British Columbia

Experts advise British Columbians to prepare their homes for winter

Is your home prepared for winter? Experts offer advice on emergency supplies and simple steps for a safer and warmer home.

As freezing temperatures set in for most of the province, emergency experts say you should get prepared

Environment Canada has issued extreme cold warnings for much of B.C., prompting experts to provide advice on how best to prepare for cold weather. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

As colder weather – from strong winds and heavy snow to freezing rain – rolls into British Columbia, it's important to winterize homes to be better prepared for the weather, experts say. 

Environment Canada has issued extreme cold warnings for most of the province on Christmas Day, with much of Metro Vancouver waking up to snowfall and a "White Christmas".

Temperatures are expected to go down to –30 C in Prince George, with extreme wind chill values making it feel like –50 C in some locations.

The forecaster is warning the province's cold snap is set to last a while, and is telling people to be mindful of pets and keep emergency supplies on hand.

Here is some advice from experts on how best to prepare your home for extended periods of freezing temperatures.

Prepare the basics

For starters, have emergency supplies ready by charging up devices, says Nicole Kimmitt, the risk and emergency manager with the City of Coquitlam.

You should also have flashlights and extra batteries handy in case there is a power outage.

To prepare for severe weather, people should prepare supplies lasting at least two to seven days, according to Kimmitt. 

"Making sure things like prescriptions are refilled with at least a week's supply, so that you're not having to venture out into the terrible conditions," she said.

A bunch of text.
Here are some things you should have in an emergency evacuation kit, according to the province. (CBC)

Tips for the exterior 

Outside your home, disconnect any garden hoses from the hose bibs — faucets outside your house that the hoses attach to.

According to Paul Friesen, a certified home inspector and owner of  I Find It Inspections in Vancouver, B.C., any water still inside the hose will freeze in frigid temperatures. As the water expands, it can push backwards through the valve, causing the water line to freeze and pipes to burst.

Friesen says you should also ensure gutters and downspouts are clean of debris like leaves and working properly to prevent water damage.

A garden hose is seen attached to a house.
Paul Friesen says you should detach garden hoses from hose bibs to prevent the water line from freezing. (CBC NEWS)

"Water will back up next to the house [during periods of snowfall and rain]," he explains. 

"It has a high risk of coming through foundation cracks or through any types of holes in the siding and that could lead to wet basement issues, flooded basements, or wet crawl spaces," he explains.

And it's important to make sure there is not a lot of moss build up on the shingles of your roof.

"Not cleaning the moss off your roof leads to the moss freezing and expanding which allows the shingles to become loose," said Friesen. 

It's also essential to assess surrounding trees and remove branches that could fall on your home or power lines during strong winds, adds Kimmitt.

Inside the home

To keep the cold air out and heat from escaping, check if weather stripping around your doors needs to be replaced. 

Every time you open and close a door, there's a little strip of plastic or nylon or foam around the edge of the door frame, explains Friesen. When you shut the door, the strip prevents the wind from coming in and out.

If you see daylight around the door, that's a good indication that your weather stripping needs to be replaced, says Paul Friesen, a certified home inspector. (CBC News)

One way to check your door's weather stripping is by turning off the lights. If any light from outside is still visible around the door, the weather stripping needs to be changed, according to Friesen. 

It's also important to check if your furnace filter needs to be replaced so heating can be efficient. The furnace filter collects dust from inside the house, preventing it from going through the furnace.

Friesen says dust build-up makes the furnace work harder, and can lead to premature furnace failure. 

"You just take it out, you throw it away ... you should do that every three months, just as a good rule of thumb," he said. 

Inspect your furnace and replace dirty filters to prevent a furnace breakdown, Friesen says. ( Danny Arsenault/CBC)

Other steps to prepare for weather emergencies include buying generators or other backup heat sources.

If possible, purchase heat sources that are not propane burners and don't run on electricity in case the power goes out, Kimmitt says. 

And if you are using your fireplace, make sure that your smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors are up-to-date and working, according to Friesen.

"Light a little match and blow it out right in front of your smoke alarm and let the smoke alarm go off," he advises. 

Prepare your vehicle 

And if you are heading away from your home, it's also important to have a winter survival kit in your vehicle, says Kimmitt.

This kit should include items like a 'grab-and-go bag' with water, non-perishable food, and first aid supplies. The province says you should also include winter tools like a windshield scraper, snow brush, a spare wheel, extra clothing and footwear. 

For more snowfall, also purchase the essentials like a snow shovel, salt or sand to prevent ice buildup on driveways, says Kimmitt.

Lastly, check current road conditions before planning a winter trip at the Ministry of Transport's DriveBC page.

A picture of a backpack showing what to take in the event of an emergency includes a pen and notepad, phone charger and battery bank, flashlight, radio, first-aid kit, personal toiletries, seasonal clothing, food and water, batteries, a whistle and an emergency plan.
Emergency Preparedness B.C. suggests keeping a 'grab-and-go' bag ready for your workplace and vehicles. (CBC)

With files from Jon Azpiri and Baneet Braich