Arizona Snowbowl Ski Resort. (Photo by Cierra Luna/Cronkite News)
Stay safe and warm with this winter preparation guide
It seems like the summer months never last as long as they should. Near the end of August, we start to sense fall approaching. And, of course, winter follows soon after.
Because winter has a way of sneaking up on us, it’s important to be proactive about preparing for these cold months. Depending on where you live, the temperatures can drop well below zero degrees.
The key to not only surviving but thriving during this season is to invest in winter preparation. This includes your home, your vehicles, your pets, your kids, and yourself.
But don’t worry, you don’t have to figure everything out on your own, we’re here to help. Keep reading for a complete guide on how to prepare yourself for winter weather.
Preparing Your Home for Winter
First, let’s talk about winter preparation in your home. No matter what time of year it is, your home should always serve as a safe haven for you and your family. It should be a constant provider of peace, comfort, safety, and security.
If you don’t take the time to weatherproof your home for the cruel winter temperatures, your home won’t be able to provide these luxuries and comforts. Don’t take the integrity of your home for granted, as any number of things can create an issue during the cold winter months.
Here are the most important things you need to consider.
Insulating Your Home
Assuming your home is completely finished, your home is already insulated. However, over the years, you might notice drafts and cool breezes coming in from outside. These can originate at doors and windows.
Make sure the weatherstripping on each of your exterior doors is in good condition. This is especially important if you have dogs or cats that like to scratch at the door when they want to be let inside. Poor weatherstripping will allow ice-cold drafts to make their way into your home.
Additionally, look at your windows throughout the home (inside and out) to identify any areas that need to be resealed. If so, simple silicone caulk will get the job done nicely. While you’re at it, check exterior door frames for similar issues.
If you have an older home that has outdated windows, you could be introducing a lot of cold air into your home because of their lack of insulation. This might be the year to invest in a more economical option.
You will be surprised at how much of a difference it makes. It will also lower your heating bill.
Heating Your Home
Speaking of your heating bill, let’s take about winter preparation in terms of keeping your house warm. There are several methods of heating homes to combat the winter weather. The most common methods are:
• Wood and pellet stoves
• Gas furnaces
• Oil furnace
• Electric furnaces
• Baseboard heaters
• Boiler systems
Regardless of which type of heating system you use, there is always a danger of accidental fires. Fortunately, there are simple steps you can take to mitigate these risks.
If you have a furnace with forced-air heating, make sure your ducts are clean. You should also replace your HVAC filter, which will also serve to increase your HVAC system’s efficiency and improve your air quality. Lastly, have a maintenance checkup conducted by a professional HVAC contractor.
If you have a wood stove or pellet stove, ensure your chimney is clean to avoid chimney fires caused by left-over residue called creosote. Additionally, make sure you’ve collected enough firewood for the winter.
We recommend getting everything you need before winter hits. If there was a severe weather event, you might not be able to get out and collect more firewood. Look here to find kiln dried hardwood logs that burn hotter, longer.
Lastly, verify your safety systems. Check your smoke alarms and CO2 alarms to ensure they are working properly. Additionally, make sure you have multiple, up-to-date fire extinguishers placed conveniently throughout the home.
Tools and Equipment
Now, let’s discuss the essential tools and equipment for winter preparation. We recommend getting an ergonomic snow shovel to help you clear driveways, sidewalks, stairs, and other pathways. If you can afford it, you can save yourself a ton of physical labor by investing in a snowblower.
Now would also be a good time to stock up on sidewalk salt. With the cold winter weather comes snow and ice. These elements can prove treacherous on sidewalks and outdoor steps. Laying down salt will melt the snow and ice, and thus, reduce your risk of slips, falls, and injuries.
Preparing for Winter Road Conditions
Next, let’s redirect our winter preparation guide to staying safe on the road. Winter weather can cause inclement road conditions. Things like ice, snow, and slush can be incredibly dangerous to drive on, especially for inexperienced drivers.
However, preparing for the harsh temperatures of winter weather also includes vehicle maintenance, car emergency kits, and more. Here’s what you need to know.
First, let’s take a look at your personal vehicle. Right before winter is a good time to replace your tires. Old tires with worn tread will increase your struggle to stop, slow down, and stay in your lane if there is snow or ice on the ground.
If you have a separate set of winter tires, now’s the time to put them on. Otherwise, replace your old tires with all-season tires.
Next, get an oil change to ensure your engine is running smoothly. It’s also a good idea to refill your windshield wiper fluid and check your wiper blades. Wet road conditions lead to filthy windshields.
Lastly, have the radiator system checked, as well as your anti-freeze levels. And, of course, make sure your heater works, particularly the defrost for the windshield.
Vehicle Emergency Preparedness
Once your vehicle is ready to handle the winter weather, it’s time to stock it with some important survival gear. If you hit a deer, slide off the road, or have other car issues, a car emergency kit can save your life.
Here’s a quick list of what you should keep in your car during the winter:
• Extra cold weather clothing (boots, coats, hats, gloves)
• Shovel (to dig yourself out if you’re stuck)
• Window scraper
• Food and water
• A chain or tow strap
• Cat litter (to lay on snow and ice for grip)
• Jumper cables
• Road flares and reflectors
• First aid kit
You can add more to your car emergency kit as you see fit. It’s better to have too much survival equipment than not enough.
Winter Driving Tips
Lastly, let’s talk about winter preparation in regards to driving. If you’ve had your license for several years, you’ve likely driven in the snow before. If you’re new to an area with snow, are a new driver, or just need a refresher, that’s okay.
What you need to know is that driving on snow and ice is quite different than on dry asphalt. There is less traction, which makes it harder to stop, slow down, accelerate, and steer.
Drive cautiously, particularly when there is snow and ice on the ground. Follow at greater distances and begin to slow down much sooner than you normally would. Additionally, avoid accelerating too aggressively, which will cause you to peel out and/or veer out of your lane.
Finally, don’t be fooled by black ice. Black ice is formed when the snow melts but refreezes to form an almost invisible layer of ice. This is often more dangerous because motorists don’t know they’re driving on it.
Pets and Livestock
If you have family pets or livestock, it’s time to focus our winter preparation guide on their comfort, safety, and well-being. For dogs and cats that spend time outdoors, pay attention to the weather forecast. Don’t allow your pet to stay outside for a long period of time if it’s going to be too cold.
What “too cold” means depends on the animal. For example, long-hair dogs like huskies can weather some of the coldest temperatures, while short-haired dogs will struggle with temperatures above freezing.
If they are going to be outside, ensure their outdoor kennel or dog house is supplied with plenty of insulation. This could be hay, blankets, wood chips, etc. You could also invest in a dog sweater or jacket.
The same goes for livestock. Most livestock, like goats, chickens, cows, sheep, horses, and other animals naturally adapt to the cold. However, taking extra measures to ensure their safety is wise.
For example, a heat lamp in a chicken coup is never a bad idea. Just make sure it’s safely secured so it won’t cause a fire.
Clothing, Boots, and Winter Accessories
Winter preparation also includes making sure you have the proper attire to stay warm, whether you’re on your way to work waiting for your car to heat up, or outside shoveling snow.
Proper winter clothing for you and your family includes:
• Winter hats
• Warm gloves
• Snow pants
• Long underwear
• Warm socks
• And more
What you need somewhat depends on your lifestyle and any winter activities you partake in. For example, if you have kids, you’ll probably be sledding, making snow forts, building snowmen, etc.
As a parent, you know that children grow like weeds. Double-check their winter gear to make sure it still fits. If not, you’ll need to update their winter apparel.
Emergency Winter Preparedness
Next, let’s talk about the importance of emergency winter preparation. You and your family need to be prepared for severe weather events. While these are few and far between, failing to be prepared could end tragically.
Here are some events for which you would need a winter emergency kit.
There are many aspects of winter weather that lead to disruptions in power. Ice, snow, and extreme wind can cause power outages.
While in most cases, the city or county can get the power back on within a couple of hours. However, in certain, extreme situations, the power could stay out for several days. Look at what happened in the Texas winter of 2020.
If you experience a severe weather event like this, you need to have extra food stores in your home, as well as a way to keep warm. Don’t leave you and your family vulnerable.
In some areas, snowfall can be excessive and unpredictable. This can sometimes result in getting snowed-in.
In these types of scenarios, it can be difficult, if not impossible, to leave your home, let alone go to the grocery store. When this happens, businesses shut down, schools close, and people are stranded in their homes.
Prepare for these severe weather events by ensuring you have plenty of food and other supplies to stay camped out in your home for several days on end. Make sure your winter emergency kit includes first aid essentials.
Cold-Related Health Risks
Finally, no winter preparation guide is complete without talking about the health risks that come with extreme, low temperatures. Primarily, we’re talking about frostbite and hypothermia.
Hypothermia occurs when someone is too cold for too long. Essentially, your body is losing more heat than it can produce. When your body temperature drops, it impacts the function of your heart, organs, and nervous system.
Here are some common signs of hypothermia:
• Slurred speech
• Lack of coordination, stumbling around
• Shallow breathing
• Slow breathing
• Lack of consciousness
• Slow or weak pulse
• Excessive shivering
If you are noticing these signs and symptoms, get the person warm immediately and call 911.
The other major cold-related health risk is frostbite. Frostbite also occurs when the body is exposed to extreme cold for too long. The skin and underlying tissue begin to freeze.
However, skin doesn’t have to be exposed to the air for frostbite to occur. Frostbite is most common in cheeks, the nose, fingers, toes, and ears.
Signs of frostbite include:
• Prickling, cold skin
• Discolored skin
• Hard skin
• Waxy skin
• Joint and muscle stiffness
If you or someone else is starting to experience these issues, get them inside or warm as soon as possible. Then, call 911 for further assistance.
Have You Started Your Winter Preparation Yet?
As you have probably noticed, there’s a lot that goes into winter preparation. Fortunately, it doesn’t all have to be done at once. Begin preparing your home, car, and family for cold winter weather now to get a leg up on the process.
Follow our in-depth guide to cover all of your bases. And if you’re looking for more valuable tips on preparedness, lifestyle, or any other important area of your life, we’re here for you. Read through some of our other articles before you go to find what you’re looking for.