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August 29, 2006 3:24 PM   Subscribe

Help my family protect our log cabin. Much

My family bought land on forested land overlooking the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia about 40 years ago. (My father thought Nixon was going to take over the country in marshall law.) About 20 years ago, they hired a local log cabin builder to construct a traditional log cabin. It is beautiful, secluded, and very important to my family, because every year we spend unadulterated time together as a family, without TV, friends, or other distractions. And when my family lost everything else, we still had the cabin.

However, the cabin has problems, namely trespassers, flies, and mice.

Here's the scenario: The place has untreated logs (which are starting to disintegrate a little bit), and various small holes and cracks. The roof has wooden shingles. My father is a contractor, and has years of experience, but he's 65 and didn't build log cabins.

We used to have a small "camp" nearby, and had a few problems with mice, but hardly any problems with flies. The log cabin, however, has a fly problem, and so every summer when we show up, everything is covered in fly bodies - a dark, nasty layer of dead flies. Even if we think we've killed them all, they form into hives in about October, and by summer they're all dead and covering everything. And mice get into the mattresses. Also, vandals and thieves have entered the cabin a few times, as they do to other seasonal homes in the area. To protect the house, we have covered the windows and doors in heavy plywood and steel bars, but we know it's not impenetrable. We lock the cabin from the inside, and someone thin slides out the bottom of the cabin via a trap door, but my parents can't fit, so they can't visit their cabin by themselves. We live 12 hours south of the cabin. The result of all these problems is that it takes days to get into the cabin and clean it, and our ability to use the place is reduced.

I'm wondering if there are solutions to these problems. Are there ways to effectively protect a cabin from mice - especially mattresses, couches, etc.? Are there ways to stop this fly abomination? How about security for an isolated cabin with no electricity or running water? (We'd like to keep it that way, because it's a large part of the charm, but we would consider alternatives.) Is there some way to keep it secure without using the trap door? Nearby friends look out for the place, but it is mostly inaccessible in the winter, other than by sea, so it's hard to check on at the most vulnerable time of year.
posted by Amizu to Home & Garden (7 answers total)
We live in a very seasonal area, and many of the locals supplement their income by "housewatching", which basically entails going in on a monthly/biweekly basis, turning on heat, running the water, basic cleaning and dusting, and just making sure that things are generally OK. They can also perform more in-depth "opening" procedures, up to and including stocking the larder from a pre-defined list. Perhaps there are locals (with a boat/snowmobile for winter access) in the area who do this type of service, or could be convinced to?

You also probably need to replace the roof (wood shingle roofs only last ~10 years) and get a professional to check out the logs and the chinking (I think it is called) - the stuff between the logs.
posted by Rock Steady at 3:54 PM on August 29, 2006

Getting rid of mice:

The mice have a food source, probably the forest. Since you can't get rid of the forest, you need to cut off their access, destroy their nests, and eliminate their ability to find new nests inside the house.

Step 1: Get a professional in there to inspect the structure and the chinking, and find someone who can repair log cabins. Unfortunately, if you have rotting, untreated timber and it's as bad as you say, the cabin is likely to be toast.

Step 2: Throw out all of the soft material (mattresses, etc.) that the mice are living in.

Step 3: Any new bedding has to fold to fit inside tupperware or other sealable containers. Seal it when you leave. Take it out when you come out there.

Getting rid of the flies: Well, where are the maggots? That'll tell you where the flies are coming from. Chances are they're living in / eating the rotted wood.

Summation: Knock it down and build a new one. It's served it's purpose for 30 years.
posted by SpecialK at 4:14 PM on August 29, 2006

If you're going to leave a cabin empty most of the time, there are certain things you'll need to do and certain things you'll need to accept. The flies are probably one of the "accept" things, especially if you have mice. If you could airtighten your house some you might have a chance, but there is likely a nest in your roof and that's a pain in the ass to fix. So, you can caulk windows, put out little sticky strips and come back to a consolidated stuck-together bunch of flies and that *might* be better than what you have now, but it's pretty typical. Get a good shop vac or hire a kid to come vacuum before you're going to show up.

As far as mice/mattresses, the only way I know to do this for good it to pack up the mattresses in something that is metal-lined when you're away for a while. You might have some luck with wrapping the matteresses in plastic but I don't think that works super well.

I think the more your house looks like a fortress, the more people may think there is something inside. You should be able to find a way so your parents can visit [please see "hire a kid" above] but the most important thing is just making sure there is nothing really of value there, or that there are people nearby to at least see if someone is going in. The more a place looks like it has been recently inhabited, the less people are going to spend time inside it trying to break into your locked cabinets.

At the end of the day the question becomes "what's it worth to you?" Local real estate agencies will usually do the things that Rock Steady describes, but that does come at a cost. You might be able to work out something more amenable with some of the locals, but you'd need to get to know them a little bit first.

By way of reference, I have a not-at-all-remote house in central vermont that I leave empty a lot of the year and I don't employ anywhere near the security you have but I do have to contend with fly infestations, though I've been lucky enough to not have much of a mouse problem [no food for them to eart combined with steel wool in every hole I can find].
posted by jessamyn at 4:17 PM on August 29, 2006

The logs should be fine as long as they are kept dry. If you don't have wide overhangs on your roof (360 degree wrap around porches are best) then the logs should be treated on the outside to repel water. Either a stain or a film product like Thompson's water seal.

Cedar shakes need constant attention and are a potential fire hazard. With regular maintainence good quality shingles last a long time. You should give the roof a good inspection making note of loose shingles or places where shingles are damaged. If the roof needs extensive repair you may want to consider metal roofing. It is fairly easy to install as long as you don't have a complicated roof that requires a lot of flashing and metal will outlast you with zero maintainence. Plus unless the shingles are a total basket case you can apply strapping and then the roofing right over the shingles saving the tearoff labour.

On security: Operatable shutters that lock from the inside would be less of a chore than plywood. An entrance door secured with a pad lock cage like I outlined for this condensing unit is going to thwart all but the most prepared thieves.

It sounds like squatters are going to be a problem but if they aren't you could just leave the place unlocked. It's what my uncle does with his cabin however the only things of value are some canned goods.

I've only ever seen flies like that when they have a ready source of food. You might want to check your crawlspace and attic to make sure you don't have animals making a home in those spaces. The animals dieing or their food waste could be attracting the flies.
posted by Mitheral at 5:34 PM on August 29, 2006

We have a similar situation, In Ontario. Mostly the mice, the roof and the visitors.

We just put a metal roof on this summer. Looks awesome and as said previously will out last my parents if not me.

The mice are a constant problem, there are the easy things, remove the food and place the linens in sealed containers. My mom has found that plastic mattress covers (cheap) do a reasonable job of keeping the mattresses sleepable. She loads up on the Warfarin before she leaves and sometimes the winters are good, sometimes bad. Mice are a problem that will be hard to solve.

The visitors are probably locals, teens, looking for booze or perhaps a shiny bauble of somesort. To help, never leave the booze and they will no that there is nothing there, It would go with the minimalist ideals that you enjoy to not have anything worth stealing. Once again it is hard to police this one.

As far as the flies, we have them too, it sounds like this is one of the quirks that you will have to deal with. A couple of days cleanup a year is not bad when you consider that you don't have to deal with a septic system or other seasonal problems. You could always a local cleaner to come in and clean up.
posted by vidarling at 9:39 PM on August 29, 2006

We have tried moving everything of value out of the cabin, but that hasn't stopped intruders, so in the end we have opted for greater security and have kept the stuff in the cabin. But for two 65 year olds - and hopefully they'll be able to use it for even longer - all the work and heavy lifting is getting unmanageable.

We do wrap all the fabrics/mattresses in plastic, etc. and that works well, but agian, I was wondering about ways to deal with the mice so we wouldn't have to do that.

As for the flies, the wierd thing is that the old camp, a quarter mile away, never had that problem. We're puzzled as to why it's such a problem with the cabin.... I wondered whether there was some other solution....

We've had a terrible track record with local people helping out, so we have sort of dismissed the idea of having someone help clean it, or look after it. We do have friends in the area, but they're mostly elderly....
posted by Amizu at 6:50 PM on August 30, 2006

Amizu, usually what keeps the flies around is a place for them to eat and lay their eggs. In my house, the problem was a pigeon next up in the rafters. The pigeons would die and the flies would feast on them and hence not go away. If you have a mouse problem that may also be a feeding-the-flies problem. I have had fairly good luck both with the sticky window things [so, as I said, you come back to a more limited fly problem] OR spraying a ton of toxic crap around the seals to doors and windows before I'm set to be away for a long while. October is really the terrible month for these flies, around here, with a sort of secondary bad time in early spring so if you can get those two times it will keep the catastrophe down.

You might want to consider a locking sliding door thing for the front door, sort of like a barn door that mounts on rollers and has a stiff set of locks on the one side, it will go way out of the way when you open it and can be ignored, but it leaves the front door completely covered otherwise.

The problem with dealing with mice when you're not around much is that if you do anything that captures or kills them, then they die and rot there which can lead to a fly problem or even a predator problem. I have had no luck with the sonic mouse keeper-outers, but have been pretty lucky to have gotten them mostly out and then the steel wool in the holes kept them out. If there's no electricity it's hard to do anything else like have powerful fans going or other more mechanical solutions. I sympathize, I've been dealing with some version of this problem myself for a while.
posted by jessamyn at 12:16 PM on August 31, 2006

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