Lazy Man’s Winter Survival Guide

After living in North Dakota for over three decades, and moving from the warmer part of the state to the colder part of the state about a dozen years ago, I offer you the Lazy Man’s Winter Survival Guide for your convenience.  None of these items are essential, but have made my life better.

Heated garage. Last winter, I’d hired an energy-efficiency expert from Xcel Energy in Minneapolis to review my house. He commented that he thought it was unusual that my house had a fully insulated, sheetrocked, and heated garage.  As I write this, it’s approximately 22 degrees below zero. That’s so cold I can put some snow from the outside in my deep freezer to warm it up.  Cars run a lot better when the garage is kept above freezing. Since my daughter was born last year, I’ve cranked up the heat to 65 degrees in there. All I can say is, it’s very nice. Also, the garage door should be made as air tight as possible.

A variety of indoor recreation. There’s a reason that money buys more real estate square footage in ND… not only is it in less demand, but the space is necessary for sanity.  Winter sometimes feels like I’m living on a moon colony.  To move from one part of the town to another, I hop in my heated pod (my car), travel to another location, put on my space suit (a jacket so heavy it would crush my 10-month-old daughter), and dash as fast as I can to indoors before I freeze. So, it’s essential to have a variety of indoor recreation activities. Some may opt for outdoor recreation, such as snowmobiling or ice fishing (someone I know went ice fishing at 28 below zero last week), but I am not one of those people. Reasonable amounts of indoor living space will make spending long winter days inside more tolerable.

Heated floors in the basement and under any tile. If you are building a new home and will have a basement with a cement floor, make sure to heat the concrete slab. It will make the basement livable. I didn’t do that, and my basement stays about 55 degrees on the floor, which is really too chilly to inhabit.  If you have any tile floors, make sure to install heat under them, too, or your feet will be cold all winter.

A remote auto starter.  20 below zero temperatures, where exposed skin will freeze in less time than the average series of commercials on television, make a remote auto starter part of the essential winter survival kit.  Running the car for at least 15 minutes before getting into it will at least bring it up to zero degrees on the interior and it won’t make quite so many groaning and popping noises when driving.

A vehicle with AWD or 4WD. I recommend one that has full-time all wheel drive with the option for 4 wheel drive. Beware of vehicles that are really rear wheel drive most of the time unless 4WD is engaged, like most pickups.  Snow drifts appear at the worst of times, and even the finest fleet of snow plows won’t reach residential areas quickly enough.  Yes, this means lower gas mileage, and no, you won’t care when you don’t get stuck.

A cell phone. If you travel, you must have a fully charged cell phone. Bad things happen to even the most prepared, and this will help you reach someone who can help.

A winter survival kit. Put these items in every vehicle you own. See previous point.

Home exercise equipment. Not leaving the house for days at a time doesn’t help one get enough exercise per day, so some sort of indoor exercise equipment at home is very helpful.  There are days that one can’t get to the gym due to the weather or it’s just too cold to bear the thought of leaving the house.

Delivery services. Think local grocery stores that deliver, and Amazon.com. They’ll bring it to your door. Even the mail man won’t bring mail to my door; I have to walk across the street.  Money you spend on shipping will be spent on gas, idling the car endlessly to keep the temperature up, so shopping online makes sense.

Snow removal service.  I thought I was a tough guy (hey, I’ve worked out with weights for 20 years) and have shoveled an unknown number of metric tons of snow in my life, but the last two winters in ND have broken me. Completely. You win, old man winter. I’ve hired a snow removal service to fight back and haven’t had a second thought since.

Snowblower. Don’t be fooled by the snow removal service listed above. You’ll still need a snow blower, because, after all, when the roads are closed, even the snow removal people can’t get to your door. Don’t buy a “snow thrower”; a two-stage snow thrower with at least 10 horsepower is what you’ll need to cut through packed 4+ foot snow drifts.

Shovel. Good for quick shoveling and for whisking snow away from edges where snowblowers don’t reach. Keep it in the heated garage.

Winter tires. All-season tires on the vehicles just don’t cut it. They turn into virtual slippery boiled eggs when the temperature is low. Get some Blizzaks. (I need to take my own advice on this one.) This point is even more important if the car has summer tires.

Hot tub or bath tub. An indoor hot tub, that is.  There are days when the cold gets into my bones and I just can’t warm up, so hopping into a 100+ degree tub of hot water is the only way to warm up. A hot bath works too, and is less maintenance than a hot tub.

Furnace vents in the floor, or heated floors throughout the house. This may seem like a strange one, but if the house has a forced air furnace and the vents are in the ceiling, the floor will be cold. Heated floors are another nice way of keeping warm but are fairly rare.

Do you have any other winter survival tips?

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