Preparing Your Homestead For Winter – Four Key Questions To Ask Yourself

Guest Post by Okonkwo Noble

“Winter is almost here!” While these four words equate to holidays, merriment, and restfulness for some, homesteaders may not be quite as excited. Winter can be a harsh season on the homestead. That’s why it’s important to know four key questions to ask yourself when preparing your homestead for winter.

Winter Hardships

There’s no question that the extreme cold and heavy snows of winter can create serious hazards for homesteading families and their animals. But winter can be enjoyable on your homestead if you prepare effectively.

What you should know is that preparing for winter on a homestead isn’t as difficult as many people fear. But there are definitely a lot of things to consider, and that can make it seem an overwhelming task. The questions put forth in this article will help you focus on the necessary steps you need to take. Then you and your homestead will be fully prepared to weather freezing temperatures, winter storms, and the adverse effects that come with them.

When Should You Start Preparing Your Homestead For Winter?

As the old saying goes, it’s best to “make hay while the sun shines.” In preparing your homestead for winter, this should be taken literally. The best time to get ready for winter truly is while the weather is still warm and sunny.

Preparing for winter early enough is just as important as the preparatory activities themselves. Ideally you should be making use of favorable weather conditions throughout the year to make and keep your homestead ready for winter. But if all else fails, you should definitely be on your toes once fall starts.

The bottom line is that you cannot effectively prepare for winter in winter, so plan accordingly and start as early as possible!

Establish Your Winterizing Priorities

Now that you know when to prepare your homestead for winter, how do you determine what you are supposed to prepare? Asking the right questions is vital. The answers may differ from homesteader to homesteader, but asking the right questions brings the most important concerns to light and helps you focus on the necessities.  

The specifics of preparing for winter will, of course, depend on the structure, set-up, and goals of each unique homestead. But the broadest question to start with is:

What do I need to achieve to enjoy a safe and comfortable winter on my homestead?

Do you have a family to feed and keep warm?

Do you have animals or livestock to shelter, feed, and water through freezing temperatures?

Do your buildings need maintenance or upgrades to get through winter storms?

Do you have adequate supplies to see you through daily living as well as emergencies if you are temporarily stranded due to snow and ice?

If you’re curious about the things you need to focus on to get your homestead ready for winter, start by asking yourself these general questions. They should quickly help put things in perspective and get you formulating necessary tasks.

Create a Checklist

It’s a great idea to create a checklist of the things you feel you must do to meet your winterizing goals. Once created, you can keep the list to refer to from year to year, adding and deleting tasks as needed as your homestead situation changes.  

Creating a checklist will help ensure you do not leave out any important task before the north winds begin to blow!

And while it’s great to get ideas from other homesteaders, you should always customize your checklist so it reflects the particulars of your own homestead. The checklist you create ultimately has to be practical and workable for you.

If you’re confused about how to create your checklist, you can start by writing down every single concern that comes to mind about getting through a harsh winter. Then you can prioritize those concerns into actionable tasks to help you get prepared.

Preparing Your Homestead for Winter – Four Key Questions To Ask Yourself

There’s no doubt that the year’s coldest season presents unique challenges for homesteaders. But you’ll be able to enjoy winter to the fullest if you prepare for it adequately. So let’s dive into the four specific questions you should ask yourself to ensure you’re covering all the bases of winterizing your homestead:

1. What Basic Supplies Should I Stock Up On?

The essence of stocking up for winter is to avoid situations where you need to get out to get supplies under terrible weather conditions. The span of time you should stock up for will vary based on the general length and severity of the winters where you live.

Homesteaders who experience milder winters may only need to keep enough provisions on hand to get them through a week or two at most. Those living where winters are long and severe would do well to prepare for many weeks or even a few months of self-sufficiency. Consider the worst-case scenario of being cut off from accessing supplies and stock up accordingly.

Of course you’ll want to stock your pantry and/or cellar with adequate food to feed everyone who lives on the homestead. Think canned, jarred, dried, and boxed items whose shelf life will outlast the cold winter. Adequate stores of flour, sugar, yeast and other baking basics will allow you to enjoy freshly-baked staples and treats throughout the season as well.

You may also want to consider storing extra water in case there’s ever an issue with access to your water source whether it’s off-grid or on.

You should also be sure to stock up on household supplies such as toilet paper, napkins, trash bags, laundry detergent. And don’t forget personal toiletries such as toothpaste, tooth brushes, shampoo, deodorant, and soap.

You’ll also want to make sure you have plenty of towels, bed linens, and, of course, blankets and/or quilts for when the cold winds begin to blow. And it doesn’t hurt to check review winter clothing as well to do any mending that’s required or replace items that have worn out or no longer fit properly.

To make the entire process easier, consider making a master supply list you can refer to each year as you prepare for winter. You can break it into sections to cover each of the categories discussed above. Keep the list handy and make notes as you go through the winter season. This will help you remember from year to year if you ran out of something or had too much of something else, simplifying and streamlining your preparation efforts.

2. Am I Prepared For Emergencies?

Homesteaders can face emergencies any time of the year, but in wintertime, help may not be readily available, if at all. Imagine all the possible emergencies you can run into during winter from injury to illness. Are you prepared for them?

Before bad weather sets in, make sure the first aid kit is well stocked and its contents are not expired. Be sure to re-stock the medicine cabinet with any basic over-the-counter medications you and your family use such as pain relievers, cold medicines, antibiotic ointments, and bandages. If possible, get an extra refill of any vital prescription medications in case bad weather keeps you from the pharmacy.

If your homestead relies on the electric grid, you’ll also want to prepare for power outages. Check your supply of batteries, candles, matches, firewood, and fuel. You’ll need light and heat to see you through if the power goes down.

It’s also a good idea to have emergency protocols in place so that every family member knows what to do should someone become sick or injured, or if there’s a fire. But also keep in mind that part of having an emergency plan involves reducing the risk of an emergency in the first place. Take time before winter sets in to make sure appliances, furnaces, heaters, and the like are in good repair and functioning properly to minimize the chance of accidents or injuries.

3. Do My Animals Have Adequate Shelter and Food Stores?

Extreme cold is one of winter’s most detrimental threats to animals on your homestead whether livestock or pets. Make sure they have shelter that is sturdy and in good repair where they can be protected from wind, sleet, snow, ice, and freezing temperatures.

Barns, stables and pens should provide adequate room for all the animals you have as well as insulating bedding such as straw. Ensure that the roofs have no leaks, and check that windows and doors are strong and close properly. If the shelter has electricity, make sure it is functioning properly and can handle the load necessary to supply the desired heat and/or lighting.

Stock up on any feed, hay, or grain your animals will need to get through months of not being able to graze and forage. Make sure the storage holds and/or containers are also in good repair. You don’t want to lose your feed stores to spoilage or pesky rodents.

With planning and preparedness, your homestead animals will be able to get through winter safely. The better the shelter and nutrition you provide them, the happier and healthier they will stay through even the most bitter winter season.

4. Have I Winterized My House?

One of the most important things a homesteader can do is winterize their own home. Winterizing helps defend the structure of your building against sub-zero temperatures, high winds, and snow, sleet, and ice. The better your house can withstand the elements, the more comfortable you will be.

Here are some of the more common areas you should give attention to in winterizing your home:

  1. Check pipes to be sure they are in good repair and not subject to freezing
  2. Have your chimney professionally cleaned and repaired if needed
  3. Consider adding extra layers of insulation in the attic
  4. Seal cracks in walls and around windows and doors
  5. Add weather stripping around doors and windows
  6. Make use of storm windows outside and thermal drapery inside
  7. Inspect your roof and repair any loose shingles or damaged areas
  8. Clean and secure gutters to withstand the weight of snow and ice
  9. Install programmable thermostats 
  10.  Drain pipes that won’t be used and install heat tape for those that will
  11.  Close outside vents
  12.  Reverse the direction of ceiling fans 
  13.  Shut off sprinkler and irrigation systems

Beyond this list, consider if there are any other winterizing tasks that would be beneficial to your specific home and unique homesteading situation. Considering every possible preparation will help your home withstand the ravages of winter.

Prepared to Enjoy

Homesteaders face unique challenges during the harsh winter months. So be sure to start your preparations early and use a checklist and supply lists to guide your progress. Ask yourself the four key questions to ensure you cover every aspect of winterizing necessary for your specific situation. That way, when the north winds begin to blow, you will be prepared to enjoy a safe and cozy winter on your homestead.

Guest author Okonkwo Noble is a travel enthusiast, electical engineer, and adventure. When he is not writing for MG Construction and Decks, a top-rated contractor for backyard beautification and full remodelling projects, he volunteers as a part-time English teacher for internationally displaced children.