A winter home emergency kit can be an easy or complex project depending on your level of preparation.
In most cases, people are more likely to take the “stay warm and fed” approach, rather than the “be prepared for a zombie apocalypse” narrative, and while it never hurts to prepare, we will be more concerned with the former approach.
Thankfully, you probably have all kinds of things around the house that would be helpful. With just a few additions and a little organization, you will have a complete emergency kit.
The following tips can be adapted to suit your needs based on your location, the weather and the size of your home, as well as the amount of storage space you have.
Understand the terrain
To start with, you must understand how to control your home in an emergency.
Where is the water shut-off valve? The emergency gas shut-off valve?
Which circuit breakers control your furnace, water heater and other major household systems?
Knowing how to shut down the house’s infrastructure can quickly neutralize many home emergencies. Make sure the rest of the family knows how to turn off the water and electricity. Knowing how to stop a geyser of water becomes crucial when a pine tree crashes through your kitchen and water is spouting everywhere.
Make sure you’re well stocked
You should start shopping ahead if you live in an area where the weather can keep you indoors.
Whenever you shop for groceries, buy a few extra non-perishable items to stock the pantry. Don’t wait until you have to go out that day to do your grocery shopping to do it.
This principle also applies to non food items such as batteries, salt and sand for your walk and driveway, and keeping your gas tank full in your car.
Rotate Your Semi-Perishable Food
Water and canned goods keep well enough for a while, but not forever. Organize your pantry so that cans don’t gather dust at the back; this way, the next time you’re snowed in you’ll be able to eat fresh canned fruits and vegetables instead of dusty cans from three Thanksgivings ago!
While you can go crazy and build a full-fledged rotating shelf for your canned goods, an inexpensive wire-frame dispenser will suffice for smaller storage spaces.
Keep flash lights and batteries handy
It is always a good idea to keep batteries on hand. Flashlights are the best way to keep the lights on when the power goes out.
When there is a power outage, people often light up candles to brighten their dark homes, but this often results in a house fire.
Bottom line, candles should always be a last resort option.
Have Alternative Heat Source(s)
There are two levels of warmth during a winter storm: safe and comfortable.
In your house, 40-50F would be comfortable as long as you were wearing layers of clothing and had blankets. No one will get frostbite, and pipes will not freeze.
Note that what’s considered a “comfortable” temperature is subjective. For example, you might be comfortable at 55 degrees Fahrenheit, whereas others in the household would prefer at least 60F.
If this is the case in your home, plan accordingly.
While fireplaces, kerosene space heaters, and other combustion-based sources of heat are not as efficient and safe as central furnaces, they can help keep you warm until power is restored.
In the event of an outage, ensure that any alternative heat sources that you plan on using are in good working order, are clean, and are understood by everyone who uses them.
Give that kerosene heater a trial run when you aren’t under pressure and clean the chimney before you need it.
Unfortunately, unlike switching from candles to LED flashlights, there are no ultra modern replacements for combustion-based heat.
Always put safety first!
Emergency Repair Tools and Materials
Although you do not need to be prepared for a full remodeling project, you will need some basics. What happens if a tree branch falls and breaks a window?
While an outage in the middle of summer is a nuisance, one at the middle of a winter outage can quickly drop the temperature of your home below freezing in a matter of hours.
It might not be as good as triple-pane windows, but duct tape and heavy duty plastic sheeting will prevent hot air from drafting outside.
Wind and ice can damage phone lines, but a winter storm is very unlikely to wipe out a cellular network.
Make sure you have a car charger for your cellphone, because if the power outage lasts a while, you’ll need to top it off.
If your cellphone service is spotty, you might consider sending SMS messages to friends and family. In cases of weak signal, SMS messages can often get through even when voice calls cannot be made.
Consider investing in a couple of GMRS/FRS hand-held radios with your neighbors if you live in a rural area. Around $30 will get you a modest but functional walkie-talkie set.
Preparation based on your budget and situation
As already noted, you’ll need to adjust the level of preparation according to your budget and needs.
For example, a home generator is a great investment if you can afford it and live in an area with frequent power outages, but an apartment dweller experiencing extremely infrequent and brief power outages could simply stockpile batteries under the bed.
When preparing for bad weather and prolonged power outages, it’s important to run through a number of possible scenarios and to plan for what you may need to do in various circumstances.
- ⬥ A tree laden with ice falls onto your home. What happens next?
- ⬥ What happens if there is an extended power outage? Is there a way to heat food without electricity?
- ⬥ Is your home’s heating system powered by electricity?
- ⬥ In case of an emergency, have I told my roommate, spouse, or child what my plan is?
When you ask and answer these questions before you are under the stress of the actual situation, you can plan properly and keep stress levels down when, say, a Douglas Fir falls through the picture window or the weatherman says power won’t be restored until next Tuesday.
Take some time to plan now and you won’t worry when the lights start to flicker because you know you have what you need to stay safe and comfortable.
Getting ready for winter will be here before you know it.