Preparing For A Bad Winter

The winter scene from my home-office window this morning

Will we have a bad winter this season? Maybe, for some, but we should all be preparing for winter each and every year. The time to prepare is now – before you’re buried in snow or shivering in the cold.

Here are a few ideas:

At or near the top of the list during winter is HEAT. Whatever fuel you use for winter heat, top it off. Always budget for using more than you expect.

If you haven’t had your furnace serviced in awhile, better to do it now rather than being caught without heat during an equipment failure in the middle of winter.

Have a wood stove? Clean the chimney/ flue to avoid a house fire.

EXPECT to experience a power failure during the winter and prepare for what you will do to stay warm during the outage. Almost every method of home heating requires electricity to operate all or part of the system. A portable indoor heater is one option. Having multiple sources of heat is even better. Get yourself a winter rated sleeping bag!

If you don’t already have one, consider getting a generator. A generator can be professionally (permanently) installed and integrated into your home’s electrical system, OR you can simply run a heavy duty extension cord from the generator into your home to power up a few things – even an electric heater depending on your generators output. There are lots of options here, but it’s worth considering.

If you do have a generator, then go outside and check it. Check the oil level (some generators will NOT automatically shut down when the oil runs out and it will destroy the generator). Then start it up. Make sure it runs okay. Some generators have a start-up battery and it’s wise to run it every so often to keep it charged. Use fuel stabilizer treatment for longevity of the gas.

Check your winter clothes (all aspects). If you’re without power at home during the winter, you will be glad to be wearing thermals under your clothes, insulated socks, etc.

If you have well water, your well pump will not work without electricity. Either have a generator, or be sure to store ahead some water. You might consider keeping a water-filled 55-gallon barrel in your basement. Or if that is not an option, then at least store ahead quantities of water using other means, like soda-pop jugs or other water containers.

It should go without saying, but have AT LEAST several week’s worth of food for backup. Many people do, but many people don’t! Don’t be part of the crazed sheeple panic just prior to the onset of a storm as they rush to the grocery store for bread and milk.

Carbon Monoxide is winter’s silent killer. Be sure that you have at least one!

Have a camp stove for cooking without electricity. Be aware of the potential dangers while operating indoors. NEVER operate a BBQ grill indoors. Some small portable stoves are designed to be perfectly safe inside. Just check your model so that you know.

Check your supply of shovels. Consider keeping various styles — some meant for pushing the snow, some for scooping, small ones, large ones, the kind with a bent handle which makes it easier on the back, etc… ALWAYS keep a shovel in your vehicle. They make some nice small-medium shovels (some with collapsible handles) which could help dig you out of a snowbank.

Your snow-blower or snow-thrower. Start it up and run it NOW, before the winter sets in. Make sure it runs okay. You might need a new spark plug. Get FRESH gasoline. Don’t use old gas that has not been treated. If your engine requires a mix of oil-gas, then be sure you have the oil and mix up a fresh batch.

Salt for melting ice on stairs, driveways, etc. If you use a-lot of it, you might consider getting a barrel to keep it in along with a handy small shovel or scoop to apply it.

Replace your wiper blades now. You will thank yourself later.

Get a jug of windshield washer fluid, and be sure it is the kind that will not freeze (there are many varieties that WILL indeed freeze – so check the label).

It’s time to put the ice scraper and snow brush back in the car.

Consider keeping a bag of sand-salt or kitty litter in the trunk. It’s more manageable in a clean, dry jug (laundry detergent bottle, gallon water or milk jug, etc..) which keeps it dry, won’t break open (like a paper bag) and easy to control how much you spread.

Tire chains. Some areas of travel may require chains. If you get a set of chains, be sure to practice installing them once in your driveway when the weather is nice BEFORE you ever need them in an emergency on the road.

Check your tires. Is the tread wearing thin? Traction is important during the winter.

Keep a 72-hour survival kit in the car.

Keep a dedicated hat and gloves in the car, and a warm blanket for each person.

A cell phone charger for the car.

I hope that this list will inspire you to consider your own winter preparedness.

Add a comment with your own ideas, suggestions or experiences…


  1. good article/reminders..

    likely seems obvious to you, but for some reason it had not occurred to me to run a electric heater off a generator. I had always been thinking fridge/freezer.

    1. A typical electric space heater might be rated 1500 watts. If your generator is more than that (most are), then you’re good. While a 1500 watt space heater may only help one room, it’s better than nothing. It would be even better to have your generator integrated into the electrical system such that it will operate your furnace (pumps, ignitors, blowers, etc.) but that is a much bigger job and should be done by an electrician.

      1. FYI, 95% of all furnaces “plug” into an outlet in the furnace room, (check yours out beforehand) if an extended power outage strikes, simply unplug the furnace from the outlet and plug into the generator and let her rip. “Normally” the nat- gas or propane will keep flowing even with a power outage.

        1. Indeed. Wasn’t referring to efficiency, but simply making a (general) point that during an emergency, it is technically possible. You’re better off with something like a Mr. Heater Buddy (wrote an article about that just a few days ago ;) ). Actually, you’re better off with multiple sources for backup heat. Try not to put all your eggs in one basket.

  2. Good article Ken. Went through it twice to check everything.We still need to put on winter tire, & get some sand for trunk & a few other thing. Snow blower ready to go but don’t know about gen. We’ve had 2 nights now of -20 C & this next 7 days will be 2nd week with nothing above 0 C so it is time to finish preparing. Thanks for all you do to keep us informed & reminded of so many important things.

  3. I been preparing for this winter since last winter. 12+ loads of split firewood, 200 gallons spare water, portable generator topped off with fuel stabilizer, extra fuel including propane, white gas, & kerosine. Tire chains sized according my. Pantry stocked from garden, meats, and etc. Got sweet potatoes & white potatoes to can yet. There really isn’t an end to it. I guess there is next winter if this one is a blow out.
    My employment is equipped with a 1000kw, and I got squirreled away food, sleeping bag/cot, nesessities.
    And I can hoof it home if need be. Let ole man winter come! Or is it mother nature?

  4. I love the view from your deck. Got a tune-up and snow tires on the van this week.

  5. Beautiful view from your window.I have one too. besides your list I have done, I added jumper cables, and switched to dry food in my emergency and bug out bag for my truck. I bought firewood for 2 years last early summer when it was cheaper. I also filled my gas containers while gasoline is cheap.. If there is a winter storm that takes out electricity, I’ll have the extra gas when pumps don’t work. I had to plug in my heat tape for my pipes, caulked some seams around my door, refreshed my water containers, and I am ready for winter.

  6. I bought this house 6 years ago and the gas stove was a plus, I like cooking on gas. But one day I popped a GFCI that powered my gas stove. Yes it is computerized, god knows why? The stove won’t run without AC power. In a grid down situation my small solar panels and inverter would power it the load is small. But what a pain to have a gas stove that won’t run without AC power.

  7. Live in Mississippi , cold weather like we are experiencing now is rare , lows in the 20’s at night is out of character for this time of year , usually in the 40’s at night . Good article , plus the farmers almanac predicted a colder winter coming up . Have got in extra wood for heating , have the generator ready if something happens to the power if we get a freak snowstorm , am going to lay in more extra wood next week . Be prepared and ready . Keep your powder dry .

  8. Nice list. I would also add some hot cocoa mix or a sweet flavored tea to warm you up after having to work outside.

  9. I’ve spent the last 10 years replacing appliances that take electricity with non-electric ones. My kitchen stove is a 1940’s Roper gas stove, doesn’t even have a clock. (funny story about that: my son was scared of my oven and would not use it because you have to light it with a match, lol). My heater is an equally old free-standing gas heater, no electricity required and it heats my whole house. Both of those appliances are checked every year to make sure they are still working properly.

    I do still need to take a look at the insulation on pipes from the well.

    And we just acquired a woodstove, as an emergency backup in case the natural gas stops for some reason, that stove needs some work, but should be in working order by next week.

    We don’t get snow here, or very much freezing weather at all. Just enough cold to need protection for my citrus trees.

    1. I lived in a house that exclusively relied on a wood-burning stove for heat. Let me just say that I hope to never rely on one of those again. It took an incredible amount of labor to keep a fire going 24/7. The chimney pipe swelled and popped open more than once, which filled the house with smoke each time. If a house is large by any means and the weather turns super cold, you’ll end up buying coal because of its durable burning time and higher heat compared to wood.

      I’m all about using homemade, low-tech methods as much as possible, but whole-home heat with a wooding-burning stove is not for me.

      1. My house is very small, so a woodstove would keep it toasty. But I do prefer to heat with natural gas. Coal? I don’t think that’s even available where I live.

  10. Well the high here today has been 45!!!! Rather cold. Makes me wish we had not gone all electric. At least we do have a fireplace. We are looking for another smaller home. This time we will have a woodstove. A relative of ours has one and it heats the entire house. A woodstove is the way to go in my opinion.

    I miss those little Deerborn gas heaters from when I grew up though. Nice and toasty.

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