How to prepare your home for extreme cold, and stay warm in a power outage

Jasmine Soneshine, a Brattleboro, Vt., resident, shovels a section of sidewalk on Main Street as snow falls on Tuesday. (Kristopher Radder/Brattleboro Reformer/AP)

Winter storms have been battering much of the United States — with blizzard conditions, heavy snow bands and cold temperatures predicted for various parts of the country.

During potentially deadly weather, being well-prepared can make all the difference — particularly if your home loses power. Here’s how to stay safe and warm as the temperatures drop.

How to prepare your home for extreme cold and possible outages

You can prepare before the cold temperatures hit by sealing doors and windows, insulating walls and attics, having your chimney inspected — and making sure that your smoke and carbon monoxide alarms are working.

Stock up on essentials, including extra blankets, batteries and candles or battery-powered lanterns, nonperishable foods and water in clean containers. Keep any essential medications in an easily accessible location, and have emergency numbers nearby.

How to stay warm and safe in a winter power outage

Make sure your cellphone is fully charged and that any emergency numbers are easily available. Shut doors to rooms not in use, seal any drafty doors or windows, and close your blinds or curtains after nightfall to insulate against the cold.

You can use salt to help prevent or break up ice on your sidewalks and driveways, while sand or cat litter can be used to prevent slips or give tires traction in snow and ice. Be careful about overexertion when shoveling snow, as this can cause heart attacks in some instances.

If you lose power, be careful about what you eat: food in your refrigerator should last for about four hours, while frozen food will last between 24 and 48 hours depending on how full your freezer is. The CDC also recommends using battery-powered flashlights rather than candles where possible, and never leaving lit candles unattended.

And drain your home’s pipes and hoses if the power outage is likely to last more than a few hours, and then shut them off to prevent them freezing or bursting.

How to prepare your home before the blizzard and arctic air strikes

Are generators safe to use if your home loses power?

Portable generators might appear to be the easiest solution in a power outage, but they produce carbon monoxide — an odorless, colorless gas that can cause sudden death. If you suspect carbon monoxide poisoning, seek emergency help immediately. The most common symptoms include headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, chest pain and confusion, according to the CDC. It can cause people to lose consciousness, while those who are sleeping or drunk may die before they experience any symptoms.

Never use a generator, charcoal grill, camp stove or any other device that burns gasoline or charcoal inside your home, basement, garage, or within 20 feet of a window, door or vent, the CDC says. This advice applies even if you keep your doors and windows open.

If you do have a generator, use a heavy-duty extension cord longer than 20 feet, and designed for outside use, to keep it at a safe distance from your house. Ensure you have at least one battery-operated carbon monoxide detector inside the home and check the batteries at least twice a year.

Using generators also poses other risks, including shock and electrocution in wet conditions, so try to protect the generator from moisture, while still keeping it far from your home — the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has more information on generator hazards here. Stock up on fuel in advance, don’t store it in the home.

A portable power station — a type of giant rechargeable battery — can safely be used inside the house, though they are expensive.

How to keep yourself warm in extreme cold

Wearing the right clothes is useful anytime during the winter cold, but all the more so if you lose power.

Wear loosefitting layers of clothing to stay warm, and keep as dry as possible. Cover your head, hands and feet, and consider the materials you’re using — polyester or silk often work well as base layers, wicking sweat away from your skin, whereas cotton can absorb moisture and trap it next to your skin. After the base layer, you want sweaters or fleeces that can act as an insulating layer, keeping you warm.

Eating balanced meals, and drinking warm, sweet beverages or broth, but not alcoholic or caffeinated drinks, will also help you to stay warmer, the CDC says.

If you must go outside, wear warm and dry clothing to cover your ears, nose, cheeks, chin and fingers and toes to lower your risk, and learn about the risk factors, symptoms and treatment here.

Extreme cold can lead to frostbite or hypothermia and put your life in danger.

Seek immediate medical attention if someone’s body temperature falls below 95 degrees Fahrenheit.

What to do if you’re stranded in your car.

Check any weather advisories all along your route and avoid traveling if at all possible during a winter storm.

If you must travel, the Ready Campaign, a public service campaign encouraging Americans to plan for disasters and emergencies, says to check that your vehicle’s in good condition before traveling, and to keep the gas tank as full as possible.

Let a friend or relative know your planned route and when you expect to arrive, and keep emergency phone numbers with you.

Ensure your car has an emergency kit, including food, water, emergency lighting, car and portable chargers for your cellphone and warm clothes, blankets and sleeping bags (the CDC has a full list here). Check the items frequently to make sure they haven’t expired.

Driving in snow? What to do if your car gets stuck in a winter storm.

If stranded, run the engine for about 10 minutes per hour to run the heater and charge your cellphone, the Ready Campaign says — but make sure to keep your window slightly open to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning.

The AAA recommends staying with your vehicle as it will give you shelter and make it easier for rescuers to find you. Make sure rescuers can see your vehicle by tying a brightly colored cloth to the antenna, and do not leave for help unless safety is within 100 yards, the CDC says. Wrap yourself in clothes or blankets to keep warm, stay awake and keep moving your arms and legs.