Buying Vacant Land in Muskoka

Karen Acton - Buying Vacant Land in MuskokaSearching for vacant land to build a new home or cottage on can be very exciting and even if you are working with a Realtor you are often scouting and exploring on your own. However, as buyers you should be aware that purchasing raw land will require extensive due diligence. Do you know the right land buying questions to ask?

It is entirely possible that the sellers will not even have all the answers, so the onus is on you with the help of your Realtor to investigate the issues thoroughly until you’re confident in making the purchase.

Here are 8 questions to help you make a good decision.

1. Is there a survey of the land?
Raw land in this area, especially large parcels, may have never been surveyed and still have a legal description in chains! When a lot is surveyed by a professional surveyor, you can feel confident in the amount of acreage being sold but without, you may or may not be getting the land you contract for. A topography survey (if available) shows lines at every 1 or 2 feet/meters of elevation change along the site, thus giving you a two-dimensional representation of the site’s slope. Sometimes there is a site plan
or an old building location survey showing the location of structures that may not be there now but will indicate areas that may need special review. Some surveys or plans may also show existing utilities and easements.

2. Are the boundaries clearly and accurately marked?
Ideally, corners of the property lines should be marked on the site however in this area it is not always the case. Larger lots rarely have the corners marked and finding them may be very difficult especially if the seller is not familiar with them. At some time prior to making any offer to purchase firm it is very advisable to be sure exactly what you are purchasing by ensuring that the corners have been identified.

3. Are there any Covenants, Conditions & Restrictions?
Covenants, conditions, and restrictions are common and vary in impact depending on the location, municipality and type. Utility companies reserve rights, known as easements, over land to maintain services, municipalities also do this for access to utilities and roads. Some developments may have restrictive covenants with home size minimums or other requirements. Municipalities may have zoning and planning restrictions.

4. Is the title to the property clear?
Property with a clear title is “worry-free” and far more attractive than property which is encumbered by liens and taxes. If there is a large debt associated with the property it may be hard for the seller to accept a fair offer. When working with a Realtor you will be protected from this becoming an issue by clauses in the agreement. If you are buying privately make sure you cover this with the seller.

5. What has the land been used for in the past?
While we are a rural community and most land being sold in this region has never been used for any kind of manufacturing or industry you will still want to seek disclosure as to what its prior uses have been. For instance, if at one time it was a marina you need to know if there were or are still any underground fuel tanks or if there was a scrap car yard on a portion of the lot (cars now all gone) was there a soil sample done to verify that there has been no oil and gasoline seepage contaminating the land? It is important to know that if you buy land that later turns out to need remediation you will be responsible for the cost.

6. What utilities are available in the area?
Providing utility infrastructure to a site is a significant expense, so it is important to know what is existing, what is available and what you will need to install.
If the land has road access you can very likely expect to have electricity and phone utilities at the road. A few rural locations and most urban ones in the area will have access to natural gas. Cell phone service while getting better almost daily is not always good in all locations. Cable service for TV and internet delivery may not be available. Unless you are in one of the Muskoka towns water and sewer will not be available and well and septic will be required.

7. What are the current taxes on the property?
The seller should know this, but if there is any question you can verify the tax assessment and the current mill rate with the municipal office. Understanding the annual tax amount will be essential in understanding your ongoing holding costs. Of course, if you build on the land, your new taxes will reflect the value of the home and any outbuildings you add.

8. What is the property’s zoning?
Every property is assigned a zoning type. The lot may be zoned for residential or commercial. If it’s residential, you may be limited to a single home – sometimes called dwelling units – or be allowed to build multiple units. Zoning will also tell you other restrictions like how tall a building may be on the lot and how close you can build to a property line. Talk to your local planning department to determine the
property’s zoning if the seller does not know.

When buying vacant land in Muskoka, be sure to get answers to all the important questions as well as cost estimates before you firm up an offer. That way you can be sure to enjoy the land for its intended purpose with no expensive or disappointing surprises. Contact me anytime for assistance in this complex and exciting process.


How to Buy a Muskoka Home While Still in Your Twenties

Karen Acton 20 somethingsI have got to give it to you the millennial generation, you are an educated, tech-savvy group and you typically knows what you want. The last few years I have been noticing that many of you “twenty-somethings” have decided that what you want is to buy your first home.

Of course, there are apps galore on just about everything out there, but swiping right isn’t going to get you into your first home – though it probably will help you locate the ones you want to see!

For a more realistic and practical approach however, these five time-tested tips may work better for you.

Are Your Ready to Commit

It has likely been said more than any other piece of home-buying advice out there… Buying a home may be the largest and most important purchase you’ll make in your entire life. You need to know you’re ready for that type of commitment. Millennials have been deemed a nomadic bunch – so, it’s important to note that most home buyers stay in their homes for at least five years – and, that’s just so they can recoup the costs of their purchase.

Buying a home also means you must be ready to get your hands dirty. Handy work like replacing smoke alarm batteries, maintaining landscaping and even changing air filters typically falls in a homeowner’s hands not to mention painting and decorating.

If you can commit to this then you just might be ready!

Understand Your Finances

When it comes to buying a home, a mortgage broker will consider every part of your financial picture. From your current income to your bills and spending habits to the savings you have for your down payment. Since a lender is going to have to verify your finances its good that you know exactly what they will find before they get there. Find out how much money you have coming in and going out and how much you will be able to devote to a monthly mortgage payment.

When you’re considering your finances and budget, also consider the fact that homeownership expenses do not end with the monthly mortgage payment. Home owners are responsible for insurance, property taxes, utilities and any money it costs to cover routine maintenance or unexpected home repairs.

Consider Credit and Savings

Your first brush with credit may have been when you were inundated with credit card offers on your first day of college classes. By now you have probably established some type of credit – and, hopefully it is good. Lenders will consider your credit score when it comes to mortgage approval. Remember – the better your credit score, the better interest rate you’ll be offered. You can improve this score by making sure you carry small or no balance on your cards and pay them on time every month.

In addition to your credit a lender need to see your savings. When you’re buying a home, you’ll need to have money available for the down payment as sufficient to cover closing costs.

Have you saved the money you’ll need when it comes time to buy?

Get Preapproved

I am sure you can see that buying a home is largely a financial process, so it only makes sense that the mortgage process may be a long one, right? So, before you start to look at possible homes it is wise to seek out several lending institutions. They will compete for your business if you have got all your affairs in order, so you can shop around and settle on the one you’d like to use.

Just like every buyer is different, so is every lender. Some may be more lenient when it comes to credit history. Some credit unions or banks if you are a current customer may offer lower rates than other lenders.

Consider all options before choosing a mortgage lender.

Work with Realtor You Trust

The ever-important last piece of the home-buying puzzle. This is one area where I would not advise following a DIY mentality. Professional real estate sales representatives have the training and know-how to lead any first-time home buyer to a home that’s right for them. A trusted Realtor will help you make up your “needs and wants” list when it comes to a home; they will help you consider your long-term goals for your new home; and, they will search for homes, show you homes, negotiate and walk you through the entire offer and closing process… right down to the point where those new home keys fall into your hands.

There will be plenty of DYI to do once you own your new home, especially when it is your first time, a guide through the process only makes good sense. Let me be your guide!

To see current listings in Muskoka click here

5 Tips to Make Your Plan to Buy a Muskoka Home a Reality

pexels-photo-461024.jpegDid you start your New Year off with a plan to buy a Muskoka home? Well here are some tips to help you whip your financial resume into shape to improve your home-buying odds.

1. Keep your employment stable
Your employment history and income are the two biggest factors most bankers and mortgage brokers are going to look at once they have verified your deposit. While a new job may be a great career move and very exciting prospect it is not what they will want to see on an application. This is especially relevant if you are changing career paths completely. A mortgage lender wants to see stability and if you plan to buy in 2018 you should consider this before accepting a new opportunity. A steady job history and few or no gaps in employment over the past two years are ideal as it helps lenders more easily
forecast your future income.

There are times when it can be beneficial. If you’re moving from a commissioned or hourly job to one that is salaried with equal or more compensation, it may help your application, as banks tend to prefer applicants with steady, predictable incomes.

If you do get a new job while home shopping, let your bank or broker know as soon as possible. It doesn’t mean you won’t qualify for the mortgage, but you are much better off being transparent than having them find out and not advance funds at closing.

2. Keep tabs on your monthly spending
Credit cards are almost a necessity in building a credit rating but keep the maximums low. Even if you pay off your credit card every month, you could be flagged for high credit utilization if your credit report is pulled mid-cycle. In addition, if the available balances are high then many banks will factor that into their calculation when working out the amount of debt you can service.

Monthly subscription services are very common now and are certainly convenient, but they can add up and affect your qualifying ratios.
3. Build yourself a solid credit history
One of the first things a lender will look at is your credit history which is different from the credit score. A bank or broker is going to want to see that you have a history of paying off debts, like credit cards, on time because it signals that you’re less of a risk and a responsible borrower.

If you don’t have credit, securing a home loan may be significantly more challenging and maybe even impossible or very expensive.

4. Monitor your credit score
Your overall credit score can have a significant impact on your ability to buy a home. A low credit score can negatively affect how much money a lender is willing to loan you, as well as your interest rate.

Just a few percentage points difference in an interest rate can cost you thousands over the life of a mortgage. Monitor your credit closely, especially for fraudulent activity, to prevent any surprises that could delay the loan application process. There are many services available that are both free and subscription that can be used to see your score. Most of these sites give tips on how to improve it too, but remember the very best way is to pay on time and in full.

5. Save your money!
Avoid taking on large new debts — whether it’s buying a car or planning a large vacation consider waiting, even if you’re already preapproved.

Your debt-to- income ratio, or how much money you make compared to how much debt you have, can significantly affect how much money a lender is willing to give you. Keeping debts to a minimum can help make the home-buying process go a lot more smoothly.

Just like proofreading your resume before you apply for a job, improving your financial resume can help better your chances of buying a home.

Take advantage of online tools and resources. Speak with a bank or mortgage broker who can help you determine how much home you can afford. Find a Realtor who will guide you through the process and be willing to take the time needed to do it right. Remember that often the difference between a good credit profile and a bad one if just a few moths of personal discipline and the reward will be fulfilling your dream to own your own home.

Enjoy the Holidays Without Spending the Down Payment for your Muskoka Home!

Gifts - Karen ActonHave you been saving like crazy to buy your first Muskoka Home or Cottage?  As a Realtor, I often see buyers, diligently putting as much away as they can, hoping to be able to buy that special fist home only to get their saving hopes hijacked with the holidays and the inevitable gift buying season!

It is easy for this time of year to make a dent in of anyone’s savings my own included. So, I have done my usual google research and complied a listed of good spending habits to help me enjoy the holiday season while staying on a budget and I think it will help you too.

Understandably each person’s budget may look different, and what might work for me may not work for you. So here are some tips to help you survive the holidays without blowing your budget. You can use them all or just one or two.

Have a realistic holiday budget

Determine how much you can afford to spend during the holidays. It is best to create a realistic budget for yourself. Record and add up all the projected costs of your holiday events, gifts, decorations, travel and anything else you can think of.

Then you need to look at the cash you actually will have available for the holiday season. Since you don’t want to go into debt or blow you budget, you want to make sure that you’ll have enough money for all your holiday expenses. If the budgeted expenses are greater than the actual expected income you need to adjust the budget. This may mean taking a hard look and deciding where can cut back.

The idea is to trim your holiday expenses until you have a budget that is easy to manage and will prevent you from getting into debt.

Shop early and shop sales

Planning your gift list in advance will give you the chance to watch and see when these items go on sale either in the local stores or on-line.  Shopping early also ensures that you have the best selection, since items can sell out closer to Christmas.

Check the many websites

Sometimes the best shopping deals can be found online. While we all love to shop local sometimes you do not have that luxury.  Amazon, E-Bay, Pintrest are all great places to find what you want. Most major stores have order on-line shopping many with pick up in store options. You may want to investigate shopping on the cash back sites like Ebates. Ebates represents over 2,000 online stores, including Amazon, it’s easy to save money and get cashback on your online purchases.

Compare prices in store and online

Sometimes you can find special promotions happening online only.  Some of the bigger online retailers have lots of special offers and offer memberships that get you free shipping so if you are buying a lot from that source a membership may be a good investment.

Not all gifts cost money

If your holiday budget is tight or you want to buy a gift for the person who already has everything, consider giving the gift of time or experience this year. Life is about relationships and giving the gift of time allows you to invest and nurture those relationships. You could cook a meal or two, decorate their tree, take care of their children while they shop or go on a date. There are so many options, and all will be appreciated.

Consider a gift exchange

If you have a large group of friends or family, it can get very expensive buying gifts for everyone, especially if money is tight. I recommend suggesting a gift exchange or secret Santa where you draw names. This way everyone can receive a nice gift, which is probably more thoughtful, and saves everyone a lot of money.


I know many people who are starting to boycott gifts during the holidays. This is not just to save money but often a way of getting back to the real meaning of the holiday season. Of focusing on spending time together being thankful rather than stressed. There’s no shame in letting others know that you won’t be participating in gift exchanges this year because you’re saving up for a down payment or one of your other financial goals.

In fact, people are probably experiencing a similar financial situation and will be thankful that you started the conservation. It’s important to set expectations though for family and friends if you choose to boycott gifts this year. And remember that the true meaning of Christmas is not about gifts.

Last years dress will do!

We all feel the pressure to buy a new outfit for each holiday event or party that you need to attend. Buying a new outfit feels good and we think we cannot be seen wearing the same thing as last year. However, it is simply not important. While a few people may remember what you wore last year it is not important. Your friends will be far happier to see you than what you are wearing.

Plan for each holiday event you wish to attend

It’s important to make a list of all the holiday events you plan on attending and include them in the budget. Whether it’s a family gathering or a fancy work party, each event has the potential to cost you money.

Consider how far you need to travel and the cost of fuel and perhaps accommodations, food or drink that you need to contribute, host/hostess gifts and any other hard cost. This will allow you to determine how much money you need to set aside to attend each event, so you can stay on budget.

The Holiday Season is a wonderful time filled with fun, family and social activities but it is wise to not let is take control of your plans. After all the holidays are a few days long and the home you are saving for will be yours for many years.

Planning a New Kitchen in Your Muskoka Home?

Sargeant49 important questions before you start

We all want a dream kitchen so before you start here are some tips experts have developed to help you get one. Start with a clear view of what you intend. Focus on the things you want and those you need. This will help you see where you can compromise if necessary and where to stick to your goals.

A kitchen renovation can seem overwhelming when you start the process. There are lots of elements to get right. It is not simply the design but all the other factors from appliances to how will it fit the style and décor of the rest of your home or cottage.

1.Define the vision. Ask the big questions before you do anything. You need to establish how you want your kitchen to function. Do you have a large family and want your new kitchen to be the place where you all spend time, eat meals do home work? Do you love to entertain and envision a stunning space to show off your culinary skills? Ask yourself some clear questions to help build your vision, do you love to cook or is it a necessary function? Will you need a desk or work space here?
By asking yourself questions before you start making decisions you identify exactly what you want and what you need out of your available space. By knowing what you want at the beginning you are less likely to get off track once you have started.

2.What are my needs? After you’ve defined the vision or theme of your new kitchen, you need to identify the nonnegotiable things that are at the top of your wants and needs list. Your needs are the things you cannot do without. Things like an eating area or a large window – the important things that will control your joy level when being in the new kitchen. Don’t over focus on things that will go out of fashion over time like paint colours or even appliances as they can all be changed. Hopefully, you won’t need to make compromises on these needed items.

3. Making a compromise or two. Once you have defined the vision and made sure the needs are in place it is time to look at your want list and perhaps some of the compromises that may be required. You may want a new gas range but it is not in the budget! The solution is simple, make sure the space for the dream stove is created now but buy it next year and use your existing one for now. Some compromises are a bit harder to make. You may have wanted a feature that the space available simply cannot accommodate and that is a tougher compromise to come to terms with.

4.Creating an efficient layout? The layout of your kitchen is a big decision, and you may need professional advice. It is best to sketch it carefully and note where the gas and electrical outlets are going to be for each appliance, and of course drainage for plumbed items. Kitchen designers like to create zones for cooking, washing and prepping which is a great tip for creating good flow.

Consider the space between cooktops and windows or tower cabinets, and between electrical outlets and sinks. Think about which appliances can sit near others, and remember to make sure doors can open safely. Don’t put islands too close to a run of cabinets as you will want to be sure to have a comfortable walkway. Many cabinet retailers will have software that can draw a plan for you and some will even visit your home or cottage to measure and check the positions of things.

5.Don’t forget the lighting and heating? It is very important that while you are still in the planning stage you consider the accompanying elements of your new kitchen design. The lighting and heating are important and it is vital to get it right, not only to create a welcoming atmosphere, but also to see clearly while you’re cooking! Decide whether you need direct lighting over the work surfaces and pot lights in the ceiling. Lighting has come a long way and there are some very glamorous options that can have a significant impact without a huge cost.

The heating system is like the kitchen cabinets and appliances, it’s best to decide on positions for these at the outset so that you can get services installed at the correct locations before the kitchen goes in. Once you’ve decided on the layout of your heating and lighting, as well as the position of your appliances and cabinets, try not to make any huge changes as it can be costly to reposition or divert your utilities once you’re at the installation stage.

6.Don’t forget about building permits? If you’re having structural, electrical or plumbing work done as part of the job, you may need to obtain a building permit before you start work. If you’re undertaking this level of work you may have an architect or a building contractor who will be able to tell you how to go about applying for the right sort of permission for the job.

7.What’s my style?Once you have determined all the practical aspects of your reno you can start to think about the fun stuff! You most likely have browsed the internet or the pages of decorating magazines but now with your vision, wants and needs list you can zoom in on the final “look” you want. Perhaps it’s a farmhouse kitchen with a huge harvest table or perhaps a sleek minimalist block with hidden appliances? Whatever you seek, with careful planning you should be able to achieve it and  stay within budget.

8.Hiring a contractor? Perhaps the weightiest decision you will have to make when undertaking a kitchen reno, is choosing the right people to do the work. Many builders will be happy to take on your whole project, with responsibility for the building work, cabinetry, electrical and plumbing considerations too. However, if you are not making any structural changes you may not need a building contractor. You can act as your own general contractor and coordinate the tradesmen you need to do your project. You may need to employ a cabinetmaker, a certified plumber or electrician, tilers and drywall and plaster experts as well as flooring and heating trades. Remember to ask for estimates and get references.

9.Choosing the finishes. Before the work has started finalize as many things as possible like sinks and faucets, countertops, and appliances as well as the tile and flooring. Don’t wait until your contractor needs the items and you rush to obtain them, rather get ahead of the time line so that you won’t be rushed at installation stage. This will ensure that you do not make snap decisions that you may later regret.

These 9 steps are a great guide to a successful kitchen renovation. No matter the reason for the reno, getting it right will bring you a great deal of pleasure and add value to your Muskoka home or cottage.

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:


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.


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.


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.


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 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.



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.