Preparing Your Home for Winter
Is your house ready for the winter? Better think again.
With the fall equinox coming in a few days (September 22) I know it’s time to prepare my home for the coming winter. For those who aren’t aware of it, an equinox — which only occurs twice per year — is the time of the year when the day and night are split equally. The fall equinox lets us know that from now on the nights will be getting longer and the days shorter. It is a prelude to winter and the perfect time to start preparing your home for that coming season.
In this article, you will learn what steps you’ll need to take to prepare your home for winter. These steps are broken up into what I call the 5 priorities of survival: Personal Security, Shelter, Water, Fire, Food.
There are some unique dangers that one has to be aware of in the winter time. Here is a list of items that you should prepare for:
- Carbon Monoxide Detectors: Since the temperature is beginning to drop, many households are beginning to use their heating stoves (pellet or wood) again. These stoves have the potential to release deadly carbon monoxide gas. Be sure to get a detector if you don’t already have one and double check the batteries if you do.
- Smoke Detectors: Similar to carbon monoxide poisoning, house fires aren’t uncommon in the winter time. Be sure your detector is functioning and has new batteries.
- Remove dead branches and trees away from your house: Anyone who has lived through an ice storm or a winter blizzard knows the danger that nearby dead (and sometimes living) trees and branches pose for your home and yourself. Take a look around your home and seek out any potential problem trees and branches. Remove these (or have them removed by a professional).
- Prepare an emergency evacuation kit: If you house caught on fire and you had to bug-out quickly, you’ll want to make sure that you have an emergency evacuation kit ready to go in a moments notice. This is a bit different than the 72-hour kit in that it contains social security cards, medical records, birth certificates, and other important documents.
- Some means of communication: This could include a battery-powered or hand-crank radio (for listening to local emergency instructions). Have extra batteries if needed.
- First-Aid kit: This is pretty self explanatory
Included here is a list of specific steps related to your shelter (home) that should be taken care of before the winter hits.
- Seal up your home: This includes caulking and shrink-wrapping the windows, installing storm windows, weather stripping the doors, closing the flue or chimney etc. To test whether your windows/doors need additional sealing, on a windy day light a candle and place it near the door or window. When the wind picks up, if the flame flickers then it needs to be sealed up.
- Add insulation where needed: An uninsulated attic is one of the primary places that heat is lost through the home (in actuality it gets trapped there). You should add at least R-30 grade insulation. Other areas include the sill boxes, basement walls and ceiling joists, and other floors and walls where applicable.
- Gather and prepare the needed tools and equipment: These are the tools and equipment needed to maintain your home during the winter. This includes snow shovels, rock salt and sand, as well as tuning up your snow blower and so on.
- Insulate your pipes: You’ll want to insulate any pipes that are exposed to freezing cold. Be aware that pipes don’t necessarily have to be directly outside to freeze. If they are in an area of the home which is not heated (basement, spare room etc) they could potentially freeze on a really cold night. Insulating your pipes will prevent freezing which can lead to water not being available or the pipes bursting and flooding your home.
- Drain and shut off outdoor water faucets: Similar to the previous step, frozen faucets can damage valves and burst connecting pipes. Draining them will prevent this.
- Stored Water: Frozen pipes and power outages (stopping well-water pumps from working) are commonplace in the winter. Store up 2 weeks of water (1-gallon per person per day minimum). This is also part of the Food Storage Basics and should be done anyways.
- Water purification kit: If you refuse to store water, at least have a purification kit to purify melted snow or ice. Just fill up a large pot with snow or ice and bring it inside to melt in a heated home (assuming you followed the ‘fire’ steps below) or over an emergency cooking stove and purify it with your kit. Check out my article on water procurement and purification methods.
The ‘fire’ in this case relates to cooking, heating, and lighting. Here’s a list of key ‘fire’ components of your home that should be included in your preparations:
- Have your heating system checked and maintained: This includes furnace inspections, thoroughly cleaning out your pellet stove, chimney or flue inspections (if they are used in heating your home) and so on.
- Have a backup heating plan: If you were to lose power or the gas shut off would you still be able to heat your home? Be sure to have some back-up option to heat your home in the event that does happen. The best option would be a wood-burning stove with a few cords of wood. In close second and often overlooked are kerosene heaters. They rival the output of a pellet stove and are tons cheaper. Be aware of the venting requirements before you run this in your home.
Another backup option is a generator (don’t run it inside) with some stored fuel to provide electricity for pellet stoves, space heaters and other electric powered heat sources. A fireplace (with a proper reflector to improve the heat output) is also acceptable. In a pinch you could make an emergency alcohol stove and use it huddled up in a small room (just be sure a window is opened about an inch). Although the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning is minimal, as a precaution I would take a carbon monoxide detector in the room with you.
- Have a backup cooking plan: This includes small Ezbet stoves, emergency stoves, camping stoves etc. With some of these stoves, it’s a good idea to cook outdoors.
- Have a backup lighting plan: This includes making sure that your flashlights are located in an area that’s easy to access (with plenty of batteries) in the event of a blackout. Other more long-term means of lighting include candles and oil lanterns.
With winter storms, blackouts and road closures common in the winter time, getting to the store to buy food is not always possible. Here’s a list of preparations you can make to ensure that food is not an issue.
- Food Storage: Having some extra food on hand is always beneficial. If you’ve followed my advice on building up a 3-month supply, then food shortages/availability during a severe storm will not be an issue. At the least you should have enough to last you 2-weeks.
- Non-Cook items: Since long-term cooking could be an issue if you haven’t prepared right, be sure to have plenty of foods that do not require them being cooked (canned goods, dehydrated/freeze-dried foods etc). Don’t forget the non-electric can opener!
- Perscription drugs and other medicine: Although not exactly food, if you are dependent upon certain medicines, you should have some extra on hand.