Not All Smooth Sailing

Can't afford life on the lake?  Make yourself feel better by finding out why you wouldn't want to live there anyway.

There are many idyllic visions of lakefront living: watching shimmering sunsets, a flock of Canada geese soaring overhead, enjoying a cup of coffee while sailboats glide past. Unfortunately, reality often paints a different picture: rats feeding on washed-up dead fish, siding ripped off by brutal winter winds, a sunset that would be beautiful, if only you could see through the swarms of insects. Living on the lake isn’t always a picnic, especially considering animals, insects, harsh weather, the need for erosion-control and concern for children’s safety.

If a lakefront house doesn’t have an erosion-control system, installing such a system is crucial to protecting the property. Bud Edwards of Westlake’s Shoreline Contractors Inc. prices such systems between $1,000 and $1,200 per foot of shoreline, plus an initial $3,500 to $4,000 to hire an engineer and a state surveyor. Options include installing a vertical retaining wall made with steel or concrete blocks, a band of 3-to 5-ton rocks on the slope, or an offshore breakwater that will create a beach.

Jeff Hagan, who lives on the lake in North Collinwood, spent $11,000 on rocks for his shoreline. “Some people talk about buying the wife a nice rock,” he jokes. “We bought a lot of rocks.” Neighbors who pitch in to buy one erosion-control system for several houses may get a better deal.

While it’s blissful to live where nothing obstructs summer breezes, this freedom leaves no barriers for winter’s vicious gusts. “The imported wind from Canada has a good 50-mile head-start before it slams into my house,” says Tim Davis, who lives on the lake on Cleveland’s East Side. For Hagan, being exposed to the elements means sometimes having his gutters and siding ripped off during storms.

Living on the lake can also bring higher heating bills if a house is not well insulated. We heard reports of $7,000 to $8,000 a month for one older home in Bratenahl — and that was after getting the windows replaced.

Concern for children’s safety is paramount when living close to a body of water, especially one bordered by cliffs in some areas. For Davis, it was a priority to have his children swimming at an early age. He also talked to them about the extreme danger of cliffs and walking out onto the ice in the winter.

The moist climate surrounding the lake makes it a welcoming ecosystem for many types of wildlife. Around his home, Hagan has seen deer, possum and skunks, the stench from one lingering for two weeks. The moist air is an ideal habitat for insects and the spiders that thrive on them, and the fish washing up on the shore attract rats, which then find their way inside.

A man at one pest control company, who preferred not to be named, confirmed that bugs and rats can be a problem, but added, “If they can afford to live on the lake, then they can afford to take care of the problems.” Quarterly rat treatments can cost a few hundred dollars and semi-annual external spider treatments range from $175 to $400 each, depending on the size of the house.

But perhaps the most notorious plague is the Canadian soldiers, or mayflies, which swarm, breed, die and decay, leaving a stinking, pest-attracting mess. “There are unbelievable dark clouds of them,” says Hagan. “It’s Hitchcockian.”

But for many lakeshore dwellers, the challenges are part of the charm. “You can see it as an inconvenience,” says Hagan, “but it’s also a reminder that this is nature. The lake is not going to let humans get in its way.”

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