The Complete Guide to Winterizing a Cabin 


You spent a fun summer at your cabin and you even enjoyed it a few weeks into the fall, but now it’s getting too cold to stay. You’ll return to your cabin in the spring, but in the meantime, you should winterize it. What steps do you need to follow to ensure your cabin is ready for the long winter ahead?

Here’s how to winterize a cabin:

  • Drain the water heater
  • Winterize your appliances
  • Remove all food
  • Pull down the shades
  • Replace or clean filters
  • Set your thermostat
  • Clean the gutters

In this complete guide, we’ll go step by step and explain how to winterize both the interior and exterior of your cabin to prepare it for the next few months. By following the instructions ahead, when you return to your cabin in the spring, it should be practically ready to use!

Winterizing the Inside of Your Cabin

Drain the Water Heater 

Let’s begin with an important winterization duty, draining the water heater. First, you want to turn off the gas to the heater. This might require you to power down a breaker if your heater is electric. 

You shouldn’t leave all that hot water in the tank for the next three or five months. The water will go cold and freeze, which could damage your water heater. Since these units can cost hundreds of dollars to replace, you don’t want to do it unless you have to.

To drain the water heater, connect a garden hose to the heater. The other end of the hose should be in a bucket or another shallow storage vessel. While the water drains, you must blow the pipes. 

In other words, you’re sending compressed air through the pipes of your water heater. This will accelerate the draining speed. 

Use an air compressor and attach it to your cabin’s laundry hookups. Keep the air pressure at 35 pounds. If you blow too much compressed air into the heater’s pipes at once, you can cause them to shatter.

Once your water heater is fully drained, don’t forget to close its drain valve! 

Winterize Appliances

What kinds of appliances do you have in your cabin? They all require winterization. 

To winterize your washing machine, turn off your cabin’s water supply, then unplug the washer. Drain all the water with a hose and a bucket like you did with the water heater. 

With a second person, lift your washer up so it’s six inches off the ground. That will encourage any remaining water in the unit to drain.

Then pour in a gallon of nontoxic RV antifreeze. Close the washer door, let the fluid travel, and your washing machine is officially winterized.

To winterize a refrigerator, the steps aren’t all that different. Like you did with your washer, turn off the fridge’s water supply. If your fridge has an icemaker, power that down too.

Unplug the fridge and drain the water entirely from the machine. Next, detach the waterline using a wrench. The waterlines are usually located around the back of your fridge. Make sure you have a bucket handy for the extra water that will come out. 

With your friend or partner handy, pull the fridge forward two inches. No, you don’t have to tilt it, nor should you! You just want the fridge away from the wall so the unit doesn’t freeze. 

Remove All Food

While you’re winterizing your fridge, make sure that you go through and take out all food in there. If your fridge has an attached freezer, you want to clear that out as well. Then clean the fridge.

You likely have food elsewhere in your cabin than the fridge and freezer. It all must go, so check every pantry, cabinet shelf, and drawer. 

Some cabin owners will leave nonperishable goods. That’s your choice, but it does invite in hungry, cold animals that haven’t been able to find food. Now they have free meals that can last them for weeks or months.

In the meantime, these rodents and critters are mating, pooping, and reproducing, not to mention they can chew up whatever remains in your cabin. If you must have nonperishable goods, store them in airtight containers.  

Safeguard Linens with Mothballs

You don’t have to empty your cabin’s linen closets, but you do want to protect the linens you leave until the spring. Apply a few dryer sheets atop the linens or add mothballs. Mothballs are an especially great repellant of snakes, rats, mice, deer, skunks, and squirrels. 

Pull the Shades

Although winter is not associated with sunlight, the sun still shines in the sparse few hours of daylight. Even on cloudy days, the sun’s piercing and damaging UV rays will penetrate through. 

If there’s any furniture in the rooms of your cabin, the sun can fade them. You don’t want to come back to dull, sun-bleached furniture in the spring, so pull all the curtains and shades in your cabin. This can also detract criminals from breaking in, as they can’t see into your obviously abandoned cabin. 

Unplug Appliances and Electronics

You’ve already taken care of major appliances like the refrigerator and washing machine, but any other appliances and electronics throughout the cabin must be powered off for the winter ahead. 

For example, if you have a personal computer in the cabin, unplug it. The same goes for televisions, a dryer, and even your kitchen microwave. If you get any storms, power surges can kill your favorite electronics and appliances.

Speaking of appliances like your fridge, it’s not a bad idea to leave the fridge door open. Since your fridge is empty, you’re not inviting critters in. What you are doing is airing out the fridge so it doesn’t get musty or stinky. 

Change or Replace Filters

Whether for your furnace, your washing machine, or your air conditioner, you need to check the filters. More than likely, you’ll have to replace filters too. Dirty filters can be a fire risk, so please don’t forget this step! 

Set the Thermostat

You can’t turn off the heat entirely while you’re gone from your cabin. The place will turn into an ice block! To avoid extraneous utility bills upon your return to the cabin months from now, set the thermostat to a temperature of at least 55 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Winterizing Outside of Your Cabin

Store All Equipment in the Garage

Now that the interior of your cabin is sufficiently winterized, it’s time to move on to the exterior. Any toys and equipment that you kept outside need to go into the garage. Don’t forget your furniture as well such as tables, umbrellas, and patio chairs.

If you have a boat, you need to find a home for that as well. You’d also have to detach any electric lines as well as boat hoists from the dock, especially if your cabin is near a lake. The lake will likely freeze over the winter, so leaving any boating equipment (as well as the boat itself) in the water is ill-advised.  

Clean the Gutters

Like you can’t get away with not cleaning your gutters back home, the same responsibility applies at the cabin. You’ll likely need a tall ladder to reach the top of the gutters. It’s not a bad idea to have a second person as a spotter in case you slip off the ladder.

A scoop can help you clear what’s stuck in your gutters such as dead leaves and other debris. We recommend laying down a tarp under the gutter so all the sticks and leaves don’t end up dirtying your lawn.

While you’re cleaning your cabin gutters, take the time to check their condition. Some homeowners turn on a garden hose and flush the downspouts and gutters with water to determine if the gutters are leaking.

You also want to keep your eyes peeled for gutter sagging, especially if yours are metal. Sagging gutters don’t necessarily have to be replaced, but you will have to buy a gutter hanger to restore the gutter’s shape.  

When you’re finished cleaning and inspecting the gutters, you can rake the mess from the tarp, put it in a trash bag, and continue winterizing your cabin. 

Check the Roof

Before you climb down the ladder, give your cabin roof a thorough examination. You don’t get up here much, so now’s as good a time as ever to look. 

Like you did with the gutters, check for leaks around the roof as well as loose seals. These can let critters in, which might explain any pest issues you’ve had in the cabin within the last year. If any of the roof shingles are cracked, raised, or otherwise damaged, you should replace them before you leave the cabin for the winter.

The rough, dry weather of wintertime will only worsen the roof problem. By the time you return to your cabin in the warmer season, you could be down a few shingles! 

Inspect the Vents, Pipes, and Wires

You’re not finished with your cabin inspection yet. You also want to look over the entire exterior, especially the doors, windows, pipes, dryer vents, and wires. All seals should be intact, just like on the roof. If you have loose seals, then replace them with caulk before you leave the cabin for the winter. 

If you see leaks within the pipes or damaged wiring, these are issues that you must take care of before you can declare your cabin winterized. We’d recommend calling a plumber or electrician depending on your issue rather than attempting to fix these problems yourself. 

Rake and Mow the Lawn 

Although wintertime is when most homeowners take a break from lawn maintenance, the grass around your cabin will still grow. It doesn’t hurt to give the lawn one last raking for now. Then mow it and store your lawnmower with the rest of your equipment so it doesn’t get damaged by the winter chill. 

Final Thoughts

Winterizing a cabin will guarantee the quality of your cabin not just for this next spring/summer season, but for many years to come. By bringing a few buddies or family members to do the job with you, you can fully winterize your cabin in an afternoon. Good luck! 

Geoff Southworth

I am a California native and I enjoy all the outdoors has to offer. My latest adventures have been taking the family camping, hiking and surfing.

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