Prepare your home for winter

Winter is almost here, and the season may include extreme cold in your area. For first-time homeowners, preparing for a big freeze, an ice storm, or even a blizzard can require a little more than simply having a few shovels on hand. Check out these important tasks to do before Jack Frost arrives in your neighborhood.

Stock a Winter Emergency Kit

You might have an all-purpose supply kit in your home, but is it stocked with items specifically for extreme cold? In addition to the standard emergency supplies of food, water and medication for everyone in your household (including pets), suggests stocking supplies that include windshield scrapers, additional hats and gloves, and road salt and sand. In the event of a loss of power, the website also suggests using a battery-operated radio that receives broadcasts from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Weather Radio All Hazards network to stay up to date on any developments in the forecast.

Inspect Your Furnace

There’s more to winterizing your home than cranking up the heat at the first sign of cold weather. The Insurance Information Institute (III) recommends servicing and repairing your furnace before cold weather reaches your area. In addition, suggests scheduling a maintenance check of your furnace in the fall, before the cold weather arrives in force. The website also recommends checking your filter every month and replacing it if it’s dirty, with the filter replaced every three months at minimum. As noted by, a dirty filter may impede a furnace from working efficiently.

Clear Outside Banisters, Stairs and Sidewalks

The outdoor features of your home may require some maintenance, too, especially if your area sees a significant amount of snow in addition to extreme freezing temperatures. Homeowners should repair or replace outside stairs, railings or banisters that could present a hazard in case of ice or snow, according to the III. You may need to clear your sidewalk of ice and snow, too, but don’t grab that shovel just yet. If you have a pre-existing medical condition, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), advises that you follow your doctor’s advice regarding strenuous work like shoveling, and to work slowly and dress warmly. The organization also advises dressing in layers and to keep your clothing dry while you work outdoors, as wet clothing in extreme cold weather can chill your body.

Drain Your Pipes Before a Vacation

If your winter plans include a vacation to a warm and sunny spot, then you’ll want to prepare your home for potential extreme cold temperatures while you’re gone. After all, who wants to return home to frozen pipes? To help prevent pipes from freezing while you’re on vacation, suggests turning off your main waterline before you leave, then turning on the faucets to drain the pipes and release pressure and to turn off any exterior pipes, too. The website also recommends that homeowners disconnect and store garden hoses, and to shut off and drain any external faucets. Exposed pipes should be insulated, with USA Todayrecommending the use of foam rubber or fiberglass sleeves.

Stay Safe if the Heat Goes Out

Extreme cold may occur alongside blizzards and strong wind, and those weather conditions may result in a power outage. How can you stay warm if you don’t have power? You should use caution when trying to find an alternate heat source. For example, the CDC advises against using a gas range or oven to heat your home due to the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. Got a fireplace? According to the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA), make sure to use a metal screen in front of the fireplace opening to prevent embers from falling out of the fireplace, and to keep you and your family safe from the flames. Don’t strike that match just yet—the USFA also recommends inspecting and cleaning the chimney every year before using your fireplace.

Hit the Road—if it’s Safe

You might need to leave your home to check on elderly or sick relatives during a period of extreme cold. Before you leave your home, advises making sure your car is ready for winter driving, and to verify that roads are clear and safe to drive by checking your planned route via the U.S Department of Transportation’s website. Finally, take a few minutes to review winter driving tips if your area has seen some snow and ice.