Is an El Nino on the Way? 10 Ways to Get Your House Ready

Staying Safe During a Winter Storm

The following post is by BrightNest:

Remember El Nino? That sometime-in-the-'90s storm sensation that produced crazy weather? The recent California rains have people talking about an El Nino winter, when an area of warmer-than-average water in the eastern Pacific Ocean near the equator brings heavy rains or snow to parts of the U.S. While an El Nino condition has not developed yet, Weather Channel forecasters say a weak to moderate El Nino is likely to emerge over the winter months and potentially persist into the spring.

It's important to prepare your home before El Nino hits, because once the rain or snow falls, you'll be in trouble if you haven't prepared. Protect your family, your property and your wallet by taking action with moves that can be wise in many parts of the country, El Nino winter or not:

1. Look Up at the Roof

Before wet or snowy weather hits this winter, head outside and inspect your roof from the ground for warning signs of damage, sagging and aging. If you see anything, call a roofing professional immediately so problems don't arise once precipitation -- in liquid or frozen form -- arrives.

Once winter weather hits: Do a second inspection. This time, look for signs of leaks inside the house, and if you have snowfall, look for any spots on the roof that have snow buildup or high snowdrifts. Also, look for any sagging areas, the most obvious indicator that there is too much weight on your roof.

2. Stock Up on Salt for Your Walkways

If you live in a cold climate, one of the most important things you can buy this winter is salt for your walkway –- an icy sidewalk is a disaster waiting to happen. You can purchase ice-melting rock salt at any home improvement store for around $15 a bag. Pet-friendly options are also available for about $20 a bag. Tip: If you have a long walkway, you can make your salt supply last longer by mixing it at a 1-1 ratio with playground sand.

Once winter weather hits: If possible, spread salt before the snow hits, because it will prevent ice from forming. If the snow sneaks up on you, shovel your walkway as soon as possible and then spread ample amounts of salt.

3. Give Your Gutters Some Love

The clearer your gutters are now, the better you'll fare come heavy rains or snowmageddon. That means removing leaves, goop, dirt and debris from your gutters by hand.

Once winter weather hits: Regularly inspect your gutters to ensure that there is not a blockage of debris or ice stopping the flow of your gutter. Ice dams can cause damage to your roof, walls, ceiling and insulation. If you do spot an ice dam, you can remove it manually or try the following trick: For a short-term fix, fill a pantyhose leg with ice melt (available at hardware stores) and knot it. Lay the panty hose on your roof so that it crosses the ice dam and then let the salt do its thing. Eventually, it will melt through the ice and create a channel for water to escape (this may take several days). Remember: This is only a short-term solution! To permanently repair any roof damage, contact a professional.

4. Prevent Burst Pipes

Before frigid weather hits, take the time to find your water shut-off valve and familiarize yourself with it so you can quickly turn your water off if a pipe breaks. As soon as the temperature is expected to dip below 20 degrees, let any high-risk faucets drip. What counts as high risk? Any faucets that are fed by a pipe that has frozen in the past, or by a pipe that runs near an outside wall. If your sink has separate hot and cold faucets, let both of them drip. If there's just one faucet, set it to medium so the hot and cold lines are both activated.

Once winter weather hits: If your pipes are in cabinets (e.g. under a sink), it's a good idea to keep interior cupboard doors open during cold spells to let the warm air circulate around the pipes. This is especially important if the water pipes touch an exterior wall.

Have a frozen pipe? If you turn on a faucet and no water comes out, your pipe is likely frozen. Keep the faucet open, because the pipe will still need pressure relief. If you can see the frozen area (which will generally have frost on it), you can use an electric hair dryer to thaw the pipe. Important: Don't use an open flame! This will damage the pipe and may even start a fire.

5. Stock Up on Food

When storms hit, it can be difficult to get to the store. We're not suggesting stocking up on perishables, but it will help if there's something edible in your pantry when you're stuck because of weather.

Take a trip to Costco or Sam's Club and stock up on non-perishable items such as canned soup, vegetables, powdered food, oatmeal, rice, pasta and quinoa. Also, don't forget bottled water. How much? A good rule of thumb is to have enough food on hand to feed your family for a week. If you're stressed out just thinking about storing this much food, check out these tips before your trip to the store.

Once winter weather hits: If you can, walk to the store to buy perishables goods such as milk and eggs. If you're stuck at home, that's okay. You'll have plenty of food to feed your family until you're able to get out of the house.

6. Inspect Your Furnace

What's worse than being trapped at home during a snowstorm? Being trapped at home during a snowstorm with no heat. Even worse? Being trapped at home with dangerous (and odorless) carbon monoxide. Yikes!

To prevent any problems, call an HVAC technician now to schedule an appointment. They'll go over this checklist and make sure your furnace is ready for freezing temperatures and is safely going to keep your family warm.

Once winter weather hits: Take a look at your furnace to ensure that nothing flammable like acetone, alcohol, paint thinner, spray paint, spray adhesives, gasoline additives, engine cleaners, WD-40, cleaning fluids or spot removers is stored anywhere near your furnace. Also, depending on the type of furnace you have, it's probably a good idea to change your furnace filter.

7. Winterize Your Garden

Depending on your climate, some plants in your garden may not survive the winter. But you can make moves now to prepare the garden to be at its best when warm weather comes back around. Take a sweep through your garden and remove weeds and diseased leaves. Plant your bulbs according to their directions and you'll have a beautiful garden when spring arrives.

If you have perennials, it's important to add a four-to-six inch layer of mulch to your garden to protect your perennial plants during the winter months. The best time to do this is right after the first hard frost because your perennials will be dormant by then. This new layer of mulch will help your garden maintain a consistent temperature during the cold season.

8. Prepare for a Long Power Outage

Winter storms often mean extended power outages. To prepare, take the time to find and inspect your electrical panel now, so it's easy to find when the power goes out. Here's a step-by-step guide for the hunt and inspection. Also, make sure you have fresh batteries in your flashlights and be sure the flashlights are easily accessible. We recommend placing a few candles in heavily trafficked rooms with matches or a lighter right next to the candles. Finally, have an empty cooler handy.

Once winter weather hits: If the power doesn't go out, you'll still enjoy the candles. If it does, the first thing you'll need to do is remove food that may spoil from the refrigerator and freezer. Fortunately, in cold climates, you'll have a natural freezer right outside of your door! Take advantage of this by filling the empty cooler with food and simply placing it outside. Then, keep your fridge door closed to keep it as cold as possible. Relax, light candles and play cards. Enjoy the respite from electronics.

9. Prepare Your Contractor List

If a winter storm damages your home, the last thing you want to worry about is scrambling to find a decent contractor. Instead, take the time now to put together an A-team list, so you're ready in case something does go wrong. Follow these steps to build an awesome contractor list and anticipate any potential problems. Once it's prepared, put it somewhere easily accessible. Use a note on your phone, an Evernote or an old-school note on the fridge.

Get ready for cold weather by winterizing your home. Once the weather hits, cross your fingers that you won't need the contractor list. But, if you do, it will be ready for you.

10. Anticipate Your Pets' Needs

While you're preparing for your family's safety and comfort during a winter storm, don't forget about Fido! Take a week and track everything that you need for your pet. How much food does he or she go through in a week? What about medications? Make sure that you have plenty of everything to keep your pet healthy.

Next, make sure your pets' tags are up-to-date. Storms can be disorienting for pets when they're outside, so make sure that there is a way for someone to help return your pet to you if it is lost.

Once needs are taken care of, think about what your pet will need to stay sane if you're locked up for a week. Does your cat or dog love toys? Cat nip? Bones? Make sure you have plenty of pet-friendly things around to endure a week inside.

Once winter weather hits: Follow this rule of thumb: If it's too cold for you, it's too cold for your pet. Never leave a pet alone outside during a snowstorm. If they must go outside to potty, stay with them the entire time. When you can't endure the cold anymore, neither can your pet.

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