You finally get to follow your dream of living in the country, and with great enthusiasm you move your family and pets a thousand miles north. It’s June and life in the North Country is even better than you imagined. You enjoy a summer of horseback riding, fishing, camping and hiking. As summer comes to an end, a beautiful fall emerges, bringing with it mild temperatures and gorgeous colors. This is the next best thing to heaven.
Then ... winter hits.
Your car won’t start, the water spigot outside sprays water both inside and outside the house (creating a fascinating sculpture in the yard), the air is really cold, and no one mentioned how to un-stick little Johnny’s tongue from the hood of your van. While he’s screaming and you’re panicking, you make a mental note to warn his siblings not to lick the snow off metal surfaces.
If you’re new to snow country, here are some tips to help smooth your adjustment to the winter season.
Have a mechanic give your vehicles a good going over, and a tune-up if needed. If you don’t know a good shop, it’s easy to figure out – look for the guy with all the vehicles parked out front. If you go in and ask to have a block heater installed (more on that later), and he says it will be two weeks, he is probably the guy you want working on your car.
Check your car’s owner’s manual to see what weight of oil you’ll need during winter. The straight 40-weight oil you used in Arizona won’t work in Minnesota. Manual transmissions and differentials may need to have their lubricants replaced also.
Have a mechanic check the antifreeze concentration in your car’s coolant system. There needs to be more in the system during sub-zero weather.
If your car battery is more than 5 years old, you might want to think about replacing it before the cold sets in, or ask your mechanic to perform a load test. A low battery can freeze solid – ruining it for good. A fully charged battery will not freeze – unless you live in Siberia.
No, your neighbor does not have an electric car. The cord sticking out from under the hood of his car is a block or engine heater that can be plugged into a 110-volt outlet overnight and during very cold days. These heat the engine’s coolant, allowing the car to start more easily. You’ll be wise to get one installed. But be sure to unplug it before you back out of the driveway!
The popular extra-wide, low-profile tires will probably end up putting you in the ditch once the snow and ice start sticking to the road. You may want to invest in a set of studded snow tires. Be sure to get a set of four as even a front-wheel-drive car needs the traction in the rear to control steering and stopping. This is very important. You’re better off without studded tires at all than to put them only on the front of a front-wheel-drive car.
Well-insulated boots will keep your toes warm on even frightfully cold days. The good ones are usually rubber on the outside and have liners that can be removed and dried when they get wet.
Put layers of clothing on your children before letting them go out to play in the snow or walk to school. The layers trap air between them and add lots of warmth. As the temperature changes, children can peel off layers to stay comfortable. Even 20 or 30 minutes outside on a frigid day can bring on hyperthermia in children – remember, they’re smaller and have less “insulation” than most of us adults.
Children will lose their gloves, give them away, leave them at school, so keep a few pairs on hand. Remember, little fingers can freeze in minutes on a sub-zero day.
Most of the heat loss from the human body occurs through our heads, so children especially need stocking caps to pull over their ears. If they’re worried about their hair getting messy, tell them to get over it, as no one will care about their hair if their ears freeze off.
Homes built after 1975 will likely be well-insulated and have decent windows. Regardless of the home’s age, though, these items should have been checked on your pre-purchase home inspection. If not, have an expert do an inspection and give you a report on how to improve the energy efficiency of your home. Many utility companies provide this service free to their customers, so call them first.
Remove watering hoses from spigots before freezing temps arrive. The water trapped in the hoses will freeze, expand back into the spigot and split it. Come spring, when you turn it on it will leak water both inside and outside the house.
Have underground sprinklers blown out. Most local landscaping companies have the equipment to do this for a fee. If you don’t do it, you’ll spend next summer digging up your lawn to replace the pipe. Check with a landscaper or neighbor for the proper time of year in your area to have this done.
If you didn’t have your furnace checked when you bought your home, have it checked before cold weather sets in. You don’t want to replace the furnace in the dead of winter, or worse yet, during the holidays when you have a house full of company and no one available to fix it.
Some pets fare much better than others in cold country. Shorthaired dogs and cats need some extra help to stay comfortable and healthy. Here are a few ideas to help with this, but also check with your local veterinarian.
Give all animals a place to get in out of the wind.
Increase feed for pets and livestock as they’ll burn more calories trying to keep warm.
If you bought a horse after moving north, it’s probably well-adapted already. If you moved a horse from a warm climate, you will need to take extra precautions with stabling, feed and water, and use winter warming blankets.
Try to keep at least several weeks worth of feed on hand. You don’t want to run out at a time when it might be difficult to have another load delivered.
Add more bedding (such as straw) to stalls so animals aren't standing or lying on the cold ground, and provide a snuggly blanket for pets to sleep on.
Living in snow country has its challenges, but there is nothing like waking up on a winter morning, sipping a steaming cup of coffee, feeling the warmth of the fireplace and looking out your window at the morning sunlight glinting off frost crystals in the air. We wouldn’t trade it for all the sunshine in Florida.
Ward and Kammy Thurman live in Laurel, Montana, with their three sons, Morgan, Logan and Ryan. Between snow storms, Ward runs a professional portrait studio, Kammy creates marketing materials for the studio and other clients, Morgan makes jams and jellies to pad his college fund, and Ryan and Logan grow tomatoes to sell at the local farmer’s market for extra pocket change.