Handyman: Close cottage down properly for the winter

Glenn Haege

If you have a place up north or are planning to make your annual snowbird trek to Florida, you will need to start planning to shut down your cottage or home for the winter.

One of the big concerns when leaving it uninhabited in the winter is the potential for a burst water line or water leak that can really do serious damage. So the first thing you need to do is turn off the main water valve and drain all the water in your pipes by turning on all the faucets, flushing all the toilets and emptying the commodes. You should also drain and turn off your water heater.

Next unplug all your electrical appliances and electronics like TVs and computers so you eliminate the potential damage to them if there is a power surge, and lower your electric bill while you are away. Make sure you also clean out your refrigerator and freezer, unplug them and leave the doors ajar so it doesn’t get moldy.

If you have a fireplace, close the flue so you don’t get a cold draft blowing into your cottage or home and so the birds, raccoons and squirrels can’t enter it through your chimney. If you have a gas fireplace, make sure you also shut off the gas line that runs to the fireplace.

Now walk around the outside and drain the water from your outdoor faucets and leave them open, and shut down the gas line for the grill or turn off and store the grill’s propane tank. Lastly, make sure your gutters are free of leaves and debris and that your downspout extenders aren’t clogged to allow melting snow and ice to drain properly.

Before you leave, turn the thermostat down to 60 degrees so your home won’t freeze up during the cold winter months.

Thanks to the advancements in technology, there are lots of ways you can monitor your empty cottage or home via a computer or smartphone during the winter. One newer product is Sherlock from Housesetter,, which monitors the temperature, humidity and power status 24/7 and sends you reports via a cellular network to your computer, smartphone or tablet.

To activate it, you purchase Sherlock, a small guard dog statue with a built-in camera and monitoring system and plug it into any outlet in an area you want to monitor in your cottage or home. There is no Internet or land-line phone connection needed. Sherlock then sends monitoring information and even a photo via a cellular network to a data center that transfers a report to your computer, smartphone or tablet. It also has a lithium ion back-up battery to continue to monitor your cottage or home if there is a power outage. Once you purchase the Sherlock unit for $120, the monitoring fee can be as low as $5 per month.

If you are concerned about break-ins and don’t want to lock into an annual monitoring contract with a home security company, you can install a system yourself to just alert you.

For a basic, self-installed wireless home security system that you can monitor via your smartphone, tablet or computer, look at iSmart Alarm,, and Skylink, But for these, you’ll need to have an internet connection going while you’re away.

Of course it is always wise to have a friend or neighbor check on your cottage or home regularly when you are away, and you can give them a gift card to their favorite restaurant or hardware store to say thanks when you return. But by taking time to shut everything down properly, and with the ability to monitor things via your computer or smartphone, you will just increase your peace of mind.

For more home improvement advice, call “The Handyman Show With Glenn Haege” on WJR-AM (760) at (866) ASK GLENN, (866) 275-4536 between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. Saturday and from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. Sunday. “The Handyman Show” can also be heard on more than 135 radio stations nationwide.