For a Safer, Easier Winter, Prep Your Home Now

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Preparing your home for winter weather isn’t as simple as cranking up the thermostat and pulling sweaters out of storage. Whether you live in a temperate urban environment or a snowbound cottage in the boonies, taking a few simple steps before the temperatures drop can prevent a lot of headaches down the road.

If you live in a location that experiences only a few storms a year, a great snow shovel makes snow-clearing chores a lot more pleasant. Unfortunately, most snow shovels are awful. Wirecutter senior staff writer Doug Mahoney has spent the past four winters removing snow using dozens of different shovels on a farm in New Hampshire, and the True Temper 18-Inch Ergonomic Mountain Mover is the perennial favorite.

The Mountain Mover’s shock-absorbing polycarbonate scoop and ergonomically curved aluminum shaft are far easier on a shoveler’s back and arms than metal-scoop or straight-handle shovels. And its nylon leading edge is tough enough to scrape ice off tarmac yet soft enough that it doesn’t scratch wood or tile decking the way metal edges can. Attaching a helper handle like the EziMate BackEZ makes it even easier to use.

If you live in a snowier climate, or if you have a lot of property to clear, consider upgrading to a gas-powered snow blower. They are expensive to buy and require some maintenance, but they can save a lot of time and back pain. Mr. Mahoney recommends the Toro SnowMaster 724 QXE because it’s “quite simply the fastest snow blower we’ve ever used.”

He also looked into battery-powered snow blowers (and tested models from Ego and Snow Joe.) Although he saw much to like, Wirecutter doesn’t yet recommend any of them, finding them often underpowered and hard to maneuver: Unlike gas-powered models, which are self-propelled, battery-powered blowers make the operator do all the pushing. Battery-powered tools are also easy to care for — just stash them out of the way in the off-season. Gas-powered machines need their tanks drained or treated with a fuel stabilizer before storage.

If you’re an urban apartment dweller, you probably don’t have a driveway to shovel, but you probably do have drafts to deal with. Foam and V-channel (or tension seal) weather stripping helps to eliminate drafty windows while still allowing you to open the windows on warmer days; Lowe’s has a helpful how-to, and you can find the gear there, online or at any decent hardware store. Clear window-sealing tape or plastic sheeting is easier to install, but using one of those options means keeping your windows shut. If your doors are also drafty, install a door sweep. If you want to go further, Wirecutter has other advice on where to look for — and how to deal with — climate-control leaks.

In the event a storm knocks out the power, you’ll be happier, safer and more comfortable if you’ve prepared. A flashlight is a must, and a headlamp is invaluable if you expect to be outdoors doing cleanup, as it keeps both hands free for work. LED lanterns are safer than candles. (And you’ll find other uses for lanterns, too — they’re terrific at a campsite, for example. Collapsible models, like these from Suaoki, take up little room.) A USB battery pack (or power bank) can keep your phone charged, and the larger ones can keep tablets running for a few days, helping to stave off boredom for kids and adults alike. But if outages are a regular feature of your winter, a portable gas-powered generator can keep vital equipment such as a fridge or a medical device running.

You should also have a plan for dealing with perishable foods. Even if you’re not a beach-goer or tailgater, a hard cooler can help keep fruits and vegetables fresh for days in the event of a blackout. Have a few ice packs ready to go — just store them in the back of the freezer, out of the way. (Be on the safe side and don’t cook meat or fish that has gone unrefrigerated for more than a few hours.)

For a deeper dive into everything you need if disaster strikes, check out Wirecutter’s guide to emergency preparedness. That guide recommends that people in hurricane territory keep a few heavy-duty plastic tarps on hand to temporarily seal damaged roofs. But tarps are also useful for anyone who has trees on their property, where falling boughs pose a constant threat to roofs — especially in winter, when heavy snows can snap weak or dead branches. Even if no branches breach the roof, tarps are handy for post-storm cleanup: Just pile the detritus on and drag it en masse to where it needs to go.

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