How to prepare for a snowstorm

Reviewed by Daniel Mirkovic

Updated February 21, 2024

In moderation, snow is great. Skiing, snowboarding, sledding, and snowshoeing are favourite pastimes among many Canadians. But when pleasant snowfall intensifies into a snowstorm, things can get ugly.

When a winter storm is bearing down on your home, preparation is crucial. Here, we’ll go over what you can do to prepare for heavy snow, howling winds, and frigid temperatures. We’ll also cover how to keep your home and your family safe during the storm, and how to recover afterward.

Two buildings covered with snow

General winter preparedness

There are some things you can do to prepare your home for winter that you should take care of long before any storm approaches. Regardless of where you live, if your locale experiences winter, you should winterize your home as soon as the autumn leaves start to turn. For the basic, every-year task list, check out our guide to winterizing your home.

In addition to preparing your home itself, there are a few things you should address to ensure that your family is ready for any weather winter sends your way:

  • Create an emergency plan. Many potential disasters beget similar challenges: loss of power and communication utilities, impassable roads, or dangerous weather. If you take the time to create an emergency plan for your family, you’ll have a framework in place to ensure everyone’s safety.
  • Stock your emergency kit. Every household should have an emergency kit ready in case of a disaster, whether that’s a snowstorm or a wildfire. Preparing an emergency kit is easy. For winter storms, make sure your kit is well-stocked with blankets and other ways to keep warm (in addition to the typical kit items).
  • Have snow and ice clearing gear on hand. Even routine winter weather requires some snow and ice removal. Heading into winter, make sure you’ve got quality snow shovels, rock salt, and (if you’re so inclined) a snowblower.
  • Mark low obstacles. If you’ve got anything around your driveway or walkways that’s likely to get buried by snow, attach some bright, tall markers before winter. Low shrubs, electrical transformer boxes, fire hydrants, and similar objects near the driveway could get run into or tripped over once they’re buried. You can buy reflective driveway markers for as little as $5 each.
  • Know how to stay informed. Winter storms can arrive quickly, so it’s important to pay attention to weather forecasts throughout the season. Environment Canada is the best source of weather forecasts and alerts, though local news is good, too. If a winter storm is expected, they’ll post a Winter Storm Watch, upgrading it to a Winter Storm Warning once the storm is imminent (or occurring). Once that happens, it’s time to get yourself ready.

Preparing for an oncoming snowstorm

If you’ve prepared as described above, you’ll be in good shape to handle any heavy winter weather that comes your way. But, once Environment Canada issues a Winter Storm Watch or Warning, there are a few more things you should do to prepare for the imminent winter storm:

  • Double-check your prep. Hopefully you’re already most of the way prepared, but when a storm approaches, make sure to check that your emergency kit and snow gear are good to go. Take a moment to double-check your heating system, window seals, and other defenses against the cold are in good order. It’s also a good time to test your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.
  • Stock up on food and water. You’ll need to be prepared to be stuck at home for a few days in the event that roads become impassable. You should have at least three days worth of food and water for the whole family (including pets). In case of a power outage, at least some of the food should be ready to eat, meaning no cooking or heating required. It’s not necessary to buy cases of bottled water if you don’t want; a few large jugs full of tap water will suffice.
  • Fuel and charge up. Make sure your vehicles have full gas tanks (or a fully charged battery). If your home’s heating system draws from a fuel tank, make sure it’s adequately full. Same thing goes for your generator and snow blower, if you have them. Similarly, charge your electronic devices and power banks in case of a prolonged power outage.
  • Fill the fridge. Aside from just stocking up on food, it’s also helpful to fill empty space in your refrigerator and freezer, even if it’s just with bottles of water. If they’re full of cold food or drink, the appliances will stay cold for longer if the power goes out.
  • Finish winterizing. Particularly with early-season snowstorms, make sure you’ve finished winterizing your home and yard. For example, make sure hot tubs or pools aren’t still in summer mode.

What to do during a snowstorm

Once a snowstorm hits, there’s not much you can do beyond waiting it out and staying safe. There are a few specific things to keep in mind, though:

  • Monitor forecasts and alerts. During a storm, conditions can change rapidly (for better or worse). Make sure to stay updated on weather conditions, and heed direction from officials regarding road closures or other matters.
  • Check your plumbing. If your heat fails (or even if it doesn’t), prolonged cold can freeze water pipes in your home. If you’re concerned about that, leave a few taps dripping to ensure a steady flow throughout the system. If you need to leave your home for a prolonged period of time, shut off and drain the supply lines entirely.
  • Stay inside. Snowstorms can be dangerous, particularly when combined with heavy wind. When in doubt, stay inside where it’s warm. However, if conditions aren’t too terrible, you may wish to get outside and periodically clear snow from your walkways or driveway. This can be easier than clearing it all at once after the storm. Just make sure to dress appropriately and pace yourself—and go inside if you get cold. If the snowfall is too heavy, don’t wander far from your house; it’s surprisingly easy to become disoriented and lost in a blizzard.
  • Stay warm. Hopefully, your home’s heating system will stay functional throughout the storm. If all your heating options fail, try to keep one room in the house warm, and have everyone hang out in there. Stuffing towels along door and window sills can help reduce drafts. Avoid burning anything to stay warm (aside from fireplaces or actual heating systems, obviously).
  • Stay safe. If the power and heat stay on, you’re in luck. If the power goes out, and you have a generator, make sure it’s not situated too close to any windows or air intakes. Similarly, don’t resort to cooking indoors on any gas-fueled devices like campstoves or barbecues. The exhaust (particularly the carbon monoxide) can be very dangerous.
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What to do after a snowstorm

The storm has passed, the power’s back on, and hopefully all is well with your home. Here are a few things you should do as soon as the weather’s improved:

  • Avoid travel. Even once weather improves, roads can still be iffy. Plus, crews need time to clear the snow, so it’s best to avoid nonessential travel for a little while after a heavy snowfall.
  • Check your plumbing. If the weather’s extremely cold or if you lost power during the storm, check the water flow in your home. If the flow seems slow, your pipes may be starting to freeze, particularly those near the outside of the home or in unheated areas. Leave the water running, and inspect the visible pipes throughout the home for signs of frost, ice, or even condensation. If you identify such signs, turn off your main water supply and use a portable source of heat (like a hair dryer) to thaw the frozen sections.
  • Clear the snow. The big one, obviously—it’s time to clear the snow from your driveway and walkways. Dress appropriately for the weather, and don’t overexert yourself. When it’s cold, your heart has to work harder, and you may end up exhausting yourself faster than you’re used to. Carefully clear the snow and ice from overhangs as well, as falling snow and ice from rooftops can be dangerous to passersby (not to mention a liability hazard). Clearing heavy snow from the roof will reduce the strain on it, and help prevent ice dams as well. Also, make sure the meltwater has somewhere to go; ensure the storm drains near your home are clear, and make sure pooling water has a path to get there.
  • Give the trees a shake. If your trees, hedges, shrubs, or other plants are covered in snow, make sure to knock if off. Snow is heavy, and it can permanently damage plants—damage that’s not typically covered by insurance. If you notice any branches that are already damaged, be careful; contact a professional to trim them safely.

Snowstorms and home insurance

Between heavy snow and wind, there are many ways that a snowstorm can damage a house. Wind damage and home insurance is another subject, but what about snow? Is snow-related damage covered by home insurance?

The main source of snow damage comes from too much snow or ice piling up on the roof of a house. Snow is heavy—even 30 centimetres of dry, fluffy snow can burden an average roof with over 2,500 kilograms of weight. That’s about as much as an F-250. Wet snow can weigh three times as much at the same depth.

A roof in poor repair or one reaching the end of its useful life is at risk of collapse following a snowstorm. Many home insurance providers offer the option of adding coverage for damage from the weight of ice and snow. Without it, such a collapse would not be covered. Policies sold by Square One include this coverage by default.

However, if the roof is particularly old or was in subpar shape prior to the storm, the settlement may be limited. In such a case, the insurance provider might offer a settlement based on the depreciated value of the roof, not the cost of repairing it completely.

Snowstorms can also cause rapid accumulation of packed snow and ice around the perimeter of the roof, causing melted water to accumulate. This is known as ice damming. It can cause water to seep backwards underneath shingle, shake, or tile roofs, and result in water damage to the interior of the home.

If your home is likely to experience snow accumulation, you should consider investing in a roof rake. This cold-weather tool is specially designed to provide a lightweight, safe, and effective way to dislodge accumulated snow from your roof, reducing the risk of excess weight or ice damming.

There are also liability risks. It’s the homeowner’s responsibility to make their property reasonably safe for visitors. If a visitor slips on an icy front step, trips over an extension cord buried by snow, or is struck in the head by a the homeowner could be liable for their injuries. While a home insurance policy’s premises liability coverage would likely respond to cover resulting damages, it’s much easier to simply clear the snow and ice away beforehand.

Commonly asked questions

Should I salt my driveway and walkways before it snows?

Spreading salt before snowfall begins will help it dissolve and form a protective layer that will hopefully prevent snow from accumulating (at least for a little while). However, typical deicing salt starts to lose its effectiveness when the ambient temperature is -10 °C, and is almost completely ineffective below -20 °C.

Is it better to clear snow or leave it?

It’s almost always better to remove snow, whether from driveways, walkways, or roofs. Keeping walkways clear reduces the risk of a slip-and-fall accident. Clearing the roof reduces strain from the weight of snow and prevents ice dams from forming.

Should you shovel during a snowstorm?

Whether you should shovel continuously during a storm depends on the weather. If it’s severely cold or windy, being outside may be unsafe. However, if conditions allow it, shoveling snow mid-storm will make the post-storm cleanup easier.

Want to learn more? Visit our Home and Personal Safety resource centre to find more information about protecting your family and your home. Or, get an online quote in under 5 minutes and find out how affordable personalized home insurance can be.

About the expert: Daniel Mirkovic

A co-founder of Square One with 25 years of experience in the insurance industry, Daniel was previously vice president of the insurance and travel divisions at the British Columbia Automobile Association. Daniel has a bachelor of commerce and a Master of Business Administration (MBA) from the Sauder School of Business at the University of British Columbia. He holds a Canadian Accredited Insurance Broker (CAIB) designation and a general insurance license level 3 in BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario.


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