Local knowledge

Photo by Chris Harrison

Every year, it seems, we hear of someone who has run into problems because they hired building contractors from outside the area. The job has gone over budget or hit unforeseen delays, and now the cottage season or the entire project are in jeopardy.

Most often they’ve hired a contractor from the GTA – someone they came to know and trust when they built or renovated their home in the city. It makes sense to use that same person to build or renovate the cottage, right?

Well, maybe. Trust is an extremely important part of the contractor-client relationship, so there’s a lot to be said for working with someone you’ve employed before. But Muskoka isn’t Toronto, and there are special challenges to building here.

There are some fantastic contractors from outside Muskoka, who do great work here. There are also some builders who are caught off-guard when they start working here for the first time. The best contractors have learned to anticipate and overcome local challenges – and to factor them into their pricing.

Here are some of them.


Every contractor is certain they’ve got everything they need on the job site. And every contractor has days when they discover that they’re wrong. Parts to repair a broken piece of equipment, an extra box of joist hangers because the order was short, a new nail gun because someone dropped theirs off the roof – accidents happen and mistakes are made, and there’s always a need to send someone to the hardware store or lumber yard.

In the GTA, that might be 10 minutes down the road. In Muskoka, it can be an hour. Multiply that over the course of a project, and the difference adds up to some significant costs, which out-of-area contractors hadn’t anticipated.

There’s also the reality of cottage roads. Sometimes it makes more sense to barge materials even to a mainland property, or even use a helicopter to transport bulky items like roof trusses. And every spring, municipalities impose half-load limits, a period of weeks or months when trucks need to carry lighter loads to ensure they’re not damaging roads as the ground thaws.


Gone are the days when all construction ground to a halt once the snow started. Building is now a year-round activity, but there are still realities to building in winter. And winter in Muskoka is vastly different than in the GTA.

The ground here freezes sooner and thaws later, shaving a month or more off either end of the excavation season here as compared to places even an hour’s drive south.

The massive snowfall we get here can also catch newcomers off-guard, even when a building is closed-in and all the work is taking place indoors. There are weeks on end when driveways need to be ploughed every day – sometimes even twice a day. Piles of materials and buildings under construction need to be shovelled off every morning (an expensive job when you’ve got journeymen carpenters pushing a snow shovel). The work day is delayed because the cottage road is low on the township’s ploughing priority list. All of these can add enormous costs and delays to a project.

Local networks

One of the most valuable tools a contractor has is his or her address book. Few builders do everything themselves, so you need to know who to call to help complete the job. The stone mason who can do a spectacular fireplace, the blaster and the backhoe operator who can work in a very tight space, the drywaller who can handle a complex curved ceiling… knowing who to call is important if you want a superior job and appropriate pricing.

It’s also helpful to have a strong network when things go askew. Local contractors will compete with each other to get a job, but they also refer jobs to each other all the time.


We work with a great many local contractors – if you’re uncertain who to call for quotes on your next building project, ask us for some recommendations.

We highly recommend starting with members of the Muskoka Builders’ Association. Joining this group isn’t just a matter of signing up – you need to meet rigorous professional standards, and take part in ongoing training. We’re proud members of the MBA, as are many of the best contractors in Muskoka.

Posted in Around Muskoka, Blog.