Fierce winter storms can cause havoc. But there is no reason they should completely overturn your life and endanger your well-being. Making preparations ahead of time can keep you and your family warm, healthy, and safe.
Summer and early fall are prime seasons for preparing your home and yard for upcoming winter storms. Think of your home as a ship on the verge of sailing into bad weather. You need to clear hazards that are in close proximity and “batten down the hatches” by securing openings against water, wind, and other inclement weather.
Trees are responsible for the majority of damage to homes and personal property during winter storms. Your homeowner’s insurance may not protect you in the event of fallen limbs or trees. According to insurance company Allstate, your homeowner’s insurance probably will not cover a fallen tree if the tree exhibited prior signs of rot or instability.
High winds can loosen roof shingles. Walk your roof and inspect it carefully. Shingles that are obviously loose should be replaced by a qualified roofer.
The condition of the flashing – the metal sleeves around the chimney and other roof protrusions – is more difficult to visually determine. Have a contractor or roofer inspect these areas.
When storms hit, massive amounts of water are directed at your house over a short period of time. Re-grade the soil around your house so it declines away from the foundation.
One source of water damage to foundations and basements is downspouts that force water straight into the ground. This can be easily and cheaply fixed by adding plastic downspout drainage lines that deposit the water away from the house. Fix or replace gutters in the summer. Clean gutters in the early fall, as soon as all the leaves are off the trees.
In areas prone to freezing weather, walkways and driveways can become dangerously icy. Purchase ice melt in early fall (it may not be in stock in stores earlier than that). Calcium chloride is better than rock salt because it is less damaging to hardscaping and surrounding plants.
By the end of summer, window unit air conditioners are no longer needed. A/C units are weak points for water intrusion. Even if there is a tight seal between the unit and the window, water can still enter through the back of the unit. Remove them and stow them away.
Depending on your climate, you can likely keep the windows open for a month or two past summer’s end. Eventually, though, it is good practice to remove the screens, wash them down, and store them until the following summer. Exterior retrofit storm windows can protect your windows against light debris impact and wind-blown rain, snow, and sleet.
Wood-burning fireplaces build up creosote, an oily black substance that can cause chimneys to internally ignite. Hiring a chimney sweep is the most effective way to rid your flue of creosote.
However, the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) endorses one product, Joseph Enterprise’s Creosote Sweeping Log, as being acceptable for do-it-yourself creosote cleaning.
Dealing with exterior issues during the summer, when the weather is fair, gives you more time and leeway to tackle interior areas as winter approaches.
Bringing in a technician to conduct a furnace “tune-up” is like your biannual dentist’s visit for teeth cleaning: you can miss it sometimes, but it is highly recommended that you do every year.
The greatest value in doing the tune-up before winter storms is that you can accomplish it on your own terms. If you wait until your furnace dies during a storm, you will be at the mercy of overtasked HVAC companies, their tight schedules, and their often-inflated pricing.
Quick – Do you know where your water main and gas shut-off valves are located? If you cannot answer this question off the top of your head, you need to find out now.
Water main valves are typically located within the house on the perimeter, facing the street. Gas valves are located outside the house near the gas meter. Most gas and water shut-off valves require a special tool that costs less than $15.
Emergency lighting is your protection against fumbling around in the dark when the power goes out. Available for less than $20, these lights stay plugged into outlets so they are always charging. When power to the outlet is cut off, they automatically turn on. Mr. Beams ReadyBright is a popular brand of emergency house lighting. However, cheaper generic versions are available at most hardware and department stores.
Creating a family emergency plan is as simple as printing and filling out a form that is available at the FEMA website.
This plan lists phone numbers, addresses, and medical information for all family members. Because both power and cell phone reception can go down in storms, it is valuable to have all this information available in hard-copy form.
With winter storms come power outages. Even large, highly reliable power systems, such as California’s Pacific Gas & Electric company, report that customers may expect one power outage per year on average. Make sure you know how you will address these five key concerns when the power goes out:
The FEMA Basic Disaster Supplies Kit consists of the following items:
Preparing for a winter storm is usually far easier than most people expect, and it pays off huge dividends in the event of a crippling storm.