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Making a "summer cottage" livable in winter

We currently stay in a cottage 3 hours north of Toronto, Canada. The main level of the cottage has standard 2x6 insulated walls. I don't know what the roof insulation is like, but I will find out.
This cottage has so far only been used in the summer, but we plan to stay in it over the winter and want to do some permanent and/or temporary fixes to stay through the harsh Ontario winter in this cottage.
My biggest concerns are:
- only electric baseboard heat available right now, with very high electricity cost here
- the 8' high walk-out basement built with 8" concrete blocks is not insulated at all. No insulation on the walls, no insulation of the rim, no insulation of the subfloor
- the basement may freeze (and therefore all our pipes)
- the basement may be too humid and ruin lots of stuff we store there

To reduce the load on the electric heat and above problems, I'm bouncing several ideas:
- install a wood stove on the main level (we get lots of wood for free as long as we cut it ourselves)
- install a fan to push air close to the wood stove down into the basement
- spray foam the rim joist using a spray foam kit (1" or 2" of foam - mainly to improve air tightness)

Do these improvements by itself make sense if the 8" concrete blocks in the basement are not insulated at all? Would I be throwing money out of the window if I don't properly insulate the whole basement (which would be quite expensive)?

The climate in our area has often temperatures for several weeks well below 0 F.

Any ideas how to get the "best bang for a buck" are appreciated.


Asked by Hermann Thoene
Posted Jul 30, 2014 11:15 PM ET


2 Answers

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Getting an energy audit done on your cottage, if that is possible, would be a big help with deciding how to best approach making this building suitable for the winter. I wouldn't be surprised if it was tough to find someone locally, but if you pay travel costs you might be able to get someone from outside the area. Even if there is someone local it might be worth hiring someone from further afield - not all advice is equal. You might be able to find someone through a local environmental organization. Check the directory of the Ontario Environmental Network for some leads, for example. You could save a lot of money and have a safer and more comfortable house by paying someone to visit with a blower door and other tools and prepare a report that is specific to your cottage.

But here's some generic advice anyway.

If you are going to live in this building long term, you pretty much have to insulate the basement, at least to a basic level. There might be other things that need doing, even need doing first, but I don't think basement insulation is negotiable.

Buying a hygrometer for $15 or $20 is money well spent to keep track of humidity in the basement, or elsewhere in the house. The cheap digital ones can be quite accurate (within a few percent of a much more expensive device).

Answered by Graham Fisher
Posted Jul 31, 2014 12:32 AM ET


I don't know why you have chosen to store your possessions in the damp basement of an uninsulated summer cottage in northern Ontario. Perhaps personal circumstances have forced you into this situation. But that's not a good place to store your possessions.

Transforming an uninsulated summer cottage into a year-round home is usually expensive. If you want to do it right, you'll need to invest quite a bit of money in the project. North of Toronto, winters are cold.

I agree with Graham that you'll need to insulate your basement. Here is a link to an article that explains the work: How to Insulate a Basement Wall.

If your basement is damp, you are facing quite a bit of work. Here is a link to an article on that topic: Fixing a Wet Basement.

If you want more information on evaluating your summer cottage, I suggest that you read this article: Energy Upgrades for Beginners.

For more information on heating with wood, see All About Wood Stoves.

Answered by Martin Holladay
Posted Jul 31, 2014 4:48 AM ET
Edited Jul 31, 2014 4:51 AM ET.

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