Putting Together a Winter Home Emergency Kit

 

Creating a home emergency kit can be a simple to enormous undertaking depending on the level of energy and preparation you want to invest into it. Most people are on the "Stay warm and fed until the power comes back on" camp, not the "Prepared for zombie apocalypse" camp, and though it never hurts to prepare for the worst we'll be focusing more on the former than the latter.

Once you read over the following tips you can adopt them to fit your needs based on your locale and weather, size of your home, and how much storage space you have available.

Know The Lay of the Land: Before all else you want to know how to control your home in the event of an emergency. Do you know where the water shutoff valve is? The emergency shut off valve for the gas? Which circuit breakers go to which part of your home? Many home emergencies can be quickly neutralized by knowing how to shut down the infrastructure of the home. Make sure the rest of the people in the house know how to do things like kill the water or electricity. It may not seem critical now, but if a pine tree comes crashing through your kitchen and water is spraying everywhere, knowing how to stop the geyser of water becomes quite important.

Rotate Your Semi-Perishable Food: Canned goods and bottles of water keep well enough, but not forever. Arranging your pantry so that cans don't linger at the back ensures that when you're snowed in you'll be eating fresh canned fruits and vegetables instead of the dusty cans from three Thanksgivings ago. You can go all out and build a rotating shelf to keep your canned goods fresh, but for smaller scale storage a simple wire-frame can dispenser will fit on most pantry shelves.

Keep Batteries and Flashlights on Hand: You'll always want batteries on hand. When it comes to keeping the lights on when the power is out, flashlights are king. Candles are a tragedy waiting to happen. Hundreds of house fires are started every year during power outages as people light up candles en masse to brighten their dark homes. It's 2009, you can buy ultra-efficient LED flashlights for less than the cost of a DVD. Even with the power out there's no excuse for lighting your home with fire.

Have Alternative Heat: If you're preparing for a winter storm you most likely live somewhere with icy winter conditions and deep snow fall. When keeping warm during a winter storm there are two levels of warmth: safe and comfortable. If you're wearing layered clothing and have lots of blankets, 40-50F in your house is safe but not particularly comfortable. Nobody will get frost bite and pipes won't freeze. Comfortable is a personal thing—I'm comfy at 55F, most people prefer at least in the upper 60s—and you'll need to plan accordingly for it. Fireplaces, kerosene space heaters, and other combustion-based sources of heat are less than ideal compared to the efficiency and safety of a central furnace but when operated properly can help keep you warm until power and order are restored.

You absolutely need to make sure that whatever alternative source of heat you plan on using during an outage is clean, operational, and that everyone who will be using it understands how to use it safely. Clean out the chimney before you need it and give that kerosene heater a trial run when you're not under pressure. Unfortunately, unlike swapping candles for LED flashlights, there isn't an ultra modern replacement for ditching combustion-based heat for something fancy. Safety first!

Tools and Materials for Emergency Repairs: You don't need to be ready for a full scale remodeling project but you do need some basics. What if a tree branch falls and breaks a window? In the middle of summer it's an annoyance, in the middle of a winter outage it's a giant icy hole to the outside world that will drop the temperature of your home below freezing in a matter of hours. Some heavy duty plastic sheeting and duct tape might not have the insulation value of a triple-pane window but it will keep hot air from drafting right out into your yard.

Communicating from the Winter Wonderland: Phone lines can be damaged by winds and ice, but it is very rare for a winter storm to wipe out the cellular network in an area. Keep your cellphone charged and make sure you have a car charger for it—if the power outage is extended you'll need to top it off at some point. If cellphone service is spotty, you may want to consider sending an SMS message to communicate with friends and family. Often times SMS messages go through just fine when trying to place an actual voice call is sketchy due to weak signal. If you live in the countryside you might consider investing in a couple GMRS/FRS hand-held radios with some neighbors. 

Stay Well Stocked: If you live in an area where weather can keep you holed up, you need to get into the practice of shopping ahead. When you're buying your regular groceries, purchase a few extra non-perishable things to stock in the pantry. Don't wait to do your grocery shopping until it is critical that you get out that day to do so. The same principle applies to non-food items like batteries, salt and sand for your walk and driveway, and keeping your gas tank full in your car.

Scaling Preparation for Your Situation and Budget: Finally, as we mentioned above, you'll need to scale your level of preparation to your budget and needs. If you can afford it and live in an area with frequent power outages, although a bit pricey, a home generator is a great investment. An apartment dweller that experiences extremely infrequent and brief outages could simply stockpile some batteries under the bed.

The important part in preparing for inclement weather and power outages is to run through potential and reasonable scenarios and what you need to do in various situations that may arise. What if an ice-laden tree falls onto your house? What if the power is out for more than a day? How will I heat food with no electricity? Does the heating system of your home require electricity? Have I told my roommate, spouse, or child what the plan is in the event of an emergency? Asking and answering questions like these well before you're under the stress of the actual situation helps you plan properly and keep stress to a minimum when that Douglas Fir actually does come through the picture window or the guy on the emergency weather radio says power won't be restored until next Tuesday. A small amount of planning now yields a lot of comfort later.

 

Have some tips and tricks for winter-preparedness? Please share any tips or experiences with us! We love your feedback!

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Source: http://lifehacker.com/5390502/put-together-a-winter-home-emergency-kit?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+lifehacker%2Ffull+%28Lifehacker%29

December 01, 2014 5 tags (show)

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How to Survive a Power Outage During an Ice Storm

Power outages highlight our dependence on electricity and the necessity to prepare for unexpectedly living without it. However, there are steps you can take to prepare. With the threat of unexpected and storm-related power outages always looming, enact these measures to ensure you and your family’s safety.

Prepare now for an unexpected power outage

- Stock up on essentials. Having these items already in your home will help with both severe storm preparations and unexpected blackouts. Keep these items in a designated “emergency supply kit” for easy access.

- Stock your home with several flashlights and the corresponding batteries. Flashlights are always the safer choice since candles pose the risk of accidental fires when emergency services may already be overwhelmed.

- Purchase a battery-powered radio. When access to television isn’t possible, invest in a battery-powered radio to stay alert of any evacuation orders or status updates on the power outage.

- Buy a car charger for your cell phone. Since many Americans rely on cellphones in lieu of a corded landline phone, it is important to keep your cell fully charged. By purchasing a charger that attaches through your cigarette lighter or auxiliary plug (depending on the model of your vehicle); you can use your car as a supplementary power source to charge your phone. Also consider having an alternate corded landline phone for your home, which usually remain unaffected during power outages.

Actions to Take When an Ice Storm is Approaching

Sometimes power outages are expected by the arrival of severe weather events such as hurricanes or ice storms. These are additional steps you can take to prepare your home for weather-related blackouts.

Keep at least ½ of a tank of gas in your car at all times. Many gas stations rely on electricity to power their pumps. While it may seem inconvenient to make more frequent stops at the gas station, if you have a near-empty tank during a power outage, you may lack the fuel to travel in an emergency.

Trim tree branches in your yard. It’s a good idea to address any landscaping concerns before the storm season begins in your area. When a storm is approaching your home, take note of the tree limbs on your property. If they hang over power lines, make sure to trim them before the storm hits. Doing so will decrease the chances your power will be cut by a fallen tree limbs.

However, it is imperative to exercise extreme caution when working around power lines. Contact your local utility company for safety tips and assistance before attempting to trim tree branches.

Turn your refrigerator and freezer to their coldest settings. Lowering the temperature before you lose power will allow the refrigerator to keep acceptable temperatures for food longer. Eat perishable foods first, conserving canned or other non-perishable items for the possibility of a long-term outage.

Guidelines During Power Outages

After determining the cause of a power outage, use these measures to weather the outage safely.

Help prevent pipes from freezing. If your home is without heat, the water in your plumbing can become frozen and create expensive repair problems.

To help combat this, allow a small stream of water to run from faucets. The American Red Cross advises this action and says, “Running water through the pipe – even at a trickle – helps prevent pipes from freezing.”

If you own a generator, operate it safely. Never run a generator inside a home or garage, they produce potentially deadly carbon-monoxide fumes. Always keep running generators in an open and ventilated area. Also, do not directly connect the generator to your home’s wiring. Plug all necessary appliances directly into the generator. When a generator is connected to a home’s wiring, it can create a “back feed” into utility lines which can injure or kill anyone who is working to restore the power.

To maintain the refrigerated and frozen foods, keep fridge and freezer openings to a minimum. By not opening the door, you can keep the temperature lower for a longer period of time. Make a conscious effort before you open the fridge/freezer to plan what you will take out and close the door quickly. To increase the effectiveness of your powerless fridge, you can fill plastic containers with cold water and place inside the appliance. Not only does this increase your emergency water supply, it also helps keep the air cool inside the fridge to slow the spoilage of your food.

Although it may seem sensible to put food outside in the cold air, this is not recommended. The Oklahoma State Department of Health says, “It is not a good idea to put food from the refrigerator and freezer outside. The temperature outside can vary hour by hour, and frozen food can thaw if exposed to the sun’s rays, even if it is very cold.”

Conversely, food stored outside can become frozen during low temperatures.

Unplug all appliances and leave only one light switched on. There is an added risk of power surges occurring that can destroy your appliances. Leave one light on in your home so you know when the power has returned.

In case of extreme temperatures, plan on visiting locations and businesses that are likely to have generators. For instance, power outages are common during ice storms. Plan on visiting shopping malls or community centers that have generators to keep warm.

Follow these essential tips to help ensure the safety of you and your family from the unpredictability of power outages.

Have questions, comments, or a story to share? Email Erin Cassidy at cassidye@accuweather.com. Follow us @breakingweather, or on Facebook and Google+.

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