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Editor’s Note: This is an updated and revised edition for 2018.
While we are in our early fall season, and we are getting closer to the start of winter, you have time right now to get your place in good order. Chances are some of the things on this list are things you already have or that you can order or get in town with ease.
Preparing your place for the winter doesn’t have to be nerve-wracking but there are some steps you should take to make sure things go smoothly. A little bit of prevention can result in a lot fewer problems later on. Here are some tips for making winter a little easier to transition to.
Think about unique needs
The world is a big place in a lot of ways. This list I have come up with can be applied to quite a few areas but there are very likely going to be some things unique to your area or living situation that you will want to add.
Check your pipes and check them twice
I want to tell you a little story that was passed on through the family over the years. My great grandfather Fred Queen lived in NC most of his life then he followed his kids out to Washington state where they had found employment in the logging industry.
Well, one dad he was prepping his place for winter but Grandpa Fred had a pet raccoon that followed him around. This raccoon watched Grandpa Fred meticulously wrap all of his pipes and plumbing in insulation. It was quite a job and he was naturally glad and felt accomplished after it was done.
Raccoons are smart and have very dexterous little hands. Great Grandpa Fred ’s beloved pet came behind him not a day later and unwrapped every single pipe.
The moral of this story is never to assume that your insulation is in good shape. You need to look and then make sure that it is in good shape before winter sets in.
A broken pipe can cause your water to go out and thousands of dollars in damage from leaks. If you are away part of the year it is even more essential to make sure things are in order. If something happens and you are away it can be absolutely terrible.
Clean and refurbish heating systems
It is a good idea to change your furnace filter before winter. Take a shop vac and stick it down your heating ducts and vacuum them out as well as you can. If you do this occasionally, you can avoid expensive professional cleanings.
Picking up a 6 pack of furnace filters and stashing them can make it easier to remember to change them out and you can usually get a better deal buying in bulk. Those of us with long haired dogs know that the furnace filters that say 90 days should probably be changed every 45 at the most. If it is dry and dusty out we go for changing once a month.
Clean your chimney
Chimneys can get dirty quicker than you might think. Burning small fires or green wood can increase how often your chimney needs cleaning. This is due to incomplete combustion. Look up your chimney with a flashlight and don’t just assume that once a year is okay for cleaning.
A wire brush doesn’t cost much and lasts for a very long time. While it is messy to do this, a chimney fire is not something you ever want to deal with. Chimney brushes come in different sizes and you can buy sections of handle as needed so you can get the full length of your chimney. Everything screws apart for storage.
Birds can sometimes make nests in chimney caps or the top of a chimney. It is not pleasant to deal with but you may have to dislodge them. We have had to take down a section of stove pipe on the inside of our house to free trapped birds. It is rare but sometimes an industrious bird will succeed in getting through and trapped.
I do not have experience using this product but it seems that a lot of people really like it for the convenience. I have to say that if it keeps you from having to use a messy chimney brush then it is worth it. You are still probably going to want to get out the brush once a year if you use your stove a lot.
Check animal feed supplies
If you have cats, dogs, or livestock it can be very helpful to make sure you have a few weeks at least of food on hand. If a storm comes through you don’t want to be out in it trying to get supplies for your animals and you don’t want to be in a situation of having to feed people food to dogs and cats.
Clean gutters and ditches
I don’t care for these tasks but they are important. Gutters are one of the few things we hired someone else to do on the house. We still had to the drainage from the gutters but the company that put our gutters on added screens that keep the vast majority of debris out of the rain gutters.
A broom on the backside of the house and in 10 minutes I am done. If you don’t have screens then I advise you get them because they are under $1 a foot and worth every penny.
Road ditches on private property can get a lot of debris accumulated in them that can lead to a lot of water running down and washing out roads. Check your ditches and save your gravel from washing away.
Check your wellhead and insulate if needed
It is amazing how many people have uninsulated wellheads when they should have a very well insulated one. A cracked well casing can cause contamination and you may even lose your water if lines freeze up. You can get an artificial boulder and line with a mylar blanket and a water heater blanket and wrap any pipes coming out of your well head.
When I did this I taped the water heater blanket to itself and folded edges in and taped. This allowed for a thick insulation blanket with no fiberglass mess. You can then tape it to make a pouch. This costs 75% less than a premade pouch.
Emsco Artificial Boulder
This is a lot cheaper and provides more and longer lasting insulation properties than buying a premade insulated pouch. Make sure to seal well below with rocks or similar to prevent anything from burrowing into your insulation but it still may happen. The important thing is to not have water freezing and cracking pipes.
Actual pipes can be wrapped in fiberglass and mylar pipe insulation or the foam or rubber tubes that can be just placed around pipes. You may still have to use some wrap to get spots that the tubes won’t work on.
Sealing Windows and Doors
Foam and Caulk
Cans of expanding foam can be used to shoot insulation into cracks and crevices that are letting in air. The foam can be trimmed if it expands out too much. It can be painted but a lot of people put something over it to hide it. We have put caulking over it and then painted and had good results.
Caulk can also be used and smoothed out by itself but can take several applications to fill a large gap unless something else is used. Make sure you get the type that is made for exterior use and that can be painted if you plan on doing that.
Check your doors for drafts. You can buy or make a draft stop for under your door. Check door sweeps for damage and replace or repair.
Weather stripping is made from foam that attaches with a sticky back around your door and seals out drafts. It is very inexpensive and available at any hardware or home improvement store or you can order online.
Consider curtains or insulated blinds
A lot of heat loss can occur through your windows. If you have a room that has a lot of glass then consider purchasing or making your own insulated blinds or curtains. The cost of outfitting a lot of windows is not the cheapest but if you get or make good quality ones then you will find that they give you many years of service and help your home be more energy efficient which is money in your pocket.
You can also get window liners that can be used with existing curtains.
Check your fuel supply and have more than one heat source
Regardless if you live in an apartment or house it is a good idea to have a back up heat source. A propane powered heater or woodstove will work when the power is out. You can also buy kerosene heaters if you want.
Your backup heat may be an electric heater too or you may want several back ups. If you live in a building with a boiler or big heat system and it goes off or has a maintenance issue it is nice to have an electric heater while the building supervisor gets it fixed.
Woodstoves are great if you have a good source of cheap or free firewood nearby. No matter what type of heat you use, make sure your supply of fuel is sufficient to get you through the winter.
- Check antifreeze
- Get Home Bag For Emergencies
- Put Together A “Tire Fix Kit For SHTF “
- Inspect tires
Drain or run the gas out of any power tools you will not be using for months
Drain gas out of small equipment. Run the gas out of the carburetor even if you just stand there and run it and don’t do any work. You will thank yourself when Spring comes and you put gas in and your motors start right up rather than being clogged!
Change out and delouse pet areas
Pet areas can get pretty dirty over the warmer months. For winter prep, change out any bedding they have. If your dog sleeps inside, then clean and wash their bed. Use your favorite treatment spray or powder for fleas, mites, etc. Spraying some tea tree and peppermint oil mixed with water is one natural solution you can use.
Stock up on animal feeds
Your pets and livestock should have a few weeks worth of supplies on hand at all times and preferably a month or more. Feed can be stored in barrels or Rubbermaid trash cans with some diatomaceous earth to help keep out bugs.
Evaluate your clothing and footwear and buy as needed
Needs are dependent on climate. My recent post on Clothing For SHTF has some pointers to help you think about what clothing you might need for winter as well as survival situations.
Check batteries for any off-grid or renewable energy systems
If you have a battery that requires maintenance then make sure to check their water levels, clean terminals if needed, and check your voltage. Now is the time to buy an extra battery if you suspect yours are not holding a charge as well as you would like.
Assess your basic household supplies
Now is the time to check your supplies for the everyday items that you know you are going to need throughout the winter.
Here are a few basic items you might want to have extras of for winter.
- Toilet Paper
- Toothpaste & Toothbrushes
- Feminine Hygiene Items
- Trash Bags
Check your food supply
Now is a great time to check for expired or soon to expire foods and then make efforts to use them up and replace with other foods. A lot of preppers have substantial stocks of food put back but you need to make sure you have enough typical foods (besides fresh) to last a few weeks or more.
It really doesn’t take much of a storm to cause it to be hard to travel or get supplies. Here are a few things you may want to check and see that you have.
- Cooking Oil
- Canned Goods – Even if you do not eat a lot of canned goods normally or have not got into canning much for yourself, canned goods can make for nice convenience food during bad weather.
Root Cellar Items
Those long evenings in the winter mean you are going to be using any lighting more than you would think. Have some LED lanterns on hand and plenty of batteries. This will allow you to have lighting even during an outage and it’s a solution both urban and rural preppers can utilize.
Everyone needs light and LED lanterns and rechargeable batteries have never been more affordable than they are now. Check out the Backdoor Survival article on Solar Lanterns For Preppers or our post on EDC flashlights.
A few flashlights should be part of any household and they are one of those devices that have become more reasonably priced even if you get a very high-quality one at that.
Test Or Inspect Your Water Filters & Replace As Needed
If you have not got out your water filter in a while and seen how it is doing then now is the time to do it. If your filter is new in the box it is still worthwhile to inspect it just in case.
Those with built-in water filters in their home should stock up on replacements and check to see if they need to be replaced. A lot of those on well systems have sediment filters and when they get older they can slow down the water throughout your home.
Make sure you have shovels and maybe some extra salt for walkways
Sometimes in my area, we get ice storms that make everything outside as slick as glass. It can be a big deal to get to the dog food and get all the animals fed.
Salt only works down to the upper 20s and then stops but it can be a big help in keeping walkways clearer during winter weather. A heavy snow can make it to where you need to shovel a way out from the exits of your home.
Pay attention to major winter weather predictions and plan accordingly
If you have livestock and pets to feed and there is an ice storm coming you would do well to make sure food and feeding dishes are as close to where they are needed as possible. Make one trip around your place to feed everyone.
If you just have dogs and cats then move the food to your house rather than an outbuilding. Avoiding catastrophic falls during winter weather should be taken very seriously. It does not take much of a fall to create a big problem.
Put out an extra bale or roll of hay if it means you don’t have to venture to the barn until the storm and its aftereffects are past.
Check your medical kit
Over time a medical kit can be depleted and it is easy to forget to replace items. Now is a good time to see what you are lacking and order it or pick it up on your next trip into town. If your medical kit is still just very basic then it is worthwhile to consider expanding it.
What if the weather is bad enough that medical services are simply too slow or not available? Also with a single Urgent Care visit costing $200-300 if you can even make it there, some extra medical supplies can allow you to treat some conditions at home.
Here are a few things that seem to be missing from a lot of medical kits that are bought as package deals. There are some great medical kit buys and other retailers but they are often lacking some of the major trauma supplies needed in SHTF.
- Bloodstop powder
- Sufficient quantities of medical tape
- Wound wash
- Benedryl, Zantac, and Zyrtec for allergic reactions. Although Zantac is for heartburn it is often prescribed by doctors for major allergic reactions.
- Enough antibiotic ointment
Resupply or put together animal medical kits
The contents are going to vary based on what type of animals or pets you have but you need to have basic supplies on hand. Bandages, Benadryl, bloodstop powder, wormers, antifungal treatments, and a small surgical kit are a few of the things I can think of.
Additional Reading: Best Pet Survival Kits & Ideas
Make sure you have an extra supply of any prescription medications
A lot of doctors don’t mind writing you a 90-day prescription refill for medications that you need that are not narcotics. When you get down to a month or less of something you need, get it refilled.
This puts you in good standing if there is any type of natural disaster or a SHTF scenario. A month or more of medication on hand at all times can definitely make life easier.
Plan some entertainment if the power is out
If the power and/or internet goes out during a storm then it may get a bit boring and also stressful especially if you got kids that are stuck inside. While a lot of the things on this list I am about to share may seem quaint or dated in today’s world, it is sure a heck of a lot better than nothing.
- Card games. While traditional playing cards are great and you can play a lot of different games with them, there are plenty of other card-based games out there that are more kid friendly and they fit in a small space for storage.
- Board games. Again there are a ton of them out there. It is best to buy a few choice ones and buy new not used because parts are often missing.
- Coloring books and crayons, markers, or colored pencils.
- Fill e-readers up with books. There is plenty of e-readers out there but I advise getting one that is just black and white like a classic Kindle. You can get one that is refurbished or a previous generation for a low cost. The black and white Kindle has a battery that can last for up to 8 weeks when reading 30 minutes each day. This, of course, is with the wireless connection off.
- Have some battery banks for using some light electronics and/pr lights
- I think that it is a good lesson to sometimes go without major electronics if the power is out or something. At the same time keeping a cell phone going, radios, and maybe your tablet or e-reader can be really nice. Tablets take a lot more power than just an e-reader. There are all kinds of battery banks you can get. There are solar lanterns that have USB charging ports.
Small Solar Panel Chargers For USB Devices
These are great for keeping small devices charged during outages and storms. You can pick these up for very little but they really offer so much! If you have a USB battery charger then you can even use some of these little chargers to charge up AA or AAA batteries.
Anker Folding Solar Charger
Taking it a step at a time
This list got long but that is because there is a lot to think about during the change of seasons, especially when that change in the seasons is going from nice weather to the cold winter season. Some things mentioned in this article likely don’t apply to you.
If your house is sealed up well from drafts then you won’t need to go around with a caulk gun. I hope this list has helped you realize what things apply to your living situation and that it leads to a happier and safer winter for you, your family, livestock and pets.
Do you have any other things to add to this list? How do you approach your preps for inclement winter weather? Please share with your fellow Backdoor Survivalists!
Samantha Biggers lives on a mountain in North Carolina with her husband and a pack of loyal hounds in a house her husband and she built themselves. When not writing she is working in their vineyard, raising Shetland sheep, or helping her husband with whatever the farm and vineyard can throw at them.
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