Winter Preparation: Your Home, Your Family, Your Alternatives

December 10, 2019

Winter has arrived, and that means the risk of severe winter storms. With the right preparation, you’ll be able to sit back and relax with some hot chocolate as the wind howls and snow falls. There are many things you can do to be sure you and your family are all set for the next few months of winter. Consider breaking down your checklist into three major groups: Your home, your family, and your alternatives.

When preparing your home for the coming weather, there’s a number of things you’ve hopefully already done outside. In past articles, we’ve talked about checking your roof, gutters, and landscaping to minimize risk. But inside the home, there’s other measures you can take without needing much warning.

Have a plan, and share your plan. This one is simple enough that many people might not bother. However, in a storm setting, it’s a good idea to have a plan that has been thought about ahead of time so there’s no stressful wondering while you’re in the midst of bad weather. Make sure your family all know the plan, and share it with your neighbours. A little forethought goes a long way. Be sure to include someone who can be an emergency contact, a back-up meeting point if people are away from home, and what happens if not everyone can reunite right away.

Have a back-up heat source in mind. For some, that may mean ensuring there’s a good stockpile of wood for a wood-stove or fireplace. Be sure to bring extra firewood inside if a storm warning is issued – you’ll be glad you did, especially if freezing rain turns your woodpile into one giant icy block. Be aware that gas stoves, propane and kerosene heaters emit deadly gasses, so try to limit any use of these kinds of heaters unless you’ve got a way to vent the exhaust. Don’t light fires in your home unless in a well-maintained fireplace or wood stove. Electric heaters are a good option, though it’s a good idea to have a generator on hand in case the power goes out.

Power your way through the storm. Frozen trees can knock out power-lines in a storm, and restoration of electricity can take crews a long time. It’s a good idea to have some sort of power backup to keep phones charged, and power lights. Some people opt for generators – in which case, keep it outside and run an extension cable indoors, and have a supply of fresh fuel on hand – while others prefer battery backup systems. Do some research and consider what will best suit your needs.

To keep your family happy during a storm, there’s a few things to consider. Thankfully none are very complicated.

Food comes first. Nothing makes someone feel warm and happy like a full belly. Keep your pantry stocked with hearty foods that are easy to make. Cans of soup and chili are great options, or find your favourite camping meals and stock up on those. Also be sure to keep plenty of water on hand either in cases of bottled water or in large jugs. Limit the number of times you open your fridge or freezer if the power is out. If the interior of your house stays warm, there’s no sense in letting more cold air into your home, and you don’t want food to spoil. If your kitchen is out of commission, use a camp stove or BBQ to prepare hot food, but do it outside. If you know a storm is coming, move the BBQ into a sheltered spot so you can limit your exposure to the worst of a storm.

Keeping entertained. If people are staying indoors, everyone will stay safe so long as you can ward off cabin fever. A deck of cards, a book of crossword puzzles, and even a game of 20 questions can help people stay occupied. Monitor small kids and elderly family members to ensure that everyone is dressed appropriately. If you have pets that need to go outside every now and then, it’s worth keeping them on leash to prevent wandering off.

While most situations will resolve without having to leave home, occasionally, a big storm can hit that requires people to evacuate homes. It’s never a pleasant situation, but as with everything, being prepared can take the edge off.

Revisit your plan. Include where you’ll go and what you’ll take if you have to leave your home. Include your pets, and have a few possible destinations that are in different directions – there’s a better chance that at least one will not be so hard hit. Check out resources like the Canadian Red Cross for instructions on how to build a 72-hour kit.

Be ready. If you’re aware that a storm is coming, ensure your car is in good shape, with topped up fluids, jumper cables, a shovel, and some spare warm clothing. My grandfather taught me to keep no less than half a tank of gas in the car at all times and it’s a habit that has stuck.

Listen to officials. It can be unnerving to have to leave your home, but trust what officials and emergency services ask of you. Every municipality has emergency plans and protocols for these types of situations. They’ll be looking out for your best interests.

Take your time. If you have to travel during a winter storm, take your time. Stress can lead to rushing, which can prompt a mistake. Don’t rush things, use good judgement, stop or turn around if you need to, and you’ll get through just fine.

With the right preparation, your biggest concern might just be making sure everyone has a marshmallow in their hot chocolate.

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