How to Prepare for Winter? Expert Tips for Getting Ready for Winter

Fact checked by Megan Soliman MD, MSc
Board-certified physician at Saba University School of Medicine

Getting ready for winter can be overwhelming: when and where do you start? In this guide for winter preparations, you’ll find everything you need to do to stay safe when the temperature drops and enjoy your family winter to the fullest.

Prepare your home for winter

When the sun is shining bright and it’s warm outside, you don’t want to think about winter preparations. But the sooner you start the better. Why? That way you’ll have time to fix any leaks or carry out repairs to be fully prepared for the cold months ahead.

Check the pipes

Burst pipes can cause a lot of damage. No one wants to deal with a flooded house, let alone when it’s freezing outside. Start by checking if your home’s stopcock works. It’s a small tap that controls the water supply in your house. Usually, you can find it under a sink, but it can also be hidden elsewhere. Turn it off and on again to make sure it works.

A working stopcock can minimize the damage if you have a burst pipe.

The next step is to insulate your pipes, by wrapping an insulation sleeve around them to prevent freezing and bursting. This is crucial for pipes exposed to the cold, for example, if they run through the attic.

Finally, check for any leaks and fix any taps that are dripping: drips can cause waste pipes to freeze. Plus, this will help to keep your water bill low!

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Insulate your home

Nothing is better than cozying up on the sofa with a book or your favorite show on a cold winter day… but a draft can really ruin the mood. To prevent cold air from getting in and the heat from escaping your home, caulk any gaps in your windows and doors. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, properly insulating your home can lower your energy bill by 5–10 percent! Sealing gaps in your wall, windows, and roof can also prevent mold growth. So, take some time to give your home a once-over and make it winter-ready.

Clean your fireplace and check smoke detectors

Crackling wood in a fireplace is a winter staple. But first, have your fireplace checked and your chimney inspected to make sure it’s safe to use. Soot build-up can cause a chimney fire, so it needs to be cleaned at least once a year. If you don’t use your fireplace, close the damper to prevent the cold air from getting in through the chimney.

Cleaning the fireplace as a part of winter preparations

The downside of cozy winter evenings in front of a fireplace is the danger of carbon monoxide build-up. It’s important to keep it in check since you are less likely to open your windows when it’s freezing outside. Check your smoke detectors to make sure they are working properly. If you don’t have carbon monoxide detectors in your home, consider getting some to help prevent carbon monoxide poisoning.

Keep the stairs and sidewalk clear

Icy stairs can be a health hazard. You can ice-proof your stairs with rubberized mats, no-slip tape, or an ice-melting doormat. Alternatively, you can add some clear grip to any paint or varnish you use on your steps. This will help add traction to the entire surface of the step.

Stock up on de-icing products you can sprinkle on your sidewalk and stairs to avoid slips and falls. Clear the snow from your steps and sidewalk immediately after the snowstorm.

Get your car ready for winter

Driving in winter fog, ice, and snow is challenging, so get your car serviced ahead of winter to ensure it’s safe to drive when the temperature drops. Here are a few ways you can get your car ready for winter:

  • Change your tires for a set of special winter tires with better traction.
  • Check that all the lights, brakes, and wipers are working, and have a de-icer at the ready.
  • Keep an emergency kit in your car in case you break down in the cold.
  • Make sure to include bottled water, snacks, a torch, a spade, jump leads, blankets, and warm clothes.
  • Keep the details of your breakdown provider in your glove box.

Tips for staying safe outdoors in winter

As much as you sometimes want to, you can’t spend all of winter indoors. Besides, a walk in the snow can help lift your mood and get your blood flowing. You just have to remember a few simple tips for staying safe in the cold!

Layer up

The natural instinct would be to bundle up with thick sweaters and scarves when it’s cold outside. You can’t be too warm, right? Well, actually you can. The risk of hypothermia is higher when you’re sweating too much in the cold, windy weather.

So it’s better to wear several layers of warm clothing you can take off when you start feeling hot.

There’s a trick to winter dressing, whether you’re going on a hike or just walking with your family. These winter essentials can keep you warm in any scenario:

  • A thin, moisture-wicking base layer
  • A warm middle layer
  • A wind-proof jacket
  • A hat, scarf, and gloves

Avoid slips and falls

Ice and snow increase the risk of slipping and falling. To avoid injuries, wear a proper pair of shoes with a good grip on the sole when you leave the house and take small steps when you’re walking on a slippery street. Hold on to a handrail if you’re taking the stairs, and don’t rush. If you do slip, hold your hands close to your body and try to land on your back or buttocks.

Keeping the stairs clear from the snow as part of preparing your home for winter

Know the signs of frostbite and hypothermia

One of the first things you need to do when preparing for winter is to learn the early signs of frostbite and hypothermia. Hypothermia occurs when your body starts to quickly lose heat after spending a long time in cold, windy, and often damp weather. Your risk of getting hypothermia is higher when you’re dehydrated, malnourished, or drinking alcohol in the cold. Seek immediate medical attention if you notice:

  • Shivering
  • Loss of coordination
  • Confusion and memory loss
  • Drowsiness
  • Weak pulse

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Frostbite often affects fingers, toes, nose, and cheeks. Look out for these signs of frostbite:

  • Cold, prickling skin
  • Numbness
  • Red, white, or purplish skin
  • Waxy-looking skin
  • Joint and muscle stiffness

The early stage of frostbite is called frostnip, and you can treat it by simply warming up the affected area. Later stages of frostbite require medical attention.

How to prepare for winter emergencies

Ice, strong winds, and snowstorms can lead to power outages or you not being able to leave your house. So, it’s best to have a 3-day supply of water and non-perishable food prepared for when you’re snowed in. Additionally, put together a basic emergency kit in case you need quickly evacuate your home:

  • A torch and batteries
  • Bottled water
  • Canned food, energy bars, and dried foods
  • A manual can opener
  • First-aid kit
  • Matches or lighter
  • Blankets
  • Warms clothes, socks, and boots
  • Copies of important documents
  • A radio and batteries
  • Some cash and change
  • Extra keys

Some additional items to consider:

  • Prepaid phone card, mobile phone charger
  • Toiletries and personal hygiene items
  • Plastic plates, cups, and cutlery
  • Activities like books and puzzles
  • Whistle (to attract attention)

Pack everything in a bag that is easy to carry (a backpack or a suitcase with wheels) and keep it in a place where you can easily grab it.

An infographic checklist of basic items for a winter emergency kit
Save this handy checklist to be prepared for winter emergencies!

Final thoughts

It’s never too early to start getting ready for winter. After all, having your home and car winter-ready can spare you a lot of time and effort in the colder months. So check your pipes, clean your fireplace, and get your car serviced before the first frost. Pack a winter emergency kit and learn about the early signs of frostbite and hypothermia. These winter preparations can ensure you're ready for anything the weather throws at you.

October 4, 2022