Winter 101: House Safety and Other Tips

So, you moved to the Midwest, where the spring blooms in a rainbow of colors and the fall air is crisp. Winter is around the corner though, and if you’re like me, there’s a lot of things to know to get yourself ready. For example, you’re not supposed to use plain water for your windshield wipers. Who knew??! By the look of horror on my now husband’s face when he saw me do it, he did. Yep, apparently everything freezes in Iowa during winter.

Winter 101 House Safety and Other Tips

First winter or not, here are some tips to help you get through the winter season.

Winter Clothing

  • Check the weather regularly so you’re prepared and know what to expect. Wind is a big factor on how cold it will feel, and Iowa gets windy. Midwest fact: everyone becomes a weather expert during winter.
  • Never stop layering. Layers keep you warm and dry, plus give your gear versatility. Rule of thumb: dress your kids in one more layer than you think they need (remember they usually spend more time outside than you).
  • Find the best coat for you and your kids. Some people swear by long trench coats, others like the shell and fleece sets. Then there’s the puffy ones. It took me a bit to figure out what worked for me. My favorite for day-to-day is a wool petticoat, but I wear my thermal shell and fleece for extended periods outside.
  • Footwear: Good tread, insulation, and waterproof/resistant are the way to go. Make sure your kids have good boots; they spend so much time outside and IN the snow!
  • Fabrics: wool and fleece keep you warm and stay dry, while cotton is a bad insulator.
  • Gloves and mittens: insulating and waterproof ones are the way to go. Consider what activity you’ll be doing (ie driving, shoveling snow, building a snowman). Some people prefer gloves, others are Team Mittens. As long as they keep your hands dry, it doesn’t matter! Tip: you won’t regret getting detachable gloves or clips for your kids.
  • Hats: Personally, I love fleece-lined ones. No matter what, any hat is better than none. Protect those ears!
  • Scarves: These can be life-saving, literally, when the air is really cold to breathe. Sometimes they might be too bulky, so consider a “turtle” neck warmer that you can keep around your neck or pull up to your nose depending on your needs.

Winter 101 House Safety and Other Tips


  • Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Winters can be dry and drinking water will be your best friend, or your enemy when nature calls and you have to deal with all the layers.
  • Watch for overexertion. Shoveling snow is linked to heart attacks, so be cautious of your breathing and heart rate when doing any strenuous activity. Take frequent breaks.
  • Sunscreen: you still need to keep protecting yourself from the sun!
  • Lip Balm. Probably my most prized possession during winter.
  • Winter blues: Be aware of signs of depression and know how to handle them. Less time spent outdoors can affect your mood, so have a contingency plan to keep you and your family happy all season long (games, outings, playing outside on warmer days)
  • Cold and flu season: Consider a flu shot to minimize your chances of contracting the virus. Eat a healthy diet to give your body the necessary tools to fight off disease. Sanitize everything! Keep a “runny nose” kit handy: tissues, medicine, teas, cough drops, etc.
  • Limit skin exposure in extreme cold to prevent frostbite.


  • Before winter arrives, drain all outdoor spigots, disconnect hoses and bring them inside the house or garage, and turn off outside water valve off if available. You do not want any frozen pipes!
  • If you have any water pipes in unprotected areas (ie detached garage without insulation), keep a slow trickle of water flowing to prevent freezing.
  • Snow removal tools: flat shovel with a metal edge is key, or a snowblower or scoop shovel
  • Salt for sidewalks and driveways: I prefer to use pet-friendly salt, since it’s a bit less toxic, especially if you have small kids that spend their whole day on the floor. It’s more effective to apply before snow or ice falls.
  • If away from home for an extended period of time: keep the thermostat no lower than 55°F, open cabinet doors to allow heat to circulate around pipes, and ask a neighbor to check on your house from time to time.
  • Bring any outdoor items, like planters made of clay or other fragile materials, indoors.
  • Give your landscape a deep watering before winter to prolong the life of plants.
  • You can switch the direction of ceiling fans to direct air upwards and keep warmer air down.
  • Space heaters: never leave them unattended, keep away from flammable surfaces, keep away from children and pets, turn off when leaving the room and/or overnight.
  • If using a generator, make sure it’s in a well-ventilated area and away from windows.
  • On that same note: test smoke detectors and carbon monoxide monitors to keep them in working order. Keep spare batteries on hand.

Winter 101: House Safety and Other Tips


  • As I stated before, use winter-specific windshield washer fluid. It doesn’t freeze and helps break down the ice on your windshield.
  • Invest in a good ice-scraper. A long one too if you’re short like me.
  • Clean all snow off top of car, headlights, and windows before driving.
  • Make sure they have good tread and are full to provide more traction. Consider replacing them if necessary.
  • Keep a safety kit in case of emergency: blanket, food (jerky, nuts, fruit strips, energy bars. hard candy), extra gloves and/or hat, first aid kit, flashlight, cell phone charger, shovel, sand, and salt)
  • Driving in the snow can be tricky. Just think of this and it will help: Drive as if you’re on your way to the big yearly family reunion with your grandma is in the backseat with a huge lidless pot of her famous hot apple cider, surrounded by homemade pies. Spill a drop and hear her wrath! (In other words, take your time to break, slow during turns, maintain a safe distance from other vehicles)
  • Cars seats: Children should never be strapped in car seats with a coat on as this prevents a snug fit. Consider using a cover if it’s an infant seat and open it during travel. I liked poncho-style coats for my toddler because I could just flip it up, strap her down and flip it back down so she was always covered. Put the coat on back to front, so it’s easy to remove and put back on.
  • Unless you have a carburetor engine, it’s unnecessary to warm your car before driving. It will actually warm up faster as you drive, but make sure you take it easy for the first 5-10 minutes of driving.
  • Check Iowa 511 for road conditions. If the weather is bad, refrain from driving.

Other resources:

Share your winter safety tips in the comments or anything else you wish you knew about Iowa winters. Bonus points for funny first-winter incidents.

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