Mike Holmes, Special to National Post | May 15, 2015 | Last Updated: May 15 2:05 PM ET
If you’re planning to open up the cottage this weekend, chances are it’s the first time you’ve seen it in months — and there will be a few problems awaiting your arrival.
Start by doing an exterior check. Look for signs of critters, such as torn window screens and holes in the soffits, roof and siding. I’ve seen critters pull away siding and chew through the substrate. They can also enter through the chimney, small openings around windows and doors, or rip through roof venting.
Carefully check if there are any animals inside before anyone goes charging through the cottage — it could be dangerous. Even if just field mice got in, there could be mouse poop, which is dangerous to your health.
If it seems all clear, proceed with caution. There’s still a chance there could be some unwanted guests inside. Check the kitchen — including cupboards and drawers — for mouse droppings.
If there are definite signs of critter intrusion, it’s best to call a professional pest control company. They can do a full check of your cottage and safely get rid of any pest problems.
Clearing the air
Next, let the place breathe. Any enclosure needs air circulation — dust accumulates, there might be mould and mildew. Let your nose be your guide — a musty smell tells you there’s trapped moisture, and it must be addressed.
Just because it’s a cottage it doesn’t mean you lower your health standards, especially not when it comes to the air you and your family breathes. If anyone has breathing issues, consider getting an indoor air quality test. Open all windows and doors, and if your cottage has a forced-air system, change the air filter.
Also inspect windows and bathrooms for signs of mould. If the area’s less than 10 square feet you can probably clean it yourself, using the proper safety gear, guidelines and products — but no bleach. If it’s bigger, you might want to call a professional abatement company.
Inside the cottage, check the mechanics — that’s your heating system (and cooling, if you have it), plumbing and electrical. Make sure everything is safe.
Turn on the power by flipping the main and then go room by room to make sure everything is working well. Look for chewed-up electrical cords, lights that flicker, fixtures that spark, or a burning smell.
Turn on the water and check for any leaks. And test out the heating system, whether your cottage has electric baseboard heaters, forced air, or radiators or boilers.
Foundation and fire fundamentals
Once you’re done checking the mechanics, head to the basement, if you have one. Look for cracks in the foundation and any water penetration. Any crack that can fit a dime should be checked by a pro, such as a foundation specialist or structural engineer.
And don’t forget the basics, such as replacing the batteries in your smoke alarms and CO detectors, and making sure fire extinguishers are fully charged.
Start by inspecting the deck. Make sure the railings, steps or stairs are safe and secure. And see if any of the support footings have heaved — extreme freeze-and-thaw cycles can cause the ground to shift significantly.
While you’re cleaning your eavestroughs and downspouts, check for damage. Inspect the exterior siding and caulking around windows and doors. If any of it has shrunk, cracked or separated from the framing, air will leak. That means one weekend project will have to entail re-caulking.
Last but not least, your septic tank. Get it emptied every five to seven years, depending on usage. Not sure it needs to be emptied? Call a professional company to inspect it and get on their regular service schedule.
Cottage country is about fun and relaxation. Take care of the basics, make sure it’s safe and you’ll make it right.
Watch Mike Holmes on Holmes Makes It Right on HGTV. For more information visit makeitright.ca.