How to Choose a Great Muskoka Handy Man

Karen Acton - Muskoka Handy Man

We all know how busy the skilled handy man in Muskoka is and how hard it is to find one when you need one. The temptation is always there to go the route of letting the friend of a friend fix or renovate for you. But when things go wrong you are left in a difficult position. Whether it’s a big project such as a bathroom remodel, something small like putting up shelves, or just simple repairs and routine maintenance, many busy home and cottage owners need to turn to a capable handy man to get the job done. Finding a qualified, professional, and reliable handy man can be a real challenge.

Here are some tips for you to help ensure that you find the right person for the job:

ARE THEY QUALIFIED FOR THE WORK

Unfortunately, all handy men are not created equally! If your project requires specific skills make sure that the handy man you hire has the qualifications and experience to do the job. Don’t forget that in Ontario some jobs require that a person, other than the home owner, performing certain work must be licensed; electrical and plumbing often fall into this category.

GET REFERENCES

Request at least two local references from previous customers. Any good handy man should be willing to do this without hesitation as his reputation is his stock in trade. Don’t just ask for them, check them! Inquire about the quality of the work, timeliness, professionalism, and how the handy man handled any changes that may have occurred during the project.  I find it good to ask if they would hire him or her again.

PUT IT IN WRITING WITH A PROPER ESTIMATE AND A CONTRACT

If you can find 2 or 3 handy men with good references then you should ask them for written estimates for the work you have in mind. Be sure that each estimate contains enough detail that you can make a comparison between them, after all it is not fair to compare apples with cabbages. For example, are the specified materials of the same quality? Does the cost include cleanup and hauling away any debris or old/broken items? Read all contracts carefully and be sure to ask about anything that you are unsure of.

DON’T FORGET ABOUT INSURANCE COVERAGE

Liability insurance is always important. If the handy man or maybe an employee of his/hers is injured while working on your property, you may be held liable for their medical costs and other expenses. Ask for evidence of their WSIB coverage before agreeing to any work. If they only work directly for home owners they do not have to have WSIB and may be depending on your policy for protection. They should also have insurance against their errors and omissions so you are protected if they do damage to your home or cottage accidently when working on the project. Uninsured handy men often charge less for their services because they lack the overhead expense of insurance, but using them could cost you in the long run.

BE CLEAR ABOUT THE PAYMENT SCHEDULE BEFORE YOU SIGN

Be cautious if you are asked to pay for the entire job up front – this is not an accepted business practice and could leave you open to fraud. Handy men will often ask for 50% up front to allow for the purchase of materials. You may have agreed to a “Time and Materials” contract with a weekly invoice being submitted or you may have even set up an account at the supply store so the materials can be billed directly to you and only need pay the handy man his weekly labour cost. Whatever the details are, be sure you are all clear on them and request receipts for all payments.

Whatever your project once you have found that great Muskoka Handy Man you will keep him or her close to your heart! A capable honest and dependable handy person is golden – someone you will recommend to friends being confident they will not let you down.

 

 

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Understanding Algae in our Muskoka Lakes

Lake Vernon - Karen ActonHave you noticed there is a lot more talk about algae blooms on our lovely Muskoka Lakes even though the conditions this season have not been conducive to the development of blooms! Over the past 10 years throughout Muskoka there has been an increase in the number of algae blooms reported.

Something I have learned and think you may want to know is that the relationship between algae, algal blooms and water quality is complicated but that the presence of algae in your lake does not necessarily indicate reduced water quality.

What are Algae?

Algae are tiny floating organisms (phytoplankton) or attached (periphyton) plants found in lakes and rivers. They contain chlorophyll and carry out photosynthesis.

Algae are the base component of the aquatic food chain and are a critical component of a healthy aquatic environment. There are many different types of algae found in Muskoka that include diatoms, green algae, pigmented flagellates, and blue-green algae.

Like all life forms algae require a food source and they require sunlight for growth.  It is the amount of nutrients available (especially phosphorus and nitrogen) that will limit the amount of growth of algae in a lake.

There are several other factors that affect the growth of algae in our lakes. Environmental factors that determine the type and number of algae in your lake are:

  • Water temperature;
  • The physical removal of algae as it is flushed downstream;
  • Grazing on the algal populations by microscopic organisms and fish;
  • Parasitism by bacteria and fungi; and
  • Competition from aquatic plants for nutrients and sunlight.

 Phosphorus and Algae

Phosphorus in reasonable amounts is required to help drive aquatic systems. It is a valuable nutrient that promotes plant growth and forms the base of food chains in ponds, streams, lakes and rivers.

Unfortunately, when lakes become nutrient rich it can lead to algae blooms and eutrophication. Algal overgrowth can destroy the appearance of water, make water taste unpleasant and smell, reduce clarity, and change the colour of the lake to a vivid green, brown or yellow.

Natural sources of phosphorus include wetlands and the atmosphere, while man-made sources include:

  • Urban and agricultural runoff
  • Sewage discharges and septic tank seepage
  • Eroded streambanks
  • Fertilizer runoff and detergent wastes.

Nothing can or perhaps even should be done to reduce the nutrients entering your lake from natural sources however reducing the nutrients from man-made sources should be minimized and can hopefully prevent excessive algae growth in the future.

What are Algal Blooms

When there is excessive growth of one or more species of algae, it is called a “bloom”.  Algal blooms can happen at any time of the year but are most common in summer.  Algal blooms usually occur after calm, hot weather when the water gets warm. Blooms are caused by several factors but an increase in nutrients and the right weather conditions often result in the formation of a bloom; just as fertilizing a lawn makes the grass grow faster. In other instances, something may change in the environment to favour one species of algae over another, leading to a population explosion.

One of the most serious consequences of an algae bloom occurs when the bloom dies off. As algae die, they sink to the bottom of the lake and decompose, depleting oxygen levels. The depletion of oxygen in the bottom layer of the lake can free phosphorus trapped in the sediments and reduce the amount of oxygen available for the survival of other aquatic organisms, including fish.

Algal Blooms can occur sporadically in lakes that don’t have elevated levels of nutrients. Therefore, increased levels of phosphorus cannot be relied on as the sole rationale for sporadic or individual algal blooms, and the presence of an algae bloom does NOT necessarily indicate nutrient enrichment.

Blue-green Algae

Blue-green algae, or cyanobacteria, are photosynthesizing bacteria, not plants. Blue-green algae are commonly found in lakes and ponds. Some types of blue-green algae produce toxins while others do not.

The only way to determine if a sample of blue-green algae contains species capable of producing toxins is to analyze the sample in the lab.

Blue-green algae blooms are likely to occur during sunny, calm weather when high concentrations of nutrients are present in water. Fresh blooms may smell like fresh-cut grass, while older blooms may smell like garbage. When the algae die and decompose, toxins may be released in those species that produce them. Symptoms from drinking water contaminated with blue-green algae include headaches, fever, dizziness, diarrhea, abdominal pain or stomach cramps, sore throat, nausea and/or vomiting.

Blue-green algae have several characteristics that enable them to out-compete other species of algae, including:

  • The ability to adjust their buoyancy so they can float or sink depending on light conditions and nutrient supply
  • Using nitrogen fixation to maintain high rates of growth when other forms of nitrogen are depleted
  • They are less favoured by predators than green algae because they produce chemicals that make them ‘taste bad’.

 

So here is the bottom line as a cottage owner or renter. Algae are a normal part of the ecology of aquatic life. They usually pose no risk to us. They need specific conditions to “bloom” some of which we can help mitigate by being aware of our phosphate loading from our septic system. This can be done by selecting our detergents and fertilizers with care.  Most algae are not harmful to humans but blue-green algae can cause sickness and in extreme cases serious illness. Water that has a blue-green bloom should be avoided.

I AM NOT AN EXPERT ON ALGAE but I do feel that good stewardship of our lakes is vital and the Muskoka Watershed Council and Muskoka Water Web have great resources to assist us in doing that.

Algal bloom sightings can be reported to the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Changes Spills Action Centre at 1-800-268-6060.

Building a Muskoka Cottage

renovatingSometimes when a client is looking for a perfect Muskoka Cottage they can be disappointed since many of the best and most appealing lot/cottage combinations can be quite expensive. In some cases clients then start to think about finding a lot and creating the perfect cottage from scratch.

Here are some important considerations to ponder before you decide to change track and start looking for a vacant waterfront lot:

  • Is the lot “ready to go?” In Muskoka realtors usually use the language “partially serviced” or “fully serviced” in the listing details to indicate if all or some of the required services —electricity, water, sewage, cell, internet—is directly available to the site.
  • If a road access is not developed and utilities are not already available to the site the lot value will be significantly lower than a serviced lot, but before you snap up a bargain you NEED to first find out whether it is even possible to connect to these services and determine how much it will cost to hook up. When additional utility poles are required to bridge the distance from an existing service to the building envelope, the costs can be prohibitive.
  • If utilities are not available or are excessively expensive, you may want to look into what, if any services you can generate yourself. Electricity is most likely the largest obstacle and if road access is seasonal, private or non-existent, you may need to consider solar or wind as a source as well as traditional electrical generators. Most cottages have septic systems and draw water from the lake/river or a well. Consider these expenses as well.
  • Do not forget your design costs. To get a building permit you must have certified plans so even if you do not have custom drawings you will need to make sure any plan you buy is stamped. If you are planning to use older plans that have been given to you, you will have to pay to get them stamped and maybe modified to meet current code requirements.
  • Throughout the Muskoka region there can be lot levies to pay at the time of obtaining your building permit. Depending on the municipality and the level of services at the site they can range from $6000 -$15000 and must be paid in full before a permit can be issued.
  • If you are not building your own cottage and intend to use a local contractor you would be well advised to have several contractors bid on your project. Get references and have a contract drawn up. Make sure your builder has WSIB coverage for himself and any of his sub trades. You will be expected to pay a significant portion of the cost up front to offset the cost of material and labour. You may want to consider acting as your own General contractor and work on a time and materials basis with your builder by setting up accounts with the suppliers and paying for the material directly. You should also budget many hours of your time to oversee the project. Whatever you decide, get more than a hand shake! There are many excellent builders in this area but there also some who will take on a project beyond their capabilities and cause you no end of additional expense.
  • It is possible to manage costs by building in stages. Put up a basic cottage initially but have it designed to put an add-on wing in a few years.. If this appeals to you, the only thing you need to do at the start is make sure your final plan can be accommodated under the applicable zoning regulations.

In conclusion building your perfect Muskoka Cottage may be what you end up deciding to do, however it is unlikely you will actually save a large amount of money. The process can be challenging and at times very frustrating.

Ultimately, clients who build, do seem to have a great sense of pride in their cottage. There is no doubt building to your exact needs will make your Muskoka Cottage the place you love to spend endless hours with family and friends!

Remember I am always happy to help and can put my years of experience and contacts to good use on your behalf.

Investing In Muskoka in 2016

Green - #1Investing in a vacation property is a big decision and one that, if you do not make wisely, will likely cause more heartache and stress than joy and relaxation. So here are 10 things you should consider before you start this venture:

1. Why are you buying it?

A vacation home isn’t always just about a place to retire or relax. It can and probably should be an investment. Maybe even an investment which generates income when you don’t want to be there. You need to determine how this purchase will fit into your overall investment portfolio. Will it “grow slowly” as the market value increases or will you operate it as a profit maker each year?

If it is mainly for a profit making investment, you need to consider what a renting family is looking for, as much as what you may be looking for!

2. Keep your emotions in check

Buying a vacation home is fraught with emotions and therefore risk! Do not let this be an emotional decision, as it could lead to heartache and stress. Before you start on your journey make sure that you do a thorough check on your finances. Can you carry the operating costs? Do you know what the carrying costs will even be?  If you still have a mortgage on your primary residence can you carry both properties?

3. Where do I buy?

In Ontario, Muskoka, Parry Sound and Haliburton Highlands are the traditional summer vacation locations, and for many people winter locations too. They are within reasonable driving distance of major cities like Toronto, Ottawa and London and are therefore easy to access and enjoy. The important thing to think about is the time and hassle it takes to get there and how often you will actually use it. You’re more likely to head north to cottage country for the weekend if it is only a few hours away, than if it takes 5 or 6 hours to get there.

4. Consider pooling resources

One way to ease the burden or to get a nicer property is through joint ownership. Your brothers or sisters might want to go in with you. Friends may want to do the same. The key is to make sure everyone understands the rules of the road, including a fair way to split up prime time use, what happens when one party wants to sell and who inherits the property. If you are thinking of taking this route, please make sure you have legal advice. Setting up a family trust or a company with share holders can work very well but if not properly established can lead to serious upset.

5. Beware of tax implications

Buying a second or recreational home has tax implications when you sell, as the sale of this property could be subject to capital gains, and advice from a tax accountant or lawyer should be sought.

6. Location is key

Buy a cottage that is set back from the lake or up high on a hill and your potential rental income could drop by half. Vacationers are willing to pay extra for that week or two they spend in paradise. Views and private lakefront are traditionally two of the main features people look for. Consider the trade-offs. You may go for a lesser property on a great lot rather than a larger property on a steep one or without a view.

7. Condo vs Cottage

Do you have a big family and like to be surrounded by friends? Or are your vacations a chance to get away from it all? Thinking about this will help you decide whether you need a small condo, or fully detached cottage with lots of space.

Make a list of your important features. Things that were important in your family home may not be as important in a vacation property. Do you really need tons of closet space for your two suitcases? Will a galley kitchen do since you plan to be eating out a lot?

8. Check out the neighbourhood

Once you’ve decided what to buy and where, stay in the area for a few days and look around. Rent a cottage on the lake or a condo at the resort you are interested in. You’d be surprised how many people buy from blueprints only to have a rude awakening later.

You may have vacationed in the area before but not really gotten to know anyone. Talk to neighbors and locals. What do they think of the area and what is it like in the off season? Can you walk beautiful trails and get to shops in a reasonable time? Are there cross country ski or snowmobile trails in the area for winter fun? Is this a good fit for you and your family?

9. Look for hidden costs

What will it cost to pump the septic, have propane delivered, get the roof shovelled off after heavy snow, keep the lane open in winter? If you are buying a condo, does the condo association allow rentals and if so under what conditions? Must they be long-term periods of several months or can it be weekly? Does the condo association have an adequate reserve fund to pay for future repairs? If not, you could be hit with a special levy once you move in.

10. Cheap doesn’t always mean bargain

Buying on impulse is probably the worst thing you can do. Just because you enjoy your summer in Muskoka, step back and consider all the factors. Don’t be blinded by a seemingly great price. Do your due diligence. Hire a great Realtor!

 

Fighting the Muskoka Fruit Fly!

Fruit Flies - Karen Acton Muskoka RealtorSeriously there is no such creature as a Muskoka Fruit Fly however we do get fruit flies in our Muskoka homes and cottages. So exactly where do they come from and how do you get rid of them?

We might think they come in on the fruit we buy, however most often, they come in from outside when they smell the delicious fragrance of your fruit ripening. They have a crazy short life span, going from egg to adulthood in 8-10 days, which means they reproduce at a ridiculously fast rate. They thrive in moist damp places like your sink or compost bin. They are attracted to fruits and other foods-particularly ones that are fermenting or rotting.

So how do you prevent them from getting to the fruit bowl? First and foremost seal your doors and windows.  The flies enter your home from the outside when you open a door, or through poorly sealed screens on your windows. While it is possible that they came in with the fruit – if you like to buy very ripe fruit – but they most likely came in when they smelled your fruit getting ripe. The point being, it is very important to make sure your home is properly sealed with no splits in window screens, or doors left open if you want to avoid these pesky little critters.

Second, if you compost make sure you have a tight fitting lid on your kitchen container. To control fruit flies in your house, you need to block the odors of ripening fruit. Remember to take the compost out to the compost pile or green box regularly too.

Third, remember they breed in damp places. If you have sinks that are not in constant use, like the guest bathroom, make sure the plug is firmly in place to stop them breeding in the drain.

Lastly, try covering fruit bowls and plates. Look for mesh food covers like your granny had or go for a decorative glass dome.

If the preventative measures fail and you find yourself faced with these flying aggravations you can try one of these trap recipes to rid your Muskoka home of them. Fruit flies are especially drawn to ripening bananas, which give off amino acetate. Vinegar and red wine also seem to be strong lures. So it is not surprising that they form the base of many of the trap recipes I found by googling and have included below. There are many sites listing various ideas so I have gathered up a few that looked most practical.

Apple Cider Vinegar Trap

Fruit flies can’t resist the smell of fermentation, and since apple cider vinegar is from fermented apples, it’s a dream drink to them. Heat the vinegar beforehand to release more of its irresistible fragrance.

You Need

1 mason jar or something similar

a funnel (you can make one yourself)

½ cup of Apple cider vinegar

A drop of dish soap

A piece of ripe or overripe fruit (optional)

Heat up apple cider vinegar and pour it into your jar- it just needs to be deep enough for the flies to drown-and add a drop or two of dish soap. The dish soap will break the surface tension of the liquid so the flies can’t just sit on top and fly away when they’re done. If you find you need a little extra temptation, drop in a ripe piece of fruit and let it breakdown. If they don’t drown, place the whole thing in the freezer for 20 minutes. There is no need to remove the old contents if you want to reuse this trap but it may look unappealing after a little while.

Fruit in a Jar

Fruit flies like fruit, so what better to lure them into a trap than…fruit?

You Need

1 glass jar

Plastic wrap

A toothpick

Some very ripe or overripe produce

Soapy water

Put several pieces of very ripe or almost rotting fruit in the bottom of a glass jar, and cover with plastic wrap – a rubber band works to secure if needed. Poke holes in the wrap with a toothpick, and set the jar where you notice the fruit flies seem to come from or congregate. You may want to set one outside the doorway on a warm sunny say. The flies will be drawn into the trap but won’t know how to get out. At least they can enjoy a nice little feast until you decide the jar is full enough. At that point, submerge the jar in a bucket of warm soapy water and let it be for about 10 minutes to ensure the flies won’t be coming back. Rinse out, refill, and repeat! This is a great way to get rid of produce that you accidently let sit too long.

The Die Happy Trap

Believe it or not flies can get intoxicated just as we can. They are very drawn to red wine and will congregate to it if any is left out. They will either drown, or you can use the freezer or soapy water technique to finish the deed.

You Need

About an inch of red wine left in the bottle

Several drops of dish soap (optional)

No explanation needed, once intoxicated they will drown in the wine or be too tipsy to fly out of the bottle!

There are many more variations on these and a few strange ones using things like milk and pepper, but I chose to offer these three as I felt they would be easy to do and seemed the most scientifically sound. As your Muskoka Realtor I love to help and I hope this has been a useful blog.

5 Do’s and 5 Don’t When Renovating For Resale

renovating for resale - Karen ActonRealtors are often asked about what renovations need to be done to maximize resale value. In many cases I will tell my clients that other than some paint to freshen up things and a good declutter it is better to not spend money on a property simply for resale. Many Muskoka home and cottage renovations will only net a small portion of the cost to complete them. However that is not always the case, especially when a home owner intends to live in and enjoy the home for several years before selling. There are some renovations that will definitely add value to resale and some that will not.

My 5 Do’s

1. Kitchens. Updating your tired kitchen is one of the most lucrative methods of increasing the value of your home; however, there are some things to consider when planning a kitchen remodel.

It is important when making design decisions and selections for plumbing fixtures, appliances, cabinets and countertop materials, to determine whether you are designing things to suit your own taste or choosing the best design for a return on your investment. Either option is perfectly acceptable, but you should understand that your design may not be the most effective one for making a profit. Try to strike a balance between the two that you can feel good about.

For example, using the existing kitchen layout and affordable cosmetic materials is a sure way to keep the cost of remodelling your kitchen manageable. When you start tearing out walls, bumping out the exterior home footprint to gain a few feet, or moving plumbing fixtures and appliances, the cost of the remodel will jump and your dollars will be less efficiently spent.

2. Adding living space. A straightforward addition of a new living space is typically a very good investment providing your property is in an area where the addition will not make you the “Cadillac on Chevy row”. That is, do not over improve the size of your property for the neighbourhood!

Larger square footage usually equals and increases your home’s value if the increase gives you additional rooms rather than bigger existing ones. This is NOT a small project, so if you are going to incur these expenses, it’s important to get some good advice on the effectiveness of the improvement. Again remember that you may be planning to enjoy this space for some time before you sell, but do not be tempted to make it so customized to your needs that a buyer will not appreciate it when you are ready to move on.

3. Curb appeal. You cannot make a second first impression! The front approach to your home or cottage is more than just a first impression; it is the only impression available to just about all of your home’s potential buyers.

Don’t despair, there are a number of very affordable things you can do to improve curb appeal, and a few more expensive ones that can likely pay off as well. Simply cleaning out overgrown brush and making a few new planting additions to your landscape can go a long way toward improving curb appeal. Making sure foot paths are level and have no loose stones is an inexpensive but vital improvement too. Repainting is another low-cost, high-impact improvement.

Bigger projects such as changing out old windows or the front door are things that potential buyers will notice and value. Occasionally more extensive renovations, such as added dormers and front porches, can prove wise, from an investment standpoint but you need to remember to not over improve for your neighbourhood.

4. Master suites.  Home buying decisions are in the hands of adults, and while they will want to be sure there is adequate space for children and guests, most adults care about the environment where they sleep. Updating a master bedroom or remodeling and adding a new master suite is usually money well spent.

5. Bathrooms. We all notice bathrooms, and all the bathrooms are important in your home or cottage. However, priority should be placed on the powder room and master bath, followed by a guest bathroom and any other secondary baths.

The same rules apply to a bathroom renovation as to the kitchen. Cosmetic changes are a safe bet for getting a good return on your investment. If the tub is in good condition but a dated colour, it can be painted – white or bone is easy to co-ordinate with a new toilet and sink. Make sure that the room is freshly painted, the colours simple and contemporary and the tile in good shape… no nasty black grout!

My 5 Don’ts

1. Kids’ spaces.  I do not want to be the Grinch here, but not all buyers will have children or children in the age group yours may be. Avoid creating specialty “Kid Zones” in your home and on your property. That rock climbing wall, which most kids would flock to, might actually be a negative to a buyer who sees no use for this feature and thinks only of the cost for removal. Make sure the spaces you create for your kids will pack up and leave when you do!

2. Pools.  Backyard pools are loved by millions, and while this appreciation is well founded, they should be constructed for their many virtues that are NOT investment related.

In Muskoka where we have an abundance of waterfront to visit and enjoy and long hard winters, a pool is very unlikely to increase the value of your home as such, is unlikely to pay for itself. Given our short summer season, many buyers may perceive the pool as a negative with ongoing maintenance work and related expense, or a significant cost to remove.

3. Wine rooms.  Currently a very popular item, the wine room may seem like a cool investment but unfortunately it is not a good one from a return perspective. It will capture the interest of only a very small percentage of potential buyers and wouldn’t appeal to someone who does not love wine. In fact it could represent a waste of space and a cost to retrofit, to many potential purchasers.

4. Removing features. Do not remove features for investment reasons. If you never use the fireplace in your basement, removing it might make perfect sense to you and your family. Just make sure you understand that the next homeowner might wish it were still there, and the money you spent demolishing the fireplace and reworking the space will not be reclaimed.

5. Minor additions. A small addition that results in the addition of a few square feet is very unlikely to increase your value. If you are not creating additional rooms but are simply expanding a bathroom or secondary bedroom you may be setting yourself up to lose money. The reason is simple. If you bump out a  bedroom wall by a few feet, that bedroom might be much more comfortable for your personal use, but the cost of the foundation, roof, framing, drywall and finishing will be substantial for a small gain in square footage.  Typically, a 3 bedroom 2,500 sq.ft. home will sell for very little more than a 3 bedroom 2,600 sq.ft. home when all the features and finishes are similar.

If you are thinking about a renovation of your Muskoa Home or Cottage, with resale in mind, I would be happy to meet with you and share my experience with the current market place. So please feel free to call me!

Enjoying Your Muskoka Cottage – Bug Bite Free!

Karen Acton Royal LePage - Muskoka BugsAnyone who has been in Muskoka knows that we host the occasional flying guest! The blackflies and mosquitos know how spectacular Muskoka is and come here to enjoy it too. Now don’t get me wrong, the bugs are never so bad as to make us not want to be in spectacular Muskoka and they are certainly not an issue when you are at your beautiful Muskoka Cottage with a gentle breeze coming off the lake to blow them all away.

It is important, however, to try to avoid being bitten by these flying aggravations however many of us do not want to expose ourselves to chemicals like DEET which is one of the most widely used ingredients in store-bought conventional bug sprays for personal use. It is designed to repel, rather than kill insects. Here is what the Canadian government recommends.

“Choosing an insect repellent

Choose a product that meets your needs. For example, if you plan to be outdoors for a short period of time, choose a product with a lower concentration of repellent and re-apply only if you need a longer protection time.

Important!

Only use products that have a Pest Control Product registration number and are labelled as insect repellents for use on humans. Never use a product labelled as an insecticide on your body!

DEET

Registered insect repellents containing DEET can be used safely when applied as directed. Health Canada completed its latest review of DEET products in 2002, which was supported by the Canadian Paediatric Society.

The higher the DEET concentration in the repellent, the longer it provides protection. While this is true for protection against both mosquitoes and ticks, DEET repels mosquitoes for a longer time than for ticks. To get protection from ticks, look for a product that specifies use for ticks.

Health Canada has approved the following concentrations for different age groups. Prolonged use should be avoided in children under the age of 12.

Adults and children over 12: Up to 30% concentration of DEET may be used. One application of 30% DEET should be effective for six hours against mosquitoes.

Children aged two to 12: Up to 10% concentration may be used, applied up to three times daily. One application of 10% DEET should be effective for three hours against mosquitoes.

Children aged six months to two years: Up to 10% concentration may be used, applied no more than once daily. One application of 10% DEET offers three hours of protection against mosquitoes.

Children under six months: Do not use personal insect repellents containing DEET on infants under six months of age. Instead, use a mosquito net when babies are outdoors in a crib, playpen or stroller.”

SOME ALTERNATIVES TO CONSIDER

Since DEET is a known eye irritant and can cause rashes, soreness, or blistering when applied to the skin and determining the right concentration could be complicated, you may wish to try some DEET free homemade bug repellents that I’ve found to help keep the bugs away this season.

This first recipe comes from Wellness Mama and it literally takes just seconds to mix up and can be varied based on what you have available. There are several variations so you can try whichever one you have the ingredients for.

Wellness Mama Essential Oil Bug Spray 

Ingredients: 

  • Essential oils: choose from Citronella, Clove, Lemongrass, Rosemary, Tea Tree, Cajeput, Eucalyptus, Cedar, Catnip, Lavender, Mint
  • Natural Witch Hazel
  • Distilled or boiled Water
  • Vegetable glycerin (optional)

Method:

  • Fill 8oz spray bottle 1/2 full with distilled or boiled water
  • Add witch hazel to fill almost to the top
  • Add 1/2 tsp vegetable glycerin if using
  • Add 30-50 drops of essential oils (mix them as you like) to desired scent. The more oils you use, the stronger the spray will be.

Make Bug Spray from Dried or Fresh Herbs

Ingredients:

  • Distilled water
  • Witch hazel or rubbing alcohol
  • Dried herbs: peppermint, spearmint, citronella, lemongrass, catnip, lavender, etc. Use at least one herb from the mint family.

Method:

  • Boil 1 cup of water and add 3-4 TBSP of dried herbs total in any combination from the above. I use 1 TBSP each of peppermint, spearmint, catnip and lavender, and also throw in a couple of dried cloves.
  • Mix well, cover and let cool (covering is important to keep the volatile oils in!)
  • Strain herbs out and mix water with 1 cup of witch hazel or rubbing alcohol. Store in a spray bottle in a cool place (fridge is great because then it’s nice and cool!)

Use as needed. Added bonus: it smells great and is very refreshing to the skin!

Super Strong Insect Repellent Recipe

Be warned this one apparently smells bad when it is wet, though the smell apparently disappears as it dries. It is based on a recipe that was supposedly used by thieves during the Black Plague to keep from getting sick. They used it internally and externally to avoid catching the disease and to keep the flies and other pests away. According to legend, it worked and they survived… but it definitely makes a great insect repellent these days! It is also very inexpensive to make and you probably already have the components on hand!

Ingredients:

  • 1 32 ounce bottle of Apple Cider Vinegar
  • 2 TBSP each of dried Sage, Rosemary, Lavender, Thyme and Mint
  • At least quart size glass jar with airtight lid

Method:

  • Put the vinegar and dried herbs into large glass jar
  • Seal tightly and store on counter or place you will see it daily. Shake well each day for 2-3 weeks.
  • After 2-3 weeks, strain the herbs out and store in spray bottles or tincture bottles, preferably in fridge

To use on skin, dilute to half with water in a spray bottle and use as needed. Use whenever you need serious bug control!

Other ideas were simpler including the use of vanilla extract in witch hazel and water or lavender oil directly on your skin. Basil leaves rubbed on the skin is apparently quiet effective too and any member of the mint family works.

No matter which of these repellants you try or even if you decide to stick with commercially sold products, remember that repelling these critters is very important. West Nile virus can make you very sick and has been found here in Muskoka.