After having our first snowfall the other night, and it being the end of October, my mind turns toward preparing for winter. Particularly in a way that is sustainable – not in the panic-and-clear-all-the-shelves-at-walmart kind of way, but in a sustainable winter preparedness mindset kind of way. I put together this list of 20 sustainable winter preparedness tips to help give you some ideas.
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Why Should We Prepare for Winter?
Some may think it’s silly to prepare for winter.
People only did that in the old days, right?
With all of our modern technology now – gas furnaces, grocery stores in every neighbourhood, cars with snow tires, what the heck do we possibly need to prepare for?
Personally, I like to err on the side of caution. I’d rather spend a little time preparing and NOT need it, than ignore any potential risks and be stuck unprepared.
Plus, I love to basically hibernate in winter – not going anywhere unless I have to. The more prepared I am before winter comes, the less running around I have to do in bad weather.
If you live in an area that experiences winter weather, you know that storms can knock out power, or make roads inaccessible. Not to mention that driving in winter isn’t always pleasant, so the less often you can leave your house, the better.
Energy Efficiency & Saving Money
Many of these sustainable winter preparedness tips will help you save money, as well as reduce your dependence on the electrical grid.
I don’t like to rely on others. I think it’s up to each family to know what their personal needs are and to prepare. We shouldn’t expect other people to take care of us because we failed to plan ahead.
With global warming, our weather is getting crazier… we have all seen freak storms happening all around the globe.
Our grandparents and great-grandparents knew it was wise to be prepared. The Great Depression would have been much more difficult to survive if they didn’t have skills like this. We should take a page from their book and learn some of them too.
You don’t have to do them all, but even just doing a couple of these things will leave you feeling more prepared this winter. And if you don’t need to use any of them, that’s perfectly fine! You got to learn a new skill, or you had to go to the store less often, or you got to whip up some delicious food from stuff you already had in your fridge and pantry.
There is no downside to preparedness, but there is a downside to not being prepared.
Living a Preparedness Lifestyle
If you browse the internet for preparedness tips, you will generally find that they don’t align with a simple, sustainable lifestyle. It’s all about stocking up on things like processed food, bottled water, and disposable dishes.
This isn’t the lifestyle we choose to live, so I don’t want to prepare that way either.
Our preparedness is woven into our day to day life.
It’s not like I have a doomsday bunker filled with ‘just in case’ supples. We weave preparedness into our lifestyle by learning skills, becoming less dependant on big corporations, forming relationships with local producers, living more closely to the earth, and learning how to do things for ourselves.
With that said, there are some things you can do to make life more comfortable during something like a power outage. Your personal preparedness is going to depend on a variety of factors:
- what is your climate?
- what are the risks in your area? (fires, floods, storms, extreme heat, extreme cold?)
- what are your family’s circumstances (do you have health needs? a baby? young children?)
- finances – you don’t want to go into debt for the sake of preparedness, so a little at a time is key. Don’t wait until an emergency is brewing before deciding to start
- job loss – is there a possibility that the primary income provider in your home could be without an income for an extended period of time?
- illness – what if you got ill and couldn’t get to the grocery store? Would you have enough supplies in your home to last awhile?
As you can see, there are many things you can prepare for – take some time to assess your own personal situation, and make a list of what you might need.
For our family, we live in Canada, so we don’t often get severe weather, aside from snow storms and blizzards. Power does get knocked out from time to time, but not frequently, and not usually for long periods of time. But that doesn’t mean it can’t happen, just that it usually doesn’t.
We also have Celiac disease, so we have to be very careful about the food we eat. We would get very sick if we consumed even trace amounts of gluten. I can’t depend on others to feed us, so I need to make sure we can eat.
Everyone’s situation is different, so figure out yours and go from there.
With that said, here are some things that you can do to be prepared for winter.
Here are 20 sustainable winter preparedness tips:
1. Stock up on beeswax candles
During a power outage situation, the last thing you want to do is get sick. You want to keep your immune system strong so that you are healthy and well. You don’t want to burn paraffin candles, because they are going to release toxins into the air, causing your body to have to work extra hard to fight those toxins, rather than keeping your immune system strong.
Beeswax candles give off a beautiful glow, and emit negative ions into the air, which is actually supportive of your immune health.
We enjoy making our own each year, but you can certainly purchase them as well. I recommend supporting a local apiary by buying either local beeswax or locally made candles. If you don’t have access to a local apiary, you can order some from Amazon. I like the tea light style because they’re so versatile.
Remember to keep safety in mind at all times. Never leave a candle burning unattended. If you have small children, keep them out of reach, and make sure they’re on a sturdy surface that won’t get knocked over.
Remember, beeswax is HOT! It’s not just about the fire risk, but dropping hot beeswax on your skin isn’t pleasant.
With that said, we burn candles in our house almost daily. My children know and understand how to be around candles. We constantly talk about not reaching over them, not touching them, not bumping into them, etc. In this way, they are not a ‘novelty’ when the power goes out and their curiosity doesn’t make them want to explore. It’s just a regular part of our life.
2. Seal your windows and doors
You’ll want to eliminate as many drafts as possible so your house stays warm. Make sure your weather stripping is in good shape around your doors. Check your windows for drafts.
You can also hang heavy drapes to help block out any drafts.
If you have old windows, you can use a plastic window sealing kit to help reduce drafts.
3. Have an alternate heat source
When we were house-shopping, having a wood burning heat source was at the top of our priority list.
As much as I love the ease and convenience of a gas furnace, the furnace won’t run without power.
Having SOME kind of an alternate heat source that doesn’t require power is important. (For this reason I wasn’t interested in a pellet stove, since they require electricity to run. Also, you need to buy pellets – you can’t scrounge wood to burn in them).
If you have a wood burning fireplace, you should have it inspected and cleaned annually, whether you use it or not. During an emergency is not the time to figure out you have an issue.
I also recommend practising your fire-making skills regularly! I absolutely LOVE having a fire going, so this isn’t a chore for me. And I’ve gotten pretty good at getting a great technique down, so I can always start a fire quickly and easily, and keep it going.
Make sure you have a good supply of matches, too! Making a fire is much trickier if you don’t have something to light it with. I like using wooden matches like these.
I have a good supply of paper to burn for starting a fire (instead of shredding sensitive documents, I just add them to our burn basket), as well as kindling, and of course, firewood. Make sure your firewood is well seasoned; you don’t want to be trying to burn green wood.
Make sure you’re not the only person in your family who knows how to make a fire (unless, of course, you’re the only person living in your house). My kids practise building fires on a regular basis (under supervision of course), and they could make one without my assistance if need be.
4. Pre-prep food
Whenever I know we have a storm coming, I always take some time to pre-prep some food. Things that we can eat cold, or that would be simple to re-heat.
Since we don’t rely on packaged convenience foods, this is pretty important. We don’t stock our pantry with processed foods, so there is literally nothing to reach for if we can’t cook.
Our weekly kitchen day helps with this as well, but if a storm is on its way I always do extra.
I love to use my crock pot to cook things like spaghetti sauce, or a pot roast. If I know there is a storm on its way, I’ll get the crock pot going first thing in the morning, so that if we lose power, we still have a hot meal to eat.
Here are some easy things to prep ahead of time:
- a simple meat sauce that is easy to re-heat and put on just about anything to make it taste yummy (it’s delicious on eggs!)
- hard-boiled eggs
- pre-cook and shred a roast – can be eaten cold
- pre-cook some potatoes – can be eaten cold or warmed up in a cast iron pan
- chop up some fruit and veggies. Yes, you could do this without power, but you’ll have a million other things to do and it is convenient to have them cut up and ready to munch on. Especially if you make some dip to go with them! Or maybe you’d rather play a board game by candlelight than chop veggies. 🙂
Practise doing this on a regular basis – going through your fridge and pantry and seeing what you can make out of what you have in there. It’s not always about running to the grocery store and filling up your cart. It’s about the skill of learning to make do with what you already have on hand.
5. Practise fireplace/woodstove cooking
I have no intention of learning to prepare a 3-course meal in my fireplace. But it is a skill that intrigues me. I just love going to different pioneer days and seeing them cook a whole chicken over an open fire, or having a pot of stew simmering in a dutch oven over hot coals.
Every once in awhile, it’s fun to cook something in the fireplace. Even if it’s something as simple as frying an egg when there is no power can be a fun (and useful) thing to do. There is definitely some skill involved in this, as it’s easy to scorch what’s on the bottom of the pan!
6. Own (and learn to use) cast iron
Cast iron is the most versatile of all the things you can cook on. You can use it on your stove top, in your oven, on top of a cast iron wood stove, or even right in your fireplace. You can use it for outdoor cooking too. It’s almost indestructible, distributes heat well, and can be used in a variety of ways.
Get yourself a cast iron skillet, and learn to use it well. You can cook AND bake in it! I LOVE my Lodge 10″ cast iron skillet. We use it so often, it doesn’t even get put away, it just stays on our stove.
7. Get a Good Quality Water Filter
Clean, safe water will be your #1 need during any emergency situation. However, I am not a fan of plastic water bottles – not only are they terrible for our environment, they are also terrible for our health.
After doing tons of research into water filters, I invested in a Berkey.
My criteria was:
- stainless steel (no or minimal plastic parts)
- long-lasting filters (Berkey filters last 5-7 years!! And because they are charcoal, they can be composted when they are done)
- filters chlorine and other harmful toxins
- filters FLUORIDE (if you live in the city there is a good chance there is toxic fluoride added to your water supply). There are very few filters on the market that will do this. I had to purchase separate fluoride filters but it was well worth it.
- portable – I wanted something we could take with us if we travelled, or went camping, etc.
- will filter any kind of water source. With my Berkey I can melt snow, I can use rain barrel water, or even filter water from a lake or a pool and turn it into safe drinking water
- requires no power (the Berkey is a simple, gravity-fed system)
As always, anything that I use for preparedness purposes also has to have a use in our every day life. I rarely buy things for ‘just in case’ scenarios. Whatever I purchase has to have an everyday, practical use, but also happens to be useful during an emergency. (This is the same reason I don’t store ’emergency’ food. We just store food, that we eat, and then if we do have an emergency, nothing really changes).
We chose the Royal Berkey based on our family size.
(Note that the model I linked does not include the fluoride filters – if you live on city water, I HIGHLY recommend adding on the fluoride filters. That was the main reason I got a Berkey in the first place!).
I love that I simply fill it up every day or 2 with tap water. No bottled water to purchase, no heavy jugs to lug.
8. Have an alternate way to keep food COLD
Many people think about alternate cooking, but not alternate cooling. Do you know that if the power goes out, the food in your fridge is only good for about four hours? After that, you are risking making yourself or a family member ill by eating that food.
This is why it’s a good idea to pre-cook and prepare whatever you can, so that it will be easy to eat if you need to.
Beyond that, you’ll want to have a way to keep things cold so that all your hard work doesn’t go to waste. If it’s winter, you’re in luck, because the great outdoors is essentially a giant refrigerator (or freezer). Have a couple of good coolers on hand to keep your food from freezing, or to keep the wildlife from having a snack.
Cold Room or Root Cellar
I’m fortunate enough to have a cold room in my basement, which stays a pretty constant temperature in the winter. Just above freezing. In fact, I have even contemplated experimenting with unplugging my fridge in the winter and just using the cold room. The only reason I haven’t is sheer convenience – I wouldn’t want to have to go up and down the stairs a dozen times a day! But during a power outage at least we’d have this option.
You can also experiment with reducing your refrigeration needs. How did people keep food fresh before we had modern refrigeration? They used techniques like:
These are all ways you can preserve food so that they don’t require refrigeration. Obviously during an emergency situation is not the time to learn how to do this, so be practising regularly and then you’ll be prepared with those foods when you need them.
Here is my favourite book about Root Cellaring, for cold storage of fruits and vegetables.
9. Prepare your winter pantry
Over the growing season, you’ll want to start putting up some of that summer produce so you have it to use during the winter.
We also purchase a whole pig and 1/4 cow to keep the freezer stocked with meat. That way it’s just a matter of pulling out some meat to defrost and putting a meal together with whatever veggies we have on hand.
We also like to keep a supply of the staples we would normally purchase at the grocery store, which allows us to go longer between grocery trips.
When the weather is bad, the last thing I want to do is drive anywhere. It’s very reassuring knowing that I can pull a meal together just by using what we have in our pantry and freezer.
Here are some tips on Emergency Food Storage for Beginners.
10. Switch to reusables
How is waste reduction a preparedness strategy?
If you rely on disposables, like diapers and menstrual products, what happens if you can’t get to the store and buy more?
Learning how to use the reusable version of these means that you can simply wash and re-use. This also saves a ton of money, AND the environment.
What happens if for some reason you don’t have garbage pick up? How long would it be before you have piles of garbage and nowhere to put it? Things could become unsanitary very quickly.
By working on reducing your waste over time, that will become less and less of a concern. Here is a post on 10 simple ways to reduce your waste.
I also have a stack of reusable flannel toilet paper, in case we aren’t able to get out to buy any, or the stores run out. Here is a blog post on how to make it, and how we use it.
11. Keep your gas tank full
I’ve always been a tank-more-than-half-full kind of gal. 😉 The lower the gas needle drops, the higher my anxiety gets. 🙂 Who can relate? My vehicle has a gauge that tells me how many kilometres I can drive on the gas I have remaining in my tank, which helps my anxiety immensely. However, in the winter, I prefer to have it closer to full than empty.
On the off chance that we had to leave in a hurry, or there are huge gas line ups, or for whatever reason we can’t get gas (maybe the power is out and the pumps don’t work), I prefer to have gas in my tank.
Also, if we were to ever get stranded somewhere in winter, we’d at least be able to run the vehicle to stay warm.
12. Keep an emergency winter kit in your vehicle
I have a rubbermaid tote where I store emergency winter supplies.
Things like extra hats & gloves, beeswax candles & tin cans, blankets, matches, etc. – things that would come in handy if we were ever stranded somewhere.
It even includes toiletry items, like soap, toothbrushes and toothpaste – in case we got stuck somewhere for a few days because of a storm, and couldn’t get home.
I just pop the tote into my vehicle in the winter and take it out in the spring.
I also keep a small, portable shovel, a snow brush/ice scraper, and some sand or salt.
It’s also a good idea to have an emergency vehicle kit in your vehicle at all times.
13. Keep cash on hand
I know that debit cards and credit cards are extremely convenient, and most of us rely on them now. However, having cash on hand is always a good idea; especially smaller bills and change.
You never know when you might be in a situation where someone doesn’t take cards (or maybe the store’s power is out). Having cash on hand means you’ll be able to get what you need anyway.
Check out this post on why it’s important to use cash.
14. Have an emergency fund and get out of debt
This is more of a general preparedness tip rather than specifically for winter preparedness, but everyone should have an easily accessible emergency fund.
Dave Ramsay recommends having a $1,000 emergency fund, even before you pay off debt. This can keep you out of debt if you have some kind of an emergency that you need to take care of.
Once all your debts are paid off (other than your mortgage), you should work at piling up 6 months worth of expenses in savings. This will help you survive any type of job loss or family emergency.
How does getting out of debt help with emergency preparedness?
Debt = Slavery
When you have debt, you basically owe your soul to someone else. You are working to pay your debts. When you don’t have debt, you are working for yourself. You can get by on much less income. If you were to have a family emergency or job loss, you’d be able to get by on a lot less. It would also greatly reduce the stress of an emergency. Your 6 month emergency fund would also last much longer.
We followed the Dave Ramsey approach to getting out of debt. We’re currently on Baby Step 3 (save 6 months worth of expenses in an emergency fund), and then we will be tackling our mortgage. Getting our mortgage paid off as quickly as possible will be a huge monkey off our backs.
I also recommend diversifying your emergency fund.
15. Have a well-stocked natural medicine cabinet
You want to be practising your herbal skills long before you will need them. However, having some good herbalism and essential oil books on hand, along with a good supply of both, will go a long way toward keeping you healthy.
You should have at least a basic Top 10 essential oils kit which will meet almost any health issue you might need to deal with. It will also allow you to make many of your own products, like cleaning supplies, so you won’t have to go to the store.
Having other herbs for making things like elderberry syrup, tea, etc. will be very important if someone gets ill, and also just to use for prevention.
After being a single mom for many years, I learned to be prepared in this area, because when you have a sick child you can’t drag them out to the store to buy what you need. Having natural remedies on hand at all times means you will be ready for whatever life throws at you.
It’s also important to have natural remedy books available. If the power goes out, you may not have access to the internet. This is why I believe in having a well-stocked library.
Some of my favourite books for herbal remedies are:
16. Get organized
Having a home that is organized will save you a lot of frustration during a power outage. Knowing your home so well that you could literally find something in the dark will be a huge blessing. It may seem silly, but anything you can do to reduce your stress during an uncomfortable situation will help.
Having things picked up and neat will also prevent you from tripping on things or stepping on things if you can’t see.
We are decluttering on a continuous basis. It seems like it is never truly ‘done’, but even focusing on one small area each week, you can keep your home fairly decluttered and streamlined.
Doing a massive declutter all at once can be stressful, but bit by bit is manageable.
Knowing exactly what you have and being able to get your hands on it quickly during any kind of an emergency is extremely helpful.
Check out my organizing series here.
17. Keep your power outage supplies in an easy, accessible place.
While we have candles all over the house, I have a designated spot for all of our extra candles, batteries, matches, etc.
I keep oil lamps around the house, and extra lamp oil and wicks are stored in the garage (lamp oil has a strong smell, so I prefer to keep it in the garage).
It’s important to have a designated spot for your emergency supplies, so you can find them easily, even in the dark.
18. Get a good preparedness book
Aside from books about all of the topics above, I recommend having a general book about preparedness. It’s a great way to figure out how you measure up in terms of preparedness, and whether there is anything you’ve forgotten.
This is the one I like. It guides you through a family’s preparedness journey.
19. Spend the winter learning new homemaking skills
I find winter is a great time to practise new homemaking skills. You can either get some books to read about various subjects, take up soap making or knitting, work on planning your spring garden, or try your hand at some sewing. Making beeswax candles is a wonderful, and useful, winter activity!
Here is a list of 25 homemaking skills you can work on.
20. Make preparedness FUN!!
Preparedness isn’t about having a doomsday mentality. For me, I absolutely love learning and practising these old fashioned skills. I love learning to become more self-sufficient, bit by bit. It helps me feel strong, like I can handle anything that gets thrown my way.
I love that as I learn, I get to teach my kids as well, so that they will have these skills when they grow up. Even if they choose not to use them for the most part, at least if they needed to, they would remember how.
Take pleasure in each new skill you learn – and find ways to incorporate it into your day to day life. Better yet, teach it to someone else! Or post what you’re learning on social media, so you can inspire others to do the same.
Sustainable Winter Preparedness
I hope you have found these sustainable preparedness tips helpful.
Remember to weave these into your day to day life so that should you have some kind of an emergency to prepare for, this will all seem like second nature. Don’t wait until an emergency arises to figure out how to do things.