By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail. — Benjamin Franklin

Common Sense Winter Safety Tips

For many, a significant draw to homesteading is the satisfaction of being self-reliant on your own land in a remote corner of paradise. Unfortunately, winter knows where you live. And when winter comes calling, it can create problems before it leaves. A common winter problem for many is a power outage. For homesteaders, power outages can be particularly acute, especially if when you live far from essential services. When the power goes out, staying abreast of weather trends, and being prepared both inside and outside the homestead to avoid potential disaster.

Stay Abreast of Weather Trends

Knowing when the heavy weather is coming will allow you plenty of time to prepare yourself of a significant snowfall. It’s a great idea to own a battery powered radio, a hand-cranked radio, or a dedicated weather radio. Either will give you regular weather updates, just make sure to have your batteries charged or have news ones handy. In this day and age, there’s almost no excuse for missing a winter storm warning and being caught by surprise.

Stay Connected with Social Media

If your homestead is connected to the web, you can use social media—twitter, instagram, facebook—to be in communication with your extended family and your neighbors, no matter how distant they may be. Letting other folks know what’s going on can be critical, especially if you are in need of help. And your neighbors are much more likely to come to your aid if you have been maintaining good relationships with them. Self-reliance is great, but asking for help can be life-saving. Of course, keep a list of phone numbers for essential services if you end up needing them.

Keep Machines And Other Essentials Ready

Cold temperatures can put a beating on your machinery. If the power fails, you’ll want to be sure your equipment is ready. Make sure:

  • Chainsaws and generators are ready to run when needed
  • To have a spare chain, chain oil, and extra plugs
  • To have plenty of extra fuel if you need to run your generator for extended periods of time

Make Sure Your Gas Or Diesel Is Ready to Burn

Extreme cold will cause diesel fuel to gel and make life difficult for anyone who relies on a diesel engine. Diesel will start to gel at 15° F. Keep a supply of commercial additive on hand to prevent gelling. Short of that, mixing the right amount of kerosene in your diesel will help lower the temperature at which the paraffin wax in diesel will gel.

Similarly, have dry gas on hand for gas-powered engines to reduce problems associated with condensation. And always keep fuel tanks at least half-full.

Of course, keeping a fuel stock of gas cans in a dry location is smart. Be aware of any additives you’ll need for long-term storage.

Generators—Understand Your Needs

If you haven’t purchased a generator, spend a little time thinking through what you’ll need it for. You’ll want to preserve food, for sure. You’ll want to have power for phones and other communication devices. If you have a well, it will be handy to keep your well pump working.

How much generator do you need to keep these essentials functioning? And, do you need to run a generator all day? While it might be comforting to hear that generator humming, remember that generators run on fuel. Understand that you do not need to keep your refrigerator or freezer on all day to prevent food from going bad. Nor do you need lights on during the day. Being smart and economical in your choice of generator by not buying one that is too fuel-hungry and bigger than you need. It will pay dividends when it counts.

Keep in mind, too, that not everything—your well pump, for instance—may run on a generator.

Water Storage—Understanding Your Needs And Options

Water is a basic need. In an emergency, FEMA recommends you store 1 gallon of water per person for three days. If you have children, are nursing or are pregnant, or if you live with elderly parents, your needs may be higher.

If you lose power, your well may not pump water. And remember that your well also may not work with a generator. Having a hand pump for your well may be critical.

If you have stored water, make sure to keep it above freezing temperatures so you do not need to use fuel and energy to thaw it. If you don’t have one yet, it might be smart to establish a rainwater catch system if your well fails.

If all else fails, you can get water from ponds, rivers, and streams. This would be a last resort as ponds and streams may contain bacteria that will make you sick. They also present a problem in terms of location and water transportation. Have spare containers as part of your water storage system dedicated for this eventuality.

Indoor Survival Tips

Inside the house, your three essential needs are heat, light, and food. With a little planning, none of these should present significant problems.

For starters, it’s smart to keep a 3-day supply of canned, non-perishable food at your house at all times. If you have a gas cook stove, make sure your propane or natural gas tanks are full. If the power goes out, remember that most gas stoves will, in fact, work if you can light the pilot manually.

If your stove doesn’t work, you can also cook food in your fireplace as long as you have the right cookware for working with naked flame. If it comes down to it, you can also cook food on your gas or charcoal grill. Note that you can only use the grill outside because of dangerous CO2 emissions.

Another basic need, when the power goes out, will be heat. Wood stoves are an obvious and important component for any homestead in cold climates. Keep plenty of dry, split wood on hand and ready to burn. Natural gas or propane heaters are also excellent sources of emergency heat.

A wood cook stove can be another excellent source of heat. Wood cook stoves can also be used to boil water and dry clothes if you get wet. Staying dry will be important. Wet clothing transmits heat rapidly and will have almost zero insulating value.

Of course, it will be smart to wear plenty of layers and have extra blankets on hand. Warming yourself and your family by wearing extra clothes and using extra blankets will help extend the life of your fuel supply.

When the sun goes down, you can keep your house lit with candles. Maintain a healthy stock of large ones and have several boxes of matches on hand. Flashlights are also useful as are oil and kerosene lanterns. Make sure your batteries are charged and keep your fuel levels where they need to be.

You didn’t go into homesteading because you were afraid of challenges or because you doubted your own resourcefulness. For the new homesteader facing their first winter, being prepared for extended power outages may make all the difference.

What did we forget to mention? Tell us your best winter safety hacks—and, while you’re at it, sign up for our newsletter and special offers!