Many summer cottages and camps don't have year-round heat or heavy insulation, if any at all. Left vacant after the summer, they are especially vulnerable to a number of natural and man-made challenges, among them: rodent infestation, storm damage, frozen pipes, mold, mildew, and in the latter category, break-ins and vandalism.
Here are some tips on how to best secure your little slice of paradise so you will spend more time enjoying it rather than repairing it next spring.
DIY or a professional?
Many camp owners do their own winterization and for the handy homeowner, it's an annual ritual. Others prefer the convenience, for a fee, of having a professional do the job, especially when the camp is a good trek from the owner's permanent home.
Deb Ettington, who lives in Pennsylvania, owns a camp on Keuka Lake out in the Finger Lakes Region, so she uses a professional.
"We hire Connect-a-Service. They usually send two guys and charge $100 to $150. One reason we hire them is that even with professionals, something often goes wrong, and if they handle it, they fix it," she explained.
She said that in addition to the closing service, the company also "checks on their customers' places periodically -- no charge -- and they'll let us know if they see storm damage or anything else amiss. We have neighbors who check also," she said.
Elmer Manzer has worked for Curtis Lumber for 25 years and during that time has advised countless people about winterizing their camps . Manzer stressed that the winterizing process is also about protection.
The number one concern is preventing the water pipes from freezing.
"The water lines are shut off and all moisture is blown out with a small air compressor," he explained. Then the lines are re-filled with RV anti-freeze.
"RV is non-toxic," he said, "and it is specialized for those types of pipes," that is, RV- or camp -grade pipes.
Snakes in the kitchen?
Enjoying nature does not extend to putting up with little critters wintering over in your camp . Manzer said pest control is the next big concern.
"Animals will seek shelter and survival," he said. "Find their areas of penetration. Check around water pipes and the foundation. Then pack those spaces with coarse steel wool," he explained.
Instead of using rodenticides, Manzer has a novel remedy: rubber snakes and plastic owls.
"Place the snakes under kitchen sinks and around porches. They are the natural predator of rodents," he said, "and place plastic owls on the eaves."
And from year to year, change the locations of these faux predators -- rodents are smart and will catch on.
You'll want to be vigilant about rodent control because mice love to gnaw on wires, which may cause a fire.
Manzer had other fire prevention tips: If the camp 's electrical system has a fuse box, remove the fuses before closing up.
Likewise, with a circuit box, disconnect the breakers. "If there is a storm, by disconnecting the residual current, you reduce the chances of electrical fire," he explained.
In general, give the camp a thorough cleaning. "Be sure to remove all food and debris," he said. Make certain windows and doors are closed tight.
To control mold and mildew, Manzer recommended using moisture and humidity-control products.
"By controlling dampness, especially snow sweat from the roof, you can increase the life of your camp 's walls" and the fabric in furniture and window treatments.
OK -- you've gotten this far down your check list. Now it's time to think about security -- keeping out would-be thieves and intruders.
John Meier, a retired Curtis employee, said, "Check all your doors and windows. Locks won't work if they are flimsy." He recommended deadbolts for the doors and reinforcing the jambs.
For windows, consider locking exterior wood shutters. He said, "Install padlocks and hasps on the inside." This also provides an extra measure of structural protection.
For example, shuttered windows would sustain less damage during a storm.
Consider all means of entry, Meier said, including gable vents and louvers. This is a balancing act: You want enough air circulation to prevent mold and mildew; but you don't want to leave anything open to intruders -- two- or four-legged.
For these areas, he suggested covering them with heavy hardware cloth or granary wire. These materials are strong but allow ventilation.
Another security "system" is a version of the neighborhood watch. Check with any full-time residents. Give them your contact information and ask them to alert you if they observe any unusual activity around your camp .
And here is another rodent deterrent: dryer sheets. Meier said to just stuff them in drawers and hang them around the camp . "Mice just hate the smell of them," he said. "I always put one in my suitcase when I store them in the attic."
Most water sources for camps are lakes or wells, Meier said. "Don't forget to pull the pumps up," he said.
Better yet, take them home with you.