Have you ever wanted to buy an ‘off the grid’, cliff-side waterfront property, with spectacular views, live in it year-round and commute daily to the office? Well that’s exactly what a recent client of mine intends to do and needed a property inspection on Passage Island BC to assess the condition. In this particular case, power is from solar cells, water is from rainwater catchment, effluent is handled by the septic system, fire protection is from an on-site, rain-filled plastic tank, heating is fuelled by both wood and propane. So for those of us who are up to the adventure, here are the top 3 issues.
#1 Not Winterized. The recreational property may never have been built to be operational during the cold winter months. Typically the cottage owner goes through the annual winterizing ritual to make sure there is no damage due to freezing. Exterior water and waste water lines are not freeze protected nor are they insulated. Heating systems are installed to take the chill off, and not for full-time duty. If the cottage is on salt water, it is likely that salt saturated logs washed up on the beach are used as firewood, which greatly accelerates the corrosion of the internals and vent stacks of fireplaces and wood stoves. The underside of flooring above exterior spaces may not be insulated, resulting in lack of comfort and increased heating costs.
#2 Unknown Issues. Since the recreational property is used only seasonally, the full extent of issues may not be apparent. When the owners visit their recreational property, it usually during the best weather months of the year. For example heavy rains and snow melt may be leaking into the building during spring rains and winter chonooks (warm temperatures) but there is no one living there to be affected and take corrective action. Interior finishes will deteriorate when exposed to no ventilation and no heating during the cold months. The cycling of temperature and humidity will cause finishes (drywall, flooring) to swell and contract, resulting in bulging and cracks. Unresolved moisture issues may also promote organic growth and attract wood destroying insects. And then there’s maintenance and repairs, on your vacation? Are you kidding! Most owners will do some work on their property but probably not to the extent or frequency required.
#3 Learning Curve. An “off the grid” building can be a complex system to maintain and operate. It will require attention to mechanical and electrical systems that city dwellers take for granted and may have never considered. For example if you love pumps you are going to be in paradise with a lift pump for septic system, a pressurization pump for your water supply, a fire water pump, a sump pump and a well pump. Maybe even all of the above. If you love to learn then you will be OK. If you have a large and handy support network of family, friends and neighbours then you will be OK. If you have a relatively open budget and can rely and service and maintenance visits by contractors then all will be fine. However at the least, you will still need to skills and knowledge to flip the right switch or bypass to proper valve to make the systems operate under a variety of upset conditions.
Purchasing a seasonal property for year-round living is going to be an adventure and learning experience, no matter what. Being somewhat prepared for the work ahead and surprises that one never gets in an urban environment can keep that enthusiasm going for this unique type of residency.