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Thinking About Building a Cottage in the Parry Sound Area?

Muskoka Cottage Construction

Building a cottage in Parry Sound is a dream come true for many people. With its beautiful natural scenery and tranquil atmosphere it can be the ideal place to escape the hustle and bustle of city life and enjoy the great outdoors. However, building a cottage is a significant investment, both financially and emotionally, so it's important to plan carefully and make informed decisions throughout the process. Here are 10 essential tips to help you build your dream cottage:

  1. Choose the right location

The location of your cottage is one of the most important decisions you will make during the planning process. Before you start building, take the time to research different areas of Parry Sound and consider factors like proximity to the lake, privacy, accessibility, and potential for future development. You should also consider the topography of the site, as well as any potential environmental concerns, such as wetlands or protected species.

When choosing a location, it's also important to think about your long-term goals for the property. Are you planning to use the cottage primarily as a vacation home, or do you eventually hope to retire there? Will you be using the cottage year-round, or just during the summer months? Answering these questions can help you make a more informed decision about the location of your cottage.

  1. Plan ahead

Before you start building, it's important to have a clear plan in place. Work with a designer or architect to create a detailed blueprint that outlines every aspect of your cottage, from the floor plan to the finishes. Your plan should take into account your budget, your desired style and aesthetic, and any specific needs or preferences you have.

When planning your cottage, don't forget to think about the outdoor space as well. You may want to include features like a patio, deck, or outdoor kitchen to take advantage of the beautiful Parry Sound scenery.

  1. Set a realistic budget

Building a cottage can be expensive, so it's important to set a realistic budget and stick to it. The cost of building a cottage can vary widely depending on factors like location, size, materials, and labor. Before you start building, research the costs associated with each of these factors and create a detailed budget that takes everything into account.

It's important to remember that unexpected costs can arise during the building process, so it's a good idea to set aside a contingency fund of at least 10% of your total budget. This can help you cover any unforeseen expenses without derailing your entire project. Currently many contractors use between $400 and $500 a square foot as a rough estimate.

  1. Choose the right materials

When building, it's important to choose materials that can withstand the harsh Canadian climate. Muskoka experiences cold winters, hot summers, and plenty of precipitation throughout the year, so you'll need materials that are durable and low-maintenance.

Consider using materials like cedar or stone for the exterior of your cottage. These materials are both durable and attractive, and they can help your cottage blend in seamlessly with its natural surroundings. For the interior of your cottage, consider using materials like hardwood floors and natural stone countertops to create a warm, welcoming atmosphere.

  1. Find a reliable contractor

Finding a reliable contractor is essential to the success of your project. A good contractor can help you stay on schedule and on budget, and can ensure that your cottage is built to your exact specifications.

When looking for a contractor, it's important to do your research. Ask friends and family members for recommendations, and check online reviews to get a sense of a contractor's reputation. Once you've narrowed down your list of potential contractors, ask for references and check them carefully. It's also a good idea to get multiple quotes from different contractors to ensure that you're getting a fair price.

  1. Consider energy efficiency

Building an energy-efficient cottage is not only good for the environment, but it can also save you money in the long run. With the right design and materials, you can reduce your energy consumption and your carbon footprint while still enjoying all the comforts of a modern cottage.

Consider incorporating features like more energy-efficient windows and doors, a high-efficiency furnace or boiler, and spray foam insulation to keep your cottage warm and cozy during the winter months. You may also want to consider using renewable energy sources like solar or wind power to generate electricity for your cottage.

  1. Consider the local environment

Muskoka is known for its beautiful natural environment, and as a cottage owner, you have a responsibility to protect and preserve it. When building your cottage, consider the local environment and how your building plans may impact it.

Work with a local expert or conservation authority to ensure that your building plans comply with local regulations and are environmentally sustainable. Consider features like rain gardens, green roofs, or permeable surfaces that can help reduce runoff and protect local waterways.

You may also want to incorporate landscaping features like native plants, wildflower gardens, or pollinator habitats that can enhance the local ecosystem and provide habitat for local wildlife. By taking steps to minimize your environmental impact and enhance the local ecosystem, you can help ensure that Muskoka remains a beautiful and vibrant natural environment for generations to come.

Even if you're building your dream Parry Sound cottage and plan to keep it for many years, it's important to consider the resale value of your property. Your needs and priorities may change over time, and you may eventually decide to sell your cottage. Building a cottage that has broad appeal and will hold its value over time can help ensure that you get a good return on your investment.

When choosing features and finishes, consider what will appeal to a wide range of buyers. Neutral colors, classic finishes, and high-quality materials can all help increase the resale value of your property.

Don't skimp on decks! One of the most common things I hear from people when they finish building their cottage is they wished the decks were bigger. Most of the time you will be on the deck and dock so when you're starting the planning process keep that in mind.

Lake Manitouwabing, Parry Sound

Waterfront Building Lots | What to Consider

  1.  Property Size - Look for an area 1/2 acre or larger for a basic cottage build.It's very difficult to meet the current set back requirements on smaller lots. Look up the "maximum lot coverage" and insure the structures you intend to build are under the threshold set by the township. Often the frontage affects the lot coverage percentage as well which can range between 5-10%
  2. Shoreline Frontage - This one can get tricky. Depending on the situation a township may use "straight line" frontage which can be very greatly from the water frontage quoted in most real estate listings. This is particularly important if the property is a point or in a bay. If a boat house is in the plans and is allowed on the lake, 300' shoreline is commonly the minimum required for a permit.
  3. Septic Approval - Generally speaking a newly severed lot requires septic approval prior to completing the severance. Older existing lots may not have had this requirement and as a result some cannot meet 2023 rules. Even if there is paperwork in place always crosscheck them to your plans. Your build may be larger, or have more bathrooms & bedrooms and as a result you will need a larger system than the one approved.
  4. Zoning - A potential minefield and one to be very careful of. Most townships in Muskoka and Parry Sound have recently updated their official plans and zoning within those plans. You could have a large waterfront lot that is in fact, not buildable. For example E/P (environmentally protected), F/P (Flood plain) and H/L ( Hazard Lands) can be all or part of a properties zoning and usually don't allow structures.
  5. High Water Mark - Usually set by the M.N.R. as an elevation above sea level and adopted into township official plans. This is where the tape measure starts for set -back requirements from a waterway. A very important number to know, particularly if the land has minimal elevation.

Site Preperation | Plan Ahead

One of the major construction costs that's often overlooked is site preparation which can be a major expense. There's usually a great deal of work to be done prior to the actual build.

  1. Driveway - If there's no existing entry you will need to apply to the township for an entrance permit well in advance. Keep in mind that even if there's an existing one the previous owners may installed it without a permit or it could be a "field permit" and not applicable for construction. Costs vary greatly but as a rule of thumb a good starting point for driveway installation is $50/ foot.
  2. Septic -  Another overlooked sizable cost, septic systems are much larger now than even 5 years ago. When planning your layout keep in mind things like potential additions to your cottage and access for pump trucks. Complete systems often start around $25,000 for a modest 3 bedroom / 2 bathroom cottage but can rise significantly for larger builds or if pump systems are required.
  3. Water Systems - The lake you choose will have a direct affect on how you get you water. On Lake Muskoka, Rousseau and Joseph for example, most cottages use lake water. The main reason for this is the presence of significant iron in the aquifers. Systems can be put in place to counter this but there is always ongoing maintenance. Areas without the iron challenge tend to go the drilled well route as heat lines and extensive filter systems are usually not required. Drilled wells typically run $25,000-$30,000 and lake water system are about 25% less.
  4. Site Excavation -  This can be much more than just digging a hole for the foundation. The Canadian Shield dominates Muskoka and Parry Sound. That granite outcropping that attracted you to the property is probably lurking just below the surface, exactly where you want to build. Another thing to keep in mind is drainage which now needs to be installed around deck piers as well as the cottage footings. Once again costs for excavation can vary wildly but seldom less than $20,000.

Cottage Contractors | Be Careful

Here's where it can get interesting. The most common route people take is to hire a general contractor. They in turn arrange & oversee the designers, architects & trades people. This can be done several ways; as a set price for the completed project, a "time & materials" contract or sometimes as a percentage over costs. Each of these has its own pros and cons but the far more important than this is your choice of contractor.

It's impossible to over emphasize the importance of taking your time and choosing a known, reputable company. Cottage country is not immuned shady construction companies!  Get several references and ask to tour some of their recent work in the area.

You can also be your own general contractor, hiring individual trades people yourself. This is not for the faint of heart so think long and hard before you go down this route. The anticipated savings can evaporate with only a couple miss steps.

  1. Bigger is not always better. Some of the best building contractors I know have crews of less than 6 people. It can take a bit longer but in my experience there is a much greater attention to detail & far less chance of missed communication.
  2.  If you don't know construction in cottage country don't try and be your own general contractor. This is not one of those "I'll just Google it" situations. The contacts with local trades, area knowledge and collective wisdom can't be replaced with a few keystrokes.
  3. Consider starting the build in the fall instead of the summer. Sub-trades tend to be more available and contractors really appreciate winter work to keep their crews going.  Just make sure the cottage is "buttoned up" by the time the snow flies.

Hopefully this quick article gives you some good starting points when you start you property search, feel free to call us with any Parry Sound questions! We cover a large area, from Kahshe Lake to the south to Lake Bernard to the north and across to Parry Sound.

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