Articles and Buying Guides

Winter Storm and Blizzard Preparedness

House in the snow

When it’s still warm and sunny out, it is all too easy to forget about the harsh cold of winter. Yet spending a little extra time preparing for winter, especially winter storms and blizzards, can make life a lot easier during the season. Aside from preparing for routine chores like shoveling snow or keeping ice dams from forming on the roof, consider these tips to get ready for more severe weather.

Winterize Your Home

Insulating Pipes

Taking steps to winterize the home and protect it from freezing temperatures is the single biggest step you can take to prepare for winter storms. Your home should be a safe shelter for waiting out the storm, but only if it’s in good shape and has no major structural issues. Take the time to:

  • Insulate pipes and ensure there aren’t drafts in the basement or crawl space where pipes are located.
  • Check your heating devices, especially backup devices like space heaters and gas-fueled equipment.
  • Find the shut-off valves for the various plumbing lines in the home to quickly cut them off in case of a frozen pipe.
  • Cover windows with thermal curtains or plastic wrap to trap heat and improve insulation without major costs.
  • Inspect vents, chimneys, and air pressure devices to ensure fumes and smoke can’t enter the home during heater operation.

Keep Snow-moving Equipment on Hand

Man holding a snow shovel

Even if you don’t need to shovel snow or use a snow blower on a daily basis, keeping these tools on hand can be key to getting through heavy snowfall. Just a basic plastic snow shovel should be in every homeowner's garage that even occasionally experiences snowfall. Consider backup equipment and replacements for DIY repairs for those in colder climates that use snow blowers regularly. You might find it hard to get to a small engine repair shop in the middle of a blizzard, but a sturdy shovel won’t give up when there’s no more fuel available.

Check Plumbing and Electrical Features

Turning plumbing valve off for winter

A home’s plumbing is particularly at risk for damage from freezing temperatures. While the other structures and systems in the home may be fine when used or shut off during the winter, water in the pipes will freeze and potentially burst them. This leads to extensive leaks and flooding when the ice melts again. Protecting plumbing is often a matter of adding insulation, heat cables, or even heating to the entire crawlspace or basement area. Electrical features must be checked if they’re necessary to maintain the plumbing’s heat protection as well. Don’t forget to verify switches and thermostats are on and set properly if using them to activate pipe heaters and other devices to prevent freezing damage.

Write a Formal Emergency Plan

Reviewing Emergency Plan

Informal discussions about family plans for emergencies are helpful, but they don’t replace more formal written emergency plans. Write down and post for everyone to see a basic set of instructions on what to do if winter weather strikes. List information on the nearest warming shelter and how to get there, operate backup or emergency heating equipment and protect the plumbing from a sudden dip in temperatures. Note where to go if the roads are too unsafe to drive on when traveling home. Designate a meetup point and ensure that all the emergency contact numbers relevant to the area are also on the plan.

Install New Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detectors

Smoke detector on ceiling

It’s never the wrong time to add a few extra smoke and carbon monoxide detectors to the home. Check the batteries or wiring on existing detectors to ensure they’re operating as designed as well. Having additional detectors increases the chance that a problem will be caught early before serious damage occurs to the home. This also gives you and your family more time to escape a house fire. Since fire risks increase dramatically in the winter due to extra electrical loading and the use of various heating elements, it’s the perfect time for updating your fire alarm system.

Track Winter Weather and Storms

Family listening to an emergency radio

Finally, keeping on top of weather reports is the key to knowing when winter storms are coming. Snowy conditions and blizzards can arise in a matter of hours, unlike hurricanes and other tropical storms. An emergency radio is a good piece of equipment, but it’ll only work if it’s charged and kept on at all times during the winter.

Winter Storm Warning Sign

Don’t wait for the first flakes of snow to fall to start preparing for winter. With a few pieces of key equipment in your home and some planning, you can handle even the biggest blizzards without panic or fear. However, never be afraid to shut your home up tightly and evacuate if there is any question that you’ll lose power or heat during the storm and have to travel over unsafe roads.

While do-it-yourself projects can be fun and fulfilling, there is always a potential for personal injury or property damage. We strongly suggest that any project beyond your abilities be left to licensed professionals such as electricians, plumbers, and carpenters. Any action you take upon the information on this website is strictly at your own risk, and we assume no responsibility or liability for the contents of this article.