Cottage Risk Assessment

I’m never sure if I fully believe in global warming and climate change or not. I suppose all things considered, I am a believer, but not a believer in all the media hype and what I consider possible “government misdirection” that accompanies it.

However, for cottagers and camp owners, outdoors people, I think we need to be cognizant of the potential problems from climate change. By that I mean, we need to be aware when we are locating/building camps and cottages of the potential for weather hazards. 

I think this is important regardless of climate change. After the hurricane we experienced at the camp this past summer, and the high water that washed out my new soil later in the fall, I have started to take a more critical look at things around the camp.

I think this type of critical look at things is a good way to minimize the inherent dangers. In addition to doing a risk assessment, you need to develop a plan for emergencies.

It doesn’t hurt to plan escape routes, meeting places etc, prior to an emergency happening. It’s too late when a tree collapses your cottage with you inside to start developing an action plan…..

I think it’s worth it to have a look around your place and do a bit of a cottage risk assessment before it is too late.

Cast a critical eye around the property, look at the shoreline, the boat launch, your buildings and the surrounding landscape.

Imagine what would happen in high winds, heavy rain for long periods of time resulting in high water levels that might cause flooding of your property, heavy snow, wildfires etc.

It’s not unusual for those of us who own camps and cottages to be at the camp or cottage during a storm. Summer storms occur, often accompanied by lightening, which can be quite frightening, as well as dangerous. The unfortunate owner of this lovely boat suffered some real damage during Hurricane Earl in 2010.

Are there any tall trees that would damage buildings, cars etc, if they were to blow down in a storm? 

What about tall trees that could be struck by lightning? Speaking of lightning, it is a not a bad idea, especially if your cottage is older, to have an electrician inspect the wiring, ensuring the grounds are all in place etc, and it is protected from power surges, lightning etc.

For example, this summer I discovered that the wires leading from the camp to the metal rods in the ground, had rusted off and there was no longer any connection between the electrical panel and the ground.

Is the camp built on high enough ground to withstand a dramatic rise in the level of water in the lake. It is surprising to look at some of the places on our lake that are built at lake level, or sea level if you prefer.

I can think of one camp on our lake in particular that is probably below the lake, for all intents and purposes.

Is the camp sheltered from the worst winds, north and east winds? A good stand of thick immature evergreen trees (15-20 feet high) does an amazing job at reducing wind damage, provided the trees are not big enough to cause damage if they fall.

A good stand of low thick spruce trees to the north of your cottage can be a valuable addition especially in winter.

Is the shoreline substantial enough to resist water and wave action and hold water back from the land? Is your wharf able to withstand intense wave action and high water? Is it secured to the shore so that if the water lifts it from shore, it will at least be tied well enough to enable you to retrieve it later?

Is there a place to put boats and other things where they will be out of the wind, and protected from bad weather if necessary?

A garage, boathouse, where they can be placed before a storm is always good, but not everyone has a garage at the camp. In that case you should choose a sheltered spot, somewhere out of the wind as much as possible, where larger items can be placed before a storm. For example, if the prevailing storm winds are northeasterly, the south side of the camp may provide some shelter from the wind.

If you had to board up windows, could you? Would you have enough materials to be able to close up your windows before a storm, or perhaps after a storm if they were broken. ( a roll of fairly heavy clear plastic is not expensive, but would be great to have tucked away under the bed or somewhere in the event you needed it)

Is there any danger of being blocked off at the camp? Is there an exit route that would enable you to escape in the vehicle if necessary?

Are there tall trees growing too close to power lines?

Are there trees growing too close to the camp that could start the building on fire in the event of a wildfire? Is there  anyway for me to reduce the chances of that happening? Removing trees growing close to the camp, dead brush, dead trees, dry grass etc that are near to the cottage is not foolproof, but will help.

There are many things we cannot do much about. If your cottage is built on a flood plain, well…that’s a tough one. If you are too close to the lake, or too low, there isn’t much you can do. You can minimize the risk by ensuring your valuables are all up high, as high as possible, not stored on the basement floor for example.

Where would the water go? What looks like it might catch fire easily? What areas of the property are exposed to the wind?

One thing to keep in mind. There is a good chance you will not be at your cottage when a storm occurs. You may be home, or away on a trip elsewhere, especially in winter.

You might be stretched out in a layout chair on a tropical beach watching the hot women stroll by, (or hot hunky men) when a storm hits at home. It is nice to have the peace of mind to know that you have done what you can to minimize the risk around the cottage while you are away.

One thing to be looking for while doing your cottage risk assessment are things that could be affected, blown around by the wind.

Those types of things include aluminum boats, canoes, water buckets, wheel barrows, wooden well covers, burning barrels, leftover building materials such as vinyl siding, pieces of wood, particularly plywood or panelling left outside.

Last year I found several pieces of interior wood panelling in the woods behind our camp following a windstorm. They weren’t mind, and I have no idea where they came from, but I assume they flew quite far to end up in the woods back of the camp.

Make it a habit to ensure anything that might blow around is tucked away out of the wind, under the camp might be a good place, or inside the boathouse etc. If you cannot put it away, tie it down. For example I have a couple of big windows that we removed last summer. I tied them down securely in a spot behind our shed, out of the wind as much as possible.

Make note of these things, write them down, then consider ways of minimizing the risk, if possible. As I mentioned earlier, in some situations there is not much you can do to avoid a catastrophe caused by Mother Nature.

However, by doing a risk assessment before a storm is forecast, you can identify the things you can improve, and if nothing else, at least be aware of the possiblities of problems in case something bad happens.

What about you? How do you prepare your cottage for bad weather?

Here’s an interesting post about scientists predicting more severe weather because of climate change/global warming, Science Daily – Global Warming Causes Severe Storms

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