It’s winter, and severe weather is coming. From Portland, Oregon, to Portland, Maine, temperatures could get really cold this year—as low as 40 below in some areas, according to the Farmers’ Almanac. The Northeast has already had a major blizzard, and more rain and snow are on the way.
When snow is piling up outside, it’s important to know that your home is safe and warm—and your car will start when you need it. But you’ve got to prepare for this before a storm bears down. By handling things in advance, you won’t be scrambling to hire pros at the most difficult, and expensive, time.
Once a storm slams into your area, finding an available roofer or furnace service can be nearly impossible. If you do find one, they can cost a small fortune. And if repairs are needed, delays can make the damage worse.
Home-improvement expert Don Vandervort of HomeTips.com
Don’t get left out in the cold. Follow these 22 tips for protecting your home and car before the next storm arrives.
Get your home ready, inside and out
A well-prepared house is a sanctuary from cold, wet weather, providing a cozy living space no matter how bad things get outside. Preventive maintenance protects the house upfront, so you can avoid expensive repairs later on. Here’s what to do now to keep your house in order.
Keep up with winter maintenance services
Scheduling winter inspections and repairs is an important part of home care. Be sure to call those pros well in advance, because they’ll be super-busy when the weather gets bad.
- Inspect and service the HVAC system. When the thermometer dips and bone-chilling winds blow, a lack of heat can be unpleasant, even dangerous. So have an HVAC contractor (a specialist in heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) check and tune up your home’s heating system, change furnace filters, and make sure the thermostat works correctly. This typically costs $100–300. Learn more: Homeowner’s guide to hiring an HVAC contractor.
- Make sure safety equipment is working. Everyone should do this, but it’s especially important if you’re using a wood or gas fireplace regularly. Replace batteries in smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors twice a year, according to device instructions (unless your detectors have permanent 10-year batteries). Also, make sure fire extinguishers are fully charged. A certified fire-equipment dealer (or local fire department in some areas) can recharge extinguishers, at a typical cost of $15–40. Learn more: Best smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors.
Keep heat in, wind and water out
A properly maintained home will be more comfortable, and have lower energy costs, because it holds in heated air. And by keeping out moisture from rain and snow, you’ll reduce the risk of mold, mildew, or expensive repairs.
- Weatherproof your home. Caulking and weatherstripping windows and doors will help seal out the cold, retain heat, and prevent drafts. Does your attic have enough insulation? If you can see the tops of ceiling joists, probably not—call an insulation contractor to see if you have enough insulation and add more if needed. Learn more: Cost of attic insulation and Cost of weatherstripping.
Pro tip: Weatherstripping, along with proper insulation, can reduce annual heating bills up to 10%, according to EnergyStar.gov.
- Install storm windows and storm doors. These provide extra heat barriers, which helps keep your home cozy and reduce energy costs. A handyperson can help you reinstall your storm windows for the season, at a typical cost of $40–80 per hour. If you need new storm doors, call a storm door installation service—the average cost is $260–575 per door, including materials and labor. Learn more: Cost of storm window installation.
- Repair roof breaches. Water from rain or snow can cause serious problems in your home, including dry rot and mold.
You can inspect your roof from the ground. All you need is a pair of binoculars to scan for broken or missing shingles, damaged flashing, and other problems.
Home-improvement expert Don Vandervort of HomeTips.com
For a more thorough check, hire a licensed roofer for an average inspection cost of $225. While on the roof, have them check gutters and downspouts—which, if clogged or in bad shape, should be cleaned or repaired. Learn more: Cost of roof inspection and Cost of roof repair.
- Plug basement leaks. If your basement tends to flood during storms, fix it before more serious water damage can happen. A professional waterproofing service can diagnose the issues and figure out a plan to fix them—which might include sealing basement walls, filling cracks, or installing drains. Learn more: Basement waterproofing questions: Answered.
- Insulate pipes along exterior walls. Any faucet spigots, garden hoses, or pipes exposed to outdoor weather can freeze and burst at temperatures below 20°F, causing interior or exterior flooding. Insulate pipes in crawl spaces with foam jackets or call a professional plumber or handyperson to help you freeze-proof them. Learn more: How to prevent pipes from freezing.
- Prevent wind damage. Heavy winds or tropical cyclones can occur almost any time, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Take basic protective measures: Remove tree branches near the house, put away patio furniture, and keep wind and water out of the chimney flue by getting a chimney cap installed (for about $150–500). Also, if you’re not using your fireplace, close the damper before a storm as an additional barrier. For more about protection from destructive winds, read Yelp’s comprehensive guide, Preparing your house for a hurricane.
Snow blowers, shovels, and other essentials
Don’t forget the following:
- Schedule a snow removal service at least a couple of days in advance. It’s important to keep your driveway and walkways clear of snow and ice buildup—but once snow hits, snow removal pros will be booked up. If you prefer to DIY, or the pro can’t make it, be ready with a couple of snow shovels (or a working snow blower).
Pro tip: Use eco-friendly calcium chloride ice-melt pellets on sidewalks and driveway—they’re less likely than salt to damage concrete or plants.
- Stock up on essentials. Snowed-in roads or downed power lines can make driving to a store difficult. Even if roads are clear, store shelves may be cleaned out during a weather emergency. Make sure you have plenty of water, food, and supplies (for a complete list, see Ready.gov). If power outages are common in your area, a generator is a must-have for maintaining basic lighting and refrigeration. And don’t forget to stock fuel for the generator and snow blower.
Prepare your car
Freezing weather and snowy roads can make winter driving difficult and hazardous. Meanwhile, a car that won’t start is basically just an outdoor chair. Prepping your car now will ensure that it’s both driveable and safer to operate in bad weather, helping you get around with confidence.
Get your vehicle inspected
Avoid unwanted surprises by making sure your car, SUV, or truck is in top operating condition before roads get slick and icy.
- Check that your battery is fully charged. This is critical. Batteries deteriorate more quickly in summer heat, and you may not realize how weak yours has become until you try to start a cold, sluggish engine in freezing temperatures. Have a mechanic test the battery’s condition and replace it if necessary, at an average cost of $100–250.
Pro tip: Winter conditions pose a double-whammy for car batteries. That’s because freezing temperatures decrease a battery’s strength as much as 60%, while starting a cold engine can require twice as much cranking power.
- Make sure the battery has a solid connection. Dirty connections restrict the power going to your engine. Battery cables should be clean and tight, without any white, crusty corrosion.
Double-check your tires
Good tires are super-critical for getting maximum traction on slippery roads and preventing accidents.
- Measure tread depth. The grooves in your tread channel water and snow out from underneath the tires, helping them maintain their grip on the road. For snow driving, tread should be at least 5/32” deep. Have a pro measure your tires and look for excessive or uneven wear. Learn more: When to replace tires: Pro tips for a safe ride.
Pro tip: To check tread depth quickly, insert a quarter into a groove with Washington’s head down. If you can see the top of his head, the depth is 4/32” or less (indicating wear).
- Maintain recommended pressure. Cold temperatures reduce air pressure—so when the outside temperature drops, your tires can become underinflated, compromising handling, fuel economy, and reliability. Check them with a tire-pressure gauge at least once a month, or visit a mechanic or tire shop. Consult your owner’s manual for the proper pressure.
- Consider winter tires. If you drive a lot on snowy or icy roads, you may want to install winter or snow tires, which provide much better grip than normal all-season tires. They cost about the same, but you’ll typically pay $40–80 to have all 4 tires switched out, both at the beginning and end of snow season.
Keep the windshield clear
Seeing clearly is challenging enough in poor driving conditions. But having to contend with blinding smears of water, ice, or road salt makes it much worse.
- Install new wiper blades. Wipers can wear out after just 6 months, resulting in squeaking, streaking, or torn rubber—so replace them before winter weather sets in. Ask an auto parts store attendant for the right size and type for your vehicle (or look it up online). Also, find out if they recommend a winter wiper, which uses a rubber cover to protect the metal frame from icy buildup. Blades typically cost about $8–$35 each, depending on size and type, and winter blades are on the higher end.
- Choose the correct windshield washer fluid. In low temperatures, a “summer” washer fluid can instantly freeze on the windshield, blocking your vision. Instead, get one with a de-icer formula that won’t freeze and cuts through any snow or ice on the windshield.
Stay charged and filled up
Taking the right precautions can make the difference between an inconvenience and an emergency.
- Keep your cell phone charged. Your phone can be a lifeline in an emergency. Keep a charger and cord handy, as well as a portable power bank.
- Carry an emergency kit. A snowstorm or a car problem can happen at any time. Handy items to have include a windshield scraper/snow brush, flashlight, gloves, jumper cables, tire pressure gauge, tire inflator, and first-aid kit.
- Keep your gas tank at least half full. If your car won’t start or breaks down, it could take hours for help to arrive. Even getting mired in a long backup is risky. You’ll want plenty of fuel to keep the heater running while you wait, so don’t put off visiting the gas station.
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