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Your Essential Cottage Renovation Guide

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May 27, 2022
8 min read

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Canadians love their cottages. It’s a chance to unplug from the routine of everyday life and indulge in some downtime surrounded by nature. For property owners, a cottage renovation is important to prolong the lifespan and increase the value of their property.

Whether your cottage reno means rebuilding or just updating your property, you’ll want to develop a plan to ensure you’ve got all the bases covered, including a budget, local zoning laws, proper waterproofing, adequate heating and cooling, and getting the right contractor for the job. At the end of the cottage renovation process, you’ll have a home away from home to enjoy for years to come.

Should your cottage be remodelled or torn down and rebuilt?

Regardless if you’re looking at a small cottage renovation or something on a large scale, you will need to determine whether remodelling or tearing down your cottage with the aim to rebuild is the best path for you. There are a number of factors to consider before you make that decision:

1. Current condition of the cottage

Before you embark on a cottage renovation, it’s a good idea to carefully assess its current condition. Exterior walls and foundations need to be in good solid shape to ensure your property’s longevity and stability. Other considerations include the condition of the roof, electrical, water, heating and cooling systems.

2. How much you’re willing to spend

Generally speaking, the cost to renovate an older cottage is less than rebuilding a new one in its place. An old cottage renovation usually requires less labour and materials. It all depends on your budget and the extent of the remodeling required. Sometimes, it’s better to start from scratch when there are numerous major issues that need to be addressed, the state of the cottage is fair or poor, or the current space isn’t meeting your needs for space and comfort.

3. How long you plan to own the cottage

If you see yourself enjoying your cottage for the long term and perhaps passing it down through the family, then tearing down and rebuilding is a better option than undergoing an old cottage renovation

Whether money is no object or you’re building a cottage on a budget, a customized, modern living space that you get to design from scratch is a good investment in the long run. On the flip side, if you feel that selling is a possibility in the foreseeable future, it’s time to gather some cottage renovation ideas and discuss them with your contractor to make them happen.

4. Current zoning laws

Every city and county has their own zoning laws and permit requirements. Before you start a cottage renovation or rebuilding project, your contractor should contact the building and planning office of the local government and inquire about necessary permits, how much they cost, how to secure them and how long it takes, based on what you’re planning to do. Don’t allow work to begin until all permits are secured and all by-law conditions are met. It’s a crucial step to incorporate into your reno schedule and investing the time now to get all paperwork in order will save everyone grief down the line.

Every city and county has their own zoning laws and permit requirements. Before you start a cottage renovation or rebuilding project, your contractor should contact the building and planning office of the local government and inquire about necessary permits, how much they cost, how to secure them and how long it takes, based on what you’re planning to do. Don’t allow work to begin until all permits are secured and all by-law conditions are met. It’s a crucial step to incorporate into your reno schedule and investing the time now to get all paperwork in order will save everyone grief down the line.

Smart tips for your cottage renovation

Once you’ve weighed your options and decided between remodelling and rebuilding, think about upgrades for your cottage to improve comfort, usability and durability. Whether you’re seeking small cottage renovation ideas or have bigger dreams in mind, these tips go far in helping to create an idyllic retreat.

Add all-season insulation

A cottage that is not winterized puts a time limit on how many months you can enjoy it. Canadian winters can be notoriously cold, so think about adding proper all-season insulation so you spend time at your cottage year-round. Some properties are pretty light on insulation since they were built with the warm weather of summer in mind. These days, owners are looking for weekend escapes in the off-seasons as well.

For an old cottage renovation, spray foam is a frequent go-to option for insulation. It won’t damage existing walls and serves also as a vapour barrier. It keeps heat in, while also resisting moisture. It has a high R-value—a measurement of how well the insulation performs. A contract may also suggest putting insulation sheets on the interior faces of exterior walls or re-drywalling. New windows and weather stripping around doors may be recommended to prevent cold air from coming in.

Update the bathroom and plumbing

On a busy weekend at the cottage, your bathroom is one of the busiest rooms in the house. If you have an older property and the toilet hasn’t been changed since it was built, your cottage reno should include a low-flow toilet to help you conserve water with each flush.

Do your plumbing updates mean going beyond replacing a toilet? That will depend on the age and the material of the existing pipes. Brass and galvanized steel ones can last up to 100 years, while newer PVC pipes are good for about 40 years.

If you have hard water with a high mineral count, it can create clogs and decrease water pressure over time. To descale the pipes, pour a natural solution of one cup (250 ml) of baking soda into the sink, followed by one cup of each vinegar and hot water every few weeks.

When it comes to septic tanks, they can typically last 20 to 30 years. They’re ideal for handling wastewater when a cottage isn’t connected to the main sewer network. While doing a small cottage renovation, speak to a plumber about replacing an old tank when you see signs the pipes have backed-up, including gurgling sounds in your sink or toilet, and bad odours.

It’s best to consult with a licensed plumber who can determine what plumbing updates need to be done and make suggestions on cottage kitchen renovation ideas.

Modernize heating and cooling systems

Being comfortable in your cottage means finding just the right temperature, so you’ll need to make sure you’ve got adequate, reliable heat. A gas furnace may be a good choice if the property has a natural gas hook-up. Where there isn’t one available, you still have reliable options. You could have a self-contained, high-efficiency oil furnace installed, or an electric one, which can cost a bit more to run versus oil. Keep in mind furnaces tend to last between 15 and 20 years. If repairs are constantly needed, it’s a sign the furnace is in the latter stages of its life and may need to be replaced.

For an off-the-grid, remote cottage, a propane heater works well in the absence of natural gas or electricity. It’s suitable for shorter stays and can be safely turned off when you’re not using the property. Or a wood-burning fireplace or stove might be the way to go. You would have to have a sufficient supply of wood and ensure either of these heat sources are working well and ventilate properly.

Seek advice from a professional HVAC specialist or a contractor about the heating and cooling needs for your cottage reno.

Waterproof your cottage

Water is dreamy to gaze at from a dock or deck, but it can wreak havoc when it creeps into places where it’s not wanted. Your cottage renovation should address moisture and waterproofing issues, especially if the property is within close proximity to a body of water.

Keeping your cottage dry will help prevent water from damaging the integrity of the structure and developing mould. To do that, start with some basics. Ensure the roof is in good condition and free of holes. Make certain eavestroughs are clean and free of debris, and all downspouts channel water at least four to six feet away from the home. And install a dehumidifier in crawl spaces, which are notoriously damp especially when it rains or during spring run-offs. Air-conditioning, whether it’s looped into a furnace, or a free-standing unit placed in a room or into a window, is also useful for keeping your cottage dry. 

Create a budget

To prepare for your cottage renovation, creating a budget is an important step to begin with. Make a list of projects you’d like to tackle, dividing them into must-dos and wish-to-have categories. Naturally, the must-dos, such as replacing plumbing, heating, and other repairs, will take priority. The other tasks, perhaps adding a skylight or increasing the size of your bathroom, can potentially wait a bit longer. Once you have your lists, reach out to the appropriate contractors for the job.

Use our renovation cost estimator to get a rough estimate of the total cost of your renovation.

Request quotes from contractors

Qualified contracts are professionals who bring a great deal of hands-on experience and knowledge to the table. Their expert advice is indispensable for tackling your cottage renovation in the most efficient way. They’ll provide a realistic assessment of what each upgrade will involve and work with you closely every step of the way to get the job done.

Investing in cottage renovations is an ideal way to ensure you’ll have a welcoming space where you can relax with family and friends, and create new memories for many years to come. Hire qualified professionals to make your dream cottage a reality.

Smart Reno can help you find the right contractor for your cottage renovation project. Get 3 free renovation quotes, and talk to an expert about renovation financing.

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