This discussion on maintenance has been provided so you as a new or current seasonal cottage or four season vacation home owner can better understand the requirement for ongoing and vigilant maintenance both inside and outside your cottage or vacation home for a carefree and relaxing cottage experience. It is highly recommended that you begin this process as soon as you take possession of your property while the residence is still empty and definitely every spring opening. This will allow you to see any conditions which may have changed, occurred or become evident since the initial third party building inspection, acceptance of the offer to purchase, closing of the deal and changes based on the winter hiatus. The following aspects are the most immediate once you have taken possession.
The roofing system’s primary function is to keep the elements from causing damage to the interior of the cottage. The roof should provide a weather tight covering over the cottage. It should be checked to ensure there are no gaps or weaknesses that may allow the elements in. Roof surfaces should not have any openings or deterioration that could allow water penetration.
All roofs have protrusions such as chimneys, plumbing stacks, skylights, roof vents and the flashings and rubber boots around them. It is important to ensure that they are well sealed where they intersect with the roof. Caulking and flashings around protrusions should not have gaps or cracks.
Asphalt shingle roofs routinely have a life span of approximately 15 years despite what the manufacturers may claim. As they age, they curl, begin to lose granules and become brittle and crack. They may also split, blow off and crumble. Err on the side of caution when trying to decide when to replace the roof as these signs and symptoms appear. Attempting to squeeze another year out of a tired worn roof can have expensive consequences.
Flat Roofs (asphalt roll type, built up tar and gravel)
Keep seams sealed at all times and inspect for damage and deterioration in the material. Look for cracks and evidence of bubbles in the tar buildup which are good indicators of a tired roof. Also look for water ponding/pooling and moss growth as accumulated moisture and drainage may be a concern. Flat roof failures tend to be less predictable and this type of roof generally has a life span of approximately ten years.
Eaves Troughs & Downspouts
This system’s sole function is to handle water flow off the roof and carry it to ground level as efficiently and effectively to be discharged as far away from the cottage foundation as possible. Discharge can occur either at grade on the lawn or below grade through an underground drainage system. Eaves troughs should be free of obstructions from leaves, needles, branches, toys, tennis balls, poorly maintained or deteriorated eaves troughs & downspouts and other debris that could hamper water flow. Trees in close proximity to the cottage and overhanging branches should be cut back at least six feet from the edge of the roof line.
Fascia & Soffits
The purpose of the fascia & soffit system is to serve as a cosmetic trim between the roof and exterior walls as well as the fascia serving to support the eaves troughs. An exposed wooden system will require periodic painting and occasional board replacement. An aluminium or vinyl clad system generally requires no maintenance except that rodents can and do chew through vinyl quite easily and often.
Exterior walls are commonly brick/stone, stucco/exterior insulation & finishing system (EIFS), wood, aluminium or vinyl. All of these materials except for stucco/EIFS and wood are relatively maintenance free. Wood will require painting/staining every 6-8 years if well done more frequent if not while stucco may develop cracks which will need frequent repair. EIFS requires 100% perfect sealing at all times to avoid trapping water behind it which can cause mould and wood rot issues. With newer cottages it is important to note that settlement cracks may become evident in the first two to three years, that this is common and it is important to monitor the severity of this cracking. The majority of these cracks never amount to anything significant.
Windows & Doors
All windows and doors must form a weather tight barrier for the structure and should have current complete paint coverage and caulking with no cracks or peeling paint to ensure a weather proof envelope around the entire cottage. Any damaged or broken window and door frames should be well maintained with no cracked, broken or missing glass that should be repaired immediately.
Attached garages/boathouses can pose a carbon monoxide hazard to occupants of the cottage. There must be a gas tight seal between the cottage and garage/boathouse. Any holes in the common wall should be filled. Ensure that the mechanics of the manual or automated door is in good working order and operating safely. If there is a man door from this space into the house ensure that has appropriate seals, it is also operating properly and safely with an automatic door closer mechanism to keep carbon monoxide fumes from entering the living and sleeping space.
Garage Door Openers: Automatic garage door openers can pose a serious threat to people and property if the safeguards are not functioning properly. Most openers are equipped with an automatic reversing mechanism that can be triggered by one or two devices. Photo sensors are usually located near the bottom of the track, should detect any obstructions and reverse the door. Resistance sensors usually located in the motor box pick up any unusual resistance and reverse the door. Be aware that an improperly adjusted door opener can deliver bone crushing force.
Decks, Docks, Stairs & Porches
Most decks, docks and porches are commonly made of wood which may require periodic painting or sealing. They must all be inspected for deteriorated wood, loose, deteriorated or missing rails and stair treads.
The primary purpose of a retaining wall is to hold back soil that is at a different height than the soil next to it. They can be made of a variety of materials ranging from wood, interlocking stone, granite blocks and poured concrete. Leaning, deteriorated walls and railings must be corrected. Proper drainage is also required to alleviate frost heaving.
Trees, Shrubs & Vines
Trees that are close to the cottage can be problematic. Branches can damage siding, windows, eavestroughs, downspouts, soffit, fascia and roofs in high winds and heavy rains. They can also promote the growth of mould and moss by retaining moisture as well as blocking sunlight around the exterior of cottage. It is advisable to trim branches back a safe distance from the cottage. Tree roots can also damage foundations and drainage pipes. When planting new trees make sure they are well back from the cottage. Shrubs close to the cottage can keep moisture near the foundation potentially causing foundation deterioration. Vines growing on exterior walls, eavestroughs and roofs can be quite damaging to all building materials.
Review exterior grading to ensure water around the perimeter of the house drains effectively and efficiently away for the building including ensuring that downspouts for above grade systems discharge ideally six feet or more away from the foundation of the cottage. Proper grading lost to settlement will have to be remediated. Any windows that may be at or below grade must be equipped with clear plastic window well covers to assist in minimizing the risk of moisture penetration around the windows. This also applies to doorways and crawl space hatches.
Driveways & Walkways
With freeze/thaw cycles driveways and walkway can “float”. Uneven “float” can cause slips, trips and falls hazards between walkway slabs as well as at driveway/garage intersections. Personal safety and liability concerns suggest strongly that these areas be repaired as soon as possible. Seal all intersections between the cottage, driveways and walkways to protect against moisture penetration to reduce frost heaving. The sealant should be a flexible butyl or silicone type material to allow for the “float”.
The primary function of the structure is to support the load of the cottage. Generally the only maintenance required is to monitor settlement. When you notice doors don’t quite latch, windows may not open and close smoothly and floors may not maintain their original level these are signs of settlement. Door and window hardware may need adjustment.
Commonly hidden from view and often not monitored. Significant cracks in the foundation walls or shifting of piers are indications of settlement.
Columns & Beams
Columns and beams are generally installed to support the floors and load bearing walls of the cottage both on the exterior and the interior. They are typically maintenance free, should be level and square. Deterioration usually occurs due to moisture penetration, termites and carpenter ants.
Flooring systems should be level, square, frim and without visible signs of deterioration. They are for the most part maintenance free although they often have a shelf life due to wear and tear.
Walls & Ceilings
While generally maintenance free they can be visible indicators of water damage through staining. Walls and ceilings should be level and square with no bowing.
The purpose of roof framing is to support the loads of the roofing system. Signs of mould or mildew, twisted or cracked timbers and water marks are warning signs. Mould and mildew are indicators of poor ventilation. Twisted or cracked timbers are indicators of unusually heavy loads or poor construction. Water marks are indicators of water penetration past the roof coverings.
Windows & Doors
All operating windows must have appropriate screens in place to keep small children from falling out especially over elevated overhanging areas of the cottage footprint.
Fireplaces & Chimney Flues
Periodic chimney sweeping must be performed as well as inspecting the general condition of the fire box and any doors or screens in front of the fireplace. The damper must inspected to ensure proper fit and operation
Smoke & Carbon Dioxide Detectors
Safety first and safety always! Test/Upgrade/Install Upon Occupancy. Check that all smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors are operating properly. Replace batteries in battery operated units. Detectors have a specific lifespan, check the back of the unit for the expiration date and replace the unit prior to expiry.
Ensure the heating system whether wood energy, propane, gas, oil or electric is operating effectively and efficiently and is serviced annually at spring opening.
Forced Air System
Filters should be cleaned or replaced every month or two. Humidifiers must be cleaned at twice during the heating season. Oil fired systems must have the tank and fuel lines checked twice for possible leaks and corrosion during the heating season. Heating systems must have an annual maintenance performed by a professional heating contractor. Annual duct cleaning may be advisable for people with allergies or sensitivities to dust. Keep all supply and return air registers unobstructed.
Hot Water System
Hot water heaters should also be inspected, tested and serviced as part of the spring opening
Procedures preferably by a professional heating contractor. All piping and radiators must be checked for possible leaks and corrosion. All valves must be checked to ensure they are working properly. Oil fired systems must have the tank and fuel lines checked for leaks and corrosion.
Radiant baseboard systems are basically maintenance free. Periodic vacuuming to remove dust and hair is suggested. Keep baseboards free from obstruction and contact with drapery. Fan assisted space heating may require periodic lubrication.
Wood Energy System
Apart from ensuring that the installation was performed correctly, annual cleaning of the chimney flue is recommended. There must be no cracks or deterioration in the body of the wood burning unit itself.
All stair treads and railings should be inspected and tested to ensure that they are securely fastened. Check and test all switches, plugs and electrical devices are in good safe working order. Familiarize yourself with the location and operation of all shutoffs for water, electricity and fuel sources.
Air Conditioning, Heat Pumps & Geothermal Systems
Have service and maintenance performed by a professional heating and cooling contractor to check for proper refrigerant levels, and pressures, etc. The outdoor unit should be level and allow a free flow of air through it with no bushes or shrubs in close proximity
Water Supply & Distribution
Inspect for leaks and ensure that all piping is fastened securely. Inspect copper piping to ensure there is absolutely no contact with any metal heating ducts or electrical wiring. This contact can lead to corrosion, leaks and electrocution. Pipes with condensate should be investigated for root cause and then possibly insulated.
Water Treatment System
Inspect all filters, UV light and water softener systems. Inspect for possible leaks or deterioration on system lines, valves and fittings. Use best quality salt in water conditioners. Change filters frequently probably every 90 to 120 days.
Inspect for leaks, rust and deterioration of the unit. It must be located near a floor drain in case of failure. Temperature settings are usually pre-set at the factory to avoid scalding hot water. Water heaters must have clearances from all combustibles.
Fixtures that are dripping, leaking and loose require immediate attention. Showers must be well sealed and caulked. Low water pressure may be an indication of a dysfunctional pressure tank or more likely aerator filters that are blocked with grit and debris from the water and can be removed for cleaning.
Drainage pipes must also be free of leaks, deterioration and unsealed openings. Sink traps and toilets can become clogged with all kinds of debris from time to time.
Meter & Mast
Meters must be checked to ensure they are properly secured, that covers are tight and the ESSA seal is intact. A mast is only present with overhead electrical services and must be properly secured to the cottage. If the mast goes through your roof the rubber boot must be inspected to ensure it is sealed at the roof line.
Main & Sub Panels
If your cottage has an old fuse type panel, all fuses must be sized for safety, typically 15 amp blue fuses. With circuit breaker type systems all openings in the panel must be covered or have a breaker in them. All panels must be easily accessible, properly secured and protected from weather and moisture.
Distribution & Devices
This begins at the electrical panel and finishes at the end user devices. All visible wiring must be properly secured, not damaged, or vulnerable to damage. All devices must be checked to ensure proper operation and are not loose or without covers.
Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCI) devices are recommended for all exterior and wet area circuitry. GFCI’s come in two forms, breakers and plug/receptacle type. Both have a test button that can be operated at any time. These devices are designed to protect the person while standard breakers and fuses are designed to protect the wiring from overheating and catching fire.
Insects, Rodents & Birds
All of these intruders are considered pests that can attack a cottage from a variety of locations. Termites, carpenter ants and powder beetles that are destructive to cottages are of most concern. Rodents and birds can enter your cottage through fireplace chimneys and any other small openings in the exterior left unsealed. Capping chimneys and filling unnecessary openings in the cottage structure are good defensive measures. Tree branches that could provide animal access to the roof must be cut back.
Test procedures are recommended by the manufacturer as well as battery maintenance.
These systems are generally maintenance free except for occasional cleaning and dusting.
Wood fencing that is painted or stained will require regular paint and stain maintenance. Fencing must be level, square, secure and free of deterioration or rot. Gate hardware needs to be in good working order, secure, properly adjusted, etc. There must not be protruding nails or screws or splintered wood. Metal fencing may also require painting from time to time. All hardware may require lubrication.
Next is a list of suggested maintenance aspects with a maintenance schedule for each area of the cottage. Regular maintenance performed well significantly reduces the risk of surprise, accidents, damage and incidents resulting in high cost repairs usually occurring at the most inconvenient of times. What I call “Uptime Value Added” Preventive Maintenance saves time, money and headaches in the long run.