When you live in a region that has bitterly cold winters with heavy snowfall and strong winds, you must become adept at dealing with typical winter-related home maintenance. For example, you always purchase and store buckets of ice remover and traction sand when the cold season begins, and you definitely own a snow rake for removing heavy drifts from your roof before they can cause damage.
But, harsh winters also offer the potential for emergency situations which aren’t covered by your standard cold weather checklist. Ice storms can cut off power for hours, or even days. A heavy blizzard can keep you and your family housebound until the storm ends and snowplows arrive to clear the streets.
Whether you’re an experienced cold weather homeowner or you’ve just moved from a mild climate to a new home in a winter zone, here are some items you should always have on hand in case of a winter-related home emergency.
If a power outage puts you in the dark, you should have at least one flashlight or portable lamp for every member of the family, with plenty of spare batteries on hand. LED flashlights and lamps are brighter and consume less power than traditional flashlights. Be sure to check your stash of batteries at the start of the cold season; if they are past their expiry date, you should replace them.
Portable External Batteries
If a winter storm knocks out your power and/or phone lines, your mobile phone could be the only way to contact emergency services or friends and family. Portable external battery chargers for mobile devices are a popular and inexpensive backup energy source for your cell phone. Just remember to check your portable battery regularly throughout the season, and keep it fully charged.
Winter Expert Tip: In a pinch, you can use a car charger cord to power up your phone in your vehicle.
If the furnace conks out during a winter storm, your home’s internal temperature will drop a little or a lot based on outdoor conditions, as well as the build type, quality, and age of your house. There are several items you should have on hand to help stay warm until an emergency repairman can arrive.
Electric space heaters are a decent source of heat if the power is still on. When shopping for a space heater, look for one with a sensor that shuts down the heater if it gets knocked over. Some space heaters also have an oscillating feature which helps distribute heat across a wider area.
Electric pads and blankets are also useful if the power is still on. These items should be used with caution (and supervision) with infants, or anyone with numbness or a condition that makes them vulnerable to heat. Also, be careful if you’re using an electric pad or blanket around pets—a wayward claw or bite during a play session could have unfortunate results.
If your furnace is off and the power is out, it’s time to bundle up. Sweaters worn over layered clothing are a good choice. Sleeping bags rated for low temperatures are better than blankets. Instead, use your blankets to make an old-school fort in your living room—perfect for capturing body heat, and making an emergency situation less scary for youngsters and special-needs children.
Candles and fireplaces are combustion-based heat sources, and should always be used with great care and moderation. These heat sources will inevitably have an impact on air quality unless rooms are well ventilated. When using candles, have a fire extinguisher nearby in case of an accidental fire. Keeping warm by setting your house ablaze is not a recommended winter storm strategy.
Winter Expert Tip: A supply of chemical pocket hand warmers can come in—well, handy. These inexpensive items last for 9-12 hours, and are a great source of heat for cold hands and feet.
Having some extra food and water stashed away in the event of an emergency is a good idea no matter what season it is. In wintertime, bitterly cold temperatures can cause a water pipe to burst, requiring you to shut off your home’s main water valve. If an emergency plumber can’t come out for a day or two, you could be stuck without a source of drinking water.
How much water should you keep in your emergency supply? The CDC recommends having at least one gallon of drinking water per person per day, for a minimum of three days. For example, a family of four would require twelve gallons of water (just over 45 liters) for three days.
Winter Expert Tip: Don’t forget about your four-legged family members when it comes to water. A cat or dog will drink about a gallon of water over a three-day span.
Be a Good Landlord
Homeowners aren’t the only ones vulnerable to severe winter weather. If you are the landlord of a rental property, you know that some tenants can have a “someone else will cover it” mindset when it comes to home maintenance. But, what happens when you (or a contracted repair service) can’t get through a brutal winter storm to repair a furnace or restore running water?
Consider making a handout that lists the essential items from this article (and other emergency information as appropriate), and distribute it to your tenants when winter begins. This will hopefully make them more proactive when it comes to preparing for the cold weather season.