Prepping for Winter Storms

We had our first good-sized storm come through Texas earlier this week and it brought to mind a laundry-list of winter storm items that we do as a matter of course. Life in the woods, and all that…

If you’re new to home ownership (617-thousand homes were sold in the USA last year), here’s a list of “right things to do” before the cold weather hits.

  1. Take Care of Your Pipes

This may seem obvious, but it’s really not.  Sure, you can  put those Styrofoam plastic helmets on the outdoors faucets, but in extended cold (and we usually get a few days when temps get into the low teens and don’t warm above freezing during the day) a good additional protection is to 1) put a large plastic garbage bag over the pipe (with helmet on) and then 2) cover the whole mess with a couple of bushels of leaves.

For pipes that go into unheated garage spaces,  consider putting in a long-neck self-draining faucet.  And then get after the whole garage door leaks heat like a sieve thing with insulating foam tape.

Just this week, I got around to fixing up the French doors into the shop ($50-bucks at a yard sale, you think I’m an  idiot who studies AD?) with finish trim molding all around.  Made one hell of a difference in comfort.  The shop temp came up 13-degrees.  48-F on the outside (before the storm) and 51 degrees inside.

Further point on shops and garages:  Many of them have open ventilation with screening, it works just fine some of the time.  But, if you’re prepping, start thinking about plywood “flappers” that you can drop to further reduce heat loss.  Insulate the shop or garage?  No, I’m not that nuts.  There’s always something to do in heated spaces…

2. Have Multiple Heating Sources

You won’t always be able to do this, but even in Airdzona, our friends all keep their fireplaces ready for the “just in case.”  Even better than a regular fireplace, though, is a solid fireplace inset – and one that will put out heat without an additional blower running. I’ve done stews on inserts and they’re great.  Cool slowly, all day.   When the powers out, you want a warm  house so pipes don’t freeze.

We live in a totally “artified” double-wide.  And many of these in the early 1990’s came with a mix of regular a/c and heating plus a ventless gas heater.  Elaine hated ours…it was a bugger to start, anyway.  But useful the few times we needed it.  Today, we have a brand new, in the box unit that may sneak past the Art Board.  Regardless, having a full 500 gallon propane tank and a big source of BTUs is a huge comfort.

One more trick:  Get some 1″ styro and cover your foundation vents if you have ’em.  Sure, the house needs to breathe.  But not when it’s super cold.  Put them on for the real cold stuff.  You’ll get warmer floors and a less drafty house.  Even with insulated metal ducting he had put in, there’s a difference in start-up air temps with the vent holes covered.

3.  Get the Right Electric Heater!

I’ve been living with electric heat seems like forever.  Even on my sailboat, in addition to the diesel stove, there were small electric heaters about.  Here at the ranch (we run cats and trees) there’s electric heat for the guest room/gym/spare bath.  And in my office.\

Big Electric Heat Secret!  Simply?  Get a  cheap one!

The reason is simple:  If we have a power outage, we don’t want to have to go around resetting heaters.  I had made the mistake of buying “fancy” one year and I rue the day.  Even so much as a bump in the power and the “fancy” one demands a manual reset.  The $20 ceramic heater (700/1500 watts) comes back on when the power comes on all by itself.  Simple is better.

Oh, the cheap one has a better “upset switch” too.  When you buy a heater, remember there’s only so many BTU’s in a watt.  So all 1,500 watt heaters will put out the same heat.  Ditto all 700 watt heaters.


How much current does a 1,500 watt heater draw?
Answer:  1,500 (watts) / 120 Volts  equals  12.5 AMPS.  Which is why 15 amp breakers blow if you add much of anything else.

When you know a storm is coming, we habitually leave our heaters on 700 Watts for a simple safety reason:  Feel the outlet where a plug-in heater has been sucking 1,500 watts for a while.  Several hours.  I can assure you, most of the time, they will be warm if not hot to the touch.

Now I get to the lecture part:  NEVER INSTALL ANYTHING SMALLER THAN #12 (WITH GROUND) HOUSE WIRING.  All kinds of electricians will tell you old man Ure’s nutsThe Code most places will let builders skate with #14.  But, any time you do any wiring, replace outlets with heavier 20-amp rated receptacles and feed them with #12 and don’t change the breaker.  Leave them at 15 Amps.  The idea is to have safety built in to anything you do to your home.  (I’ll put away the soap box now…)

I should mention as a heat source that beginning as soon as it cools off a bit more, tube type ham radio equipment is a joy:  Provides enough heat to keep the heater off, and there’s a magic to vacuum tubes and far away radio stations or ham radio chats on the low bands in winter…)

4. Write Down the Power Outage Reporting Number

Write down the emergency outage 800 number.  Then, put it on  the bottom of every phone in the house.  Sure smart meters are supposed to know all that stuff.  But I find the squeaky wheel gets greased first.  Squeak.  How?

5.  Have a Land Line?  Get an Old Phone

We have all kinds of electronics here – including cordless phones all over hell and gone.  Alexa in every room and help can be summoned with a word.  But, when the power goes off, the phone base units run for only an hour, or three, and then your comms are down.  Two Alexa units and routers are on big UPS supplies.  Cell Towers are usually only good for 48-hours, or so.  A 2-meter ham radio is a very reassuring tool.  But, nothing like having an old DTMF (TouchTone)  old-school phone.  The kind with pulse or tones are my personal fave,  Once upon a time I could dial a number using a couple of beer can tabs…ah, the joys of Lost Technology, huh?

6.  Foodery and Cookery

Where to begin?  You have bottled water – couple of cases per person, right?

And you have one (or more) gas or wood-fired BBQs,, right?

It is not possible to have too many 20-gallon propane bottles. We use the 40 pounder on the main grill – weighs about 76.5 LBS full.  The backup cooking is a 20 pounder on a portable camp stove (with oven).

Speaking of Ovens: I have to put in a plug for the absolute best cold-weather food there is:  Get a couple of loaves of that “bake it yourself” white bread. Keep them frozen until disaster shows up.  Immediately thaw and let it rise for a day or four.  Oil the sides and tops, cover with plastic wrap.  How long to rise will depend on how close to 75-80F you keep it.

Cut the loaves in half.  Form into huge dough balls.  Toss ’em in the oven.  It won’t be like Seattle waterfront eats, but you get store-bought clam chowder, toss in several additional small cans of minced or chopped clams, and a handful of bacon bits…(mouth watering yet?)

Hog out the center of the round mini loaves, after you turn them out for about 20-30 minutes.  Fill the hollow with the reinforced chowder, saving the center part for use as a bonus chowder-sopper.  Serve with a glass of, oh, a Chardonnay… See how much fun power outages can be?  (Dash of Worcestershire?  Seesh, if you must…)

7. Lights Out

Every room in the house has a strong LED flashlight.  We find  Amazon Basics  AA and AAA cells are a good value.  We buy them by the case.

If you are young and romantic, power outages can be a lot of fun for the first night of an extended power outage (even into senior years if that’s not TMI). After all, the hot water usually is passably warm for showers after up to several hours after lights out…After that, out come the quilts.

By golly, all this sounds like fun, doesn’t it?  Why, we can hardly wait for the next big storm to come rolling through…glass of champagne?

Write when you get rich,

author avatar
George Ure
Amazon Author Page: UrbanSurvival Bio:

28 thoughts on “Prepping for Winter Storms”

  1. Heh. I finally got all new windows in my Desert Center CA house after a couple of sizzling summers. What a difference! My house is mostly tile and now takes a long time to change temp. It can be 122 or 15 here. My 1967 house is really well built (except orig. windows) and has 12 ga. elec. and 20 amp breakers already. Power goes to switches first then outlet or light. My 1977 5 ton heat pump on the roof will be replaced eventually, but in the meantime I may get lots of blemished solar panels from a big project out here (15 kw or so) and will put in 48 vdc with batteries, then 2 48 vdc split heat pumps for kit and br. Then change out the 220v water heater for a heat pump kind (110 vac) or a batch water heater. Then I will change my 220 vac dryer to use my hot air panel for heat and just run motor and fan (probably 110). Or else get a propane dryer (110). Will have to get a propane range also since I have an elec range. One that does not suck elec. That brings everything down to 48 vdc (refrig too) and 110 vac from inverter. Not even going to hook up to grid. Come and get your meter! We had 4 outages this summer and no more of that! I would like to hook up my 1960 Franklin stove but it is a problem for ins. cos. Not to code, but works like a champ! It can get cold here too! Fun projects! Not too happy about Tesla batteries in heat. Maybe Edison iron batteries.

  2. years back my dad saw an ad in progressive farmer for a wood fired furnace built to look like a storage shed. The price was big and today I see them North of $2500 smackers. Dad grabbed me and we headed to the neighbors scrap farm and came home with a wagon load of steel combine parts and a rusty old 250 gal propane tank with an old steam boiler water jacket.

    Dad never drew any plans so I had no idea where he was going with it but it went from looking like a small Sears yard shed to a cinder block shed with a stove pipe sticking out the top. The stove part was welded up then we laid the block walls. The space between the stove and walls was filled with sand. Dad plumbed up some ductwork to connect to the house and away it went.

    That was 1970. I enlisted and went to play in the Southeast Asian conference. Dad and Mom used the furnace until his COPD ended the wood burning in 2002.

    The furnace still stands.

  3. George, I came across the article this a.m. at titled “EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT TRUMP…..” Posted NOV16,2019 that I urge you to read if you have not already done so. They link back to the original source and the author seems quite credible based on bio info and historical references in the article. Though a long read,it is the best work that I have read in a long time that ties together past and ongoing events in our country that brings us to where we are today. The insights into Trump are very interesting.

  4. The house we lived in some years ago when the boys were young had a fire place in the den. I keep several days of fire wood under cover, three five-gal cans of fresh water, Coleman lanterns, two-burner stove, and assorted camping gear. I was PREPARED! We lost power during an ice storm one night while I was at work. When I arrived home the boys had a fire going in the FP and together we pulled out our other “disaster gear”. The first day was like an adventurous camping trip. Three days later, not so much. I discovered a few chinks in our preparedness. Most of the heat of a FP goes right up the chimney, not into the one room we took residence in for the duration. (By the second morning I could see my breath in the kitchen!) The two Coleman lanterns and two big dogs augmented the heat in that one room, thankfully. The FP required almost constant attention and ate my limited wood supply like a starving beast. Most of a five-gal can of water was required to flush the toilet… once. There wasn’t a lot of flushing going on as a consequence. Nothing cultivates wisdom like bad experiences. I learned a lot of wisdom over those three days.

  5. Good price on batteries. I use to get Sunbeam Alkaline AA & AAA batteries from Dollar Tree for $.25 apiece in a package of 4. They recently reduced them to a package of 3 raising the price to $.33 1/3 apiece. I have flashlights all over the house & grandkids always needs batteries.

  6. Hey, G –

    Conservation of resources in these used pads. I have a used pad, in Michigan. #burr

    Attic insulation. I added attic insulation and my heat bills went down 20%-30%. Attic insulation will help in hot or cold climates. Blown in attic insulation is less than 2 grand and makes a big difference. It really works. Insulation changes the acoustics of the interior too.

    Wall foam is another good idea. New houses are wrapped with Tyvek® – sealed and draft free. Houses without Tyvek® wrap need wall foam in the stud bays.

    Any little bit helps.

    Wall plate insulation gaskets on exterior walls. Those help keep drafts to a minimum.

    The cans of foam insulation work great for small cracks and crevasses.

    Get an incense stick for the smoke. Test around windows and doors and floor molding with the smoke. If the smoke moves, you are seeing evidence of a draft. Hit the drafts with the canned foam. It’s even worth it to remove window/door/floor molding and back fill with foam.

    Curtain and drapes are also important. I have the aluminum framed windows from 1973. LOL Must upgrade windows.

    In a bedroom I don’t use, I sealed the window with a flannel sheet. It looks fine and keeps the cold out.

    I have the large aluminum sliding doors on this house. To help seal those I hung a curtain rod that extends across the entire wall, not just the sliding door, and installed heavy ceiling to floor drapes. It’s looks tasteful, like a theater wall. When people visit they always ask, “What’s back there?” “Nothing.”

    Once your house is airtight, there is a significant disadvantage – mold. If a pipe or something breaks and you are gone, within no time mold will start growing because there is no air exchange.

    Deciduous trees around the house shade in summer and allow sun through during winter.

    Good practical report, G.

    • In Florida, mold is the enemy of snowbirds and natives who flee during the summer to escape the heat. My house has two small central AC units; if one craps out, the other can keep the humidity manageable. We found this out from experience. Our new unit has a SENSI wi-fi thermostat that sends me email if humidity goes about 70%. Most people here leave their AC set at 80 to 82 degrees when away to keep mold away. Humidistat AC controls are available, but my AC guy tells horror stories about them getting stuck and facing high electric bills or mold when they altogether fail to function. Our internal water is turned off during long absences so we don’t worry about broken plumbing; houseplants go to the neighbors.

      But the best defense is having a neighbor or a paid property service come through at least weekly and make sure that there are no puddles or smells and that there have been no intrusions.

  7. George

    “Feel the outlet where a plug-in heater has been sucking 1,500 watts for a while. ”

    I thought I was the only crazy old man who did that !

    For Jonathan M Chattin: Be careful with those solar panels!! They can put out LETHAL voltage especially in cold weather. My panels can put out 140 volts DC in freezing weather. I don’t know the physics behind it but that’s how it is.

    You will need a good Charge Controller, (battery charger), to safely charge your battery bank. Outback Power makes reliable units. There are other manufacturers as well. Just remember that a Controller can only handle so much power or it will smoke.

    Good luck!

    • Don’t worry Rocket Mike! I am an EE, worked for DoD for 33 years. SDtudied this for a long time.

  8. Insulate the garage. If it is possible to add more insulation to the attic of your house, then you need more. Insulation is the best upgrade you can make to an existing home. It does actually pay for itself.

    • Safety first.

      In detached garages a 50 gallon barrel will work as a homemade heater.

      If you google – google wants us controlled – “barrel stoves” you’ll see what I mean.

      As a kid one of the dads hooked up a fellow friend with one of these in his garage. It worked great. Way back then we had an endless supply of newspaper as newspaper recycling hadn’t yet been stolen from the children by municipalities.

  9. re: batteries

    We burn thru way too many AA and AAA, so I switched to rechargeables for everything. Keep a healthy supply charged, and cycle them FIFO. Bonus is the charger doubles as a power bank for 12 VDC and 5VDC out.

    Also converted all C and D gadgets (ie: flashlights) via AA to D (uses 4 AA) or AA to C (uses 4 AAA or 1 AA) adapters. Now I only stock those two sizes.

    I also have a few 3v AA lithium; a few of our flashlights can handle the higher voltage and are VERY bright.

  10. When I bought the 1972 vintage Volcano Ranch here, the home inspector found an outlet in the back bedroom with the wrong polarity…. neutral and hot were reversed. The outlets were old and crusty, with spray paint on the terminal surfaces, so I replaced ALL the outlets in the house before moving in. I found the outlet power ‘daisy chain’ along one side of the house all had reversed polarity… from the head outlet. How does a competent electrician cross connect the black and white wires?? I also hate the ‘push-in’ wire connections on new outlets. They come loose, arc, and heat up from poor connection with age. All new outlets have wire wrap screws that are snugly tightened. Crusty old outlets are a major source of home fires.

    • You know, virtually all former SBE members know that the “White goes to the Silver screw” on all things electrical. But with all the emphasis in today’s world on “tech” basics – and basic competencies in things like this – have been taken out back and put out of their misery.

      Why, just imagine how little “make work” and “licensure” there would be without such dumbing down!

      And I am totally with you on that cheap push-in connector crap. None of it here..

  11. Northern California here. Had 5 days of “planned weather outages” to prevent fires ( and PG&E’s line they didn’t shut down started a fire)
    initially, it was a 2 – 3 day planned outage, 2nd day another wind event built up, and power was kept off for 5 days in all. Big time mess, folks lighting themselves up with generators, gas lines, stolen generators, daytime gas siphoning from cars.
    Grocery stores, restaurants and all business were impacted in a negative manner.
    The extra days tacked onto the planned 2 days really drove it home to many northern california counties that had power shut off.
    i live off grid, and had topped off vehicle tanks before hand, but not getting fresh grocerys was highly annoying. everyone on grid lost their frozen and refrigerated food, and forced air heat was not happening because no electric for the blowers, even if you had city gas. Same for tankless gas water heaters, no electric for the brain, no hot water. And that was the week of freezing nights.

      • They probably didn’t declare California a disaster area because it’s pretty well known that its been a disaster for the last hundred years.give or take .lol

      • A voluntary blackout isn’t a natural disaster. I would think a class action lawsuit against PGE would be in order.

  12. I wonder….

    “For the right moment you must wait, as FABIUS did most patiently, when warring against Hannibal, though many censured his delays; but when the time comes you must strike hard, as Fabius did, or your waiting will be in vain, and fruitless”.

    Why now?

    Are all the people so dependent on them that they feel they can succeed? It was one in three and is now one in two..or are the stats wrong and it’s even more dependent.
    Just how far has it gotten out of control..?

  13. George, If your landline has been upgraded to fiber optic you have to have battery backup to operate the phone. I have a rotary dial phone on the wall, and now it’s worthless in a power outage. I have an inverter and battery backups for other things I can use temporarily, but also lost the use of one of the only outlets in that part of my basement because the damned phone line has to have power.

  14. George,

    Could not agree more with up sizing electrical wire. We built our house in 1990 and the wife and I wired it ourselves. Code at the time was #14 with ground. Since the wife is an electrical engineer, we made the choice to go with #10 with ground for 110/120 circuits. We likewise choose larger wire for other circuits. Went with heavier amperage outlets and switches, but kept the standard 15 amp per circuit breakers. Reasoning being to let the circuit breaker be the weak point in the circuits. Have had no problems. We also used an industrial breaker panel versus the home owner style. Breakers for these boxes are rated for more cycles NEMA.

    Now in 2019, we still exceed the current code.

    • One option for more power and less copper is to simply wire in a houseful of 230v outlets. Use European devices that are not fussy about frequency and call it good. Insurance companies and inspectors may dislike the idea, but it does make sense.

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