December 8, 2021

a cozy home in winter

What does winter-ready mean to you? If you're a homeowner, you probably spend time getting ready for each changing season.

Many of us grew up doing the same fall chores our parents and grandparents did, from closing down the gardens to bringing snow shovels from the garage. But you may have noticed that winter preparations are changing these days.

Winters are getting warmer, with at least five US cities seeing an average temperature change of over five degrees since 1970. But less cold overall doesn't mean it won't get cold at all! In fact, it can mean more cold. The biggest change most of us experience from climate change is an increase in extreme weather.

Extreme weather is on the rise in every part of the country. For many of us, winter looks different than it used to, and that means the way you prepare your home for the weather must adapt as well.

Changing winters

Arctic warming has made the jet stream weaker, and cold air now spills into regions where we don't expect it. That means that even if you live in a region that usually needs more air conditioning than heat, you may find yourself in periods of bitter cold weather.

Some preparations take more time than others. A well-insulated, air-sealed home will retain heat better during a power outage, making your home less susceptible to freezing. A building analyst  can help determine the right steps to make your home more resistant to temperature change.

Luckily, these investments will pay back all year round; the work recommended in an energy audit will make your home more comfortable in summer, too. And if you need to take intermediate measures on your own, some homeowners use under-door draft stoppers, weather stripping around doors and windows, and insulating window coverings to reduce drafts and make the home more comfortable.

Keep it dry

Do you sometimes feel like storms are "more stormy" then when you were a kid? You're not mistaken. Extreme precipitation is also on the rise. Warm air can hold more moisture than cold air. As our climate warms, more water is carried in air, so when it falls, there's more of it! And because a weak jet stream moves slowly, those stormy systems linger over your home longer than they used to. That means that water management is more important than ever.

Good water management starts with a watertight roof. If you have a basement with water intrusion, consider installing a sump pump to route water out when needed. Make sure your gutters, downspouts, and splash blocks are securely installed to direct water away from the home. Then examine where the water goes after it leaves the home. 

Imagine your property is a tiny watershed. Rain and meltwater will run off paved driveways and rooftops to the lowest spot it can reach. Are your ditches, storm drains, and culverts clogged? Keeping them free of debris will ensure that water has a place to go. Some properties may benefit from a French drain. If you have low-lying spots where water pools in wet weather, consider planting a rain garden, which will beautify your home as well as manage rainwater.

Keep it safe

Remove ice and snow promptly to prevent trips and falls. Having the right tools will make all the difference! A square bladed shovel, water-resistant insulated gloves, a bag of salt or sand for walkways, and stretchy ice grippers for your shoes will help to ensure that folks can get in and out of the house safely.

It can be scary if the power goes out. State and federal agencies and utilities are working together to make sure power systems can withstand extreme weather. But depending on where you live, a generator could be a good choice.

Most importantly in a power outage, don't ever use a gas range or grill as a space heater. The same goes for running a car, propane grill or gas-powered generator in an enclosed area. It can be tempting to use these for heating when power is out, but they can kill you. Most fatalities during power outages are caused by carbon monoxide poisoning, not cold. Make sure your home is equipped with a functioning carbon monoxide detector and extra batteries, and keep a stock of blankets and warm clothes on hand. Portable generators should be placed outdoors at least 25 feet from windows, doors, and vents, or in a in a well-ventilated area away from your home to keep everyone safe.

Getting it done

The world is changing around us, but your home can be a place of refuge. There is an entire profession dedicated to making your home become a more temperature-stable, comfortable, safe place to live. There are even funding sources available to help get the work done. There's lots to get used to, but every step you take will make your home a better place to live!


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