spread salt on your sidewalk or patio during the snowy months. Applying a layer of concrete sealant each fall is a great, simple way to protect your concrete surfaces.
CHIMNEY – Make sure your chimney and chimney cap aren't suffering from creosote buildup.
Photo by Kurt Anderson
7. Clean the Whole Chimney: Creosote buildup is the main cause of chimney fires for wood-burning stoves, and most of us know that we need to remove the buildup at regular intervals. But, whether you clean the chimney yourself or hire a sweep, don’t forget any horizontal runs from your furnace to the chimney, and make sure the chimney cap is also free of buildup. A scoop of creosote remover added once a week will also do wonders to prevent buildup in those hard-to-reach places. To find a chimney sweep in your area who is certified by the Chimney Safety Institute of America, use the professional locator at
CRITICAL JUNCTURES – Remove leaves and other debris along your cabin/deck junctures.
Photo by Kurt Anderson
8. Do a Deck Check: Increased snow load and moisture are the bane of wooden decks, and autumn is the prime time to ensure your outside living quarters are up to snuff. Check the sill plate and supports for signs of rot, and remove any accumulated leaves or other detritus along the cabin/deck junctures. That debris is infamous for holding moisture next to your decking, encouraging rot.

9. Don’t Kill Your Batteries: Batteries from your boat or lawn mower have a much higher chance of emerging from hibernation if they are disconnected and stored inside, preferably in a dry, warm place.

    Now you can move on to the fun projects, like organizing your tackle box.

Kurt Anderson’s ideal form of winterizing involves a warm fire and a hot drink, enjoyed at the family cabin while visions of spring dance in his head.
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