Allair Media

The Cottage

A Builder’s Perspective


Why professional surveys are now a necessity.

Some decades ago, it was a much simpler proposition to just buy a waterfront lot and erect a building. However, the summer cottage of yesteryear bears little resemblance to today’s seasonal home. Even the boathouses and guest cabins have assumed substantially greater proportions than their predecessors.

“Affluence, lifestyles, and expectations have changed enormously over the thirty-seven years that my company has been building in Muskoka,” says builder Brian Hoar, pointing out that the average cottage on the major lakes is now about 4,000 square feet. And this is why all successful lot development and design work must begin with a property survey.

The by-law evolution

As the new builds expanded their footprint, the by-laws evolved to address the new reality, becoming much more restrictive in controlling lot coverage. Increased setbacks now push these larger buildings further back from the lake and from adjacent properties in an effort to control ‘built form’ over the natural landscape, while lake frontage determines the dock and boathouse issues. Of course, these initiatives effectively serve the common good by protecting the scenic attributes of Muskoka, but they can also be a source of frustration when thwarting development plans for one’s own property.

Municipal building and planning departments are now requiring documentation that only a professional survey can provide. Straight line lake frontage determines everything — from the size of simple docks to the type of boathouse permissible. And projected side lot lines into the lake are critical for the approved placement of any structure in the water.

“We now employ the professional services of the surveyors to physically locate all structures on the property,” says Brian. This entails pinning every corner of a building before excavating begins, and then re-pinning after excavation to ensure the exact size and configuration of the foundation and to guarantee compliance with all setbacks. The old time-consuming way of constructing batter boards, string lines, and plumb lines is long gone.

Topographical surveys determine elevations and influence design to comply with building height restrictions. Brian’s company presently uses the information derived from this type of survey to calculate the cubic meters of rock to be blasted and removed for basement and crawl spaces.

Planning for maximum lot coverage

With the increased size of virtually all buildings today, maximum lot coverage often becomes a huge balancing act; and it should be noted that boathouses count toward the calculations even though they sit over the water. Phasing in multiple buildings over several years requires special attention, since each will reduce the square footage available for subsequent structures. The survey provides documentation of all building sizes and their location on the property: invaluable data for future legal requirements, such as estate planning or selling.

The days of simply carving out a piece along the shoreline for that cottage in Muskoka’s paradise are over. The information provided by a proper survey is essential for today’s designers, builders, and property owners. CCH

Photos: Robert Nelson

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