How to Survive A Vermont Winter: Tips for Newbies

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I might be biased, but there is a lot to love about Vermont from our tight-knit communities, to the glorious snow-capped mountains, to the maple syrup… just to name a few.

person walking through snowy woodsVermont is a beautiful place to live, especially if you enjoy rural and smaller urban communities, outdoor activities like skiing and hiking, and have an appreciation for winter. I’ve been here for 13 years, and there have always been families from other states looking to move into Vermont. However, Covid-19 has resulted in a larger than usual influx of people itching to move from a big city to our comparatively quiet state; all you have to do is investigate the housing market right now and it’s evident, Vermont is the place to be these days!

With many people coming from other states and climates, I thought I would compile my best tips for how to survive a Vermont winter- and here we go!

People always ask, “What do you need to wear to survive a Vermont winter?”

winter drivingIn a nutshell, LAYERS. Layers over your clothing and under. Preferably made of wool or some synthetic fabric that stays warm while wet. Long johns, snow pants, boots, hats, mittens. It is recommended that your kids wear one more layer than you are wearing. Wool socks are essential! Some people really like things like Yak Trax, that attach to the bottom of your boots to help give you traction on ice. We all know ice can make driving treacherous. But it’s worth noting that ice also makes walking dangerous, and extra traction is one way to stay safe.

It’s also advantageous to buy several hats and sets of mittens for your kids and as well as a backup pair of snow pants. Despite writing their names and initials all over everything, hats and mittens really do go missing more commonly than one might think. Also, having two pairs of snow pants ensures that if one pair is left at school or is wet, you have another pair! It may seem like a waste of money, but once you’ve been trapped inside the house for days with your whole family during a snowstorm, it will seem like a bargain. I like to buy backup winter boots for my kids too, as well as backup pairs of snow pants and mittens and some hats. I try to get as many as I can second hand at Boho Baby, Goodwill, or Once Upon a Child. Or I trade hand me downs with friends.

baby in winter hatSchool kids in Vermont go outside for recess as often as possible in the winter. Depending on your district and the age of your children, going out for recess in single-digit weather isn’t uncommon (for kids older than preschool age). You definitely need them to be prepared with a warm coat, snow pants, boots, hat, and mittens!

That said, even though we Vermonters spend a lot of time encouraging our kids to go outside and play, you also need to take precautions when it gets dangerously cold. If it feels like it’s below zero, your kids won’t be out for recess. If you have kids who walk to school or wait for the bus, and you can avoid having them do so in subzero temperatures, do so! A five-minute walk in -10 degrees F or lower can be dangerous. Know the signs and symptoms of hypothermia and frostbite and make safe choices!

It’s worth mentioning that while drinking alcohol might make you feel warm, it actually lowers your core temperature. It also may make you less aware of how cold you’re feeling. Please be cautious about drinking alcohol when you will be spending time outdoors in the winter.

Best tips for driving in the snow and car care that will help you survive a Vermont winter

1. When they plow roads in Vermont, the goal is not to have entirely clear roads, just passable ones. This will make sense when you’ve lived here long enough.

2. You’re going to need to give yourself extra time to reach your destination when it snows, and you need to be prepared to drive for the weather conditions. This means driving under the speed limit, giving extra space to the car you’re behind, beginning to stop sooner than you usually would, and if you hit a slippery spot, take your foot off the gas and steer through it. If you’re new to winter driving, remember that the most important part of defensive driving is TAKING YOUR TIME. If it typically takes you 15 minutes to get somewhere, plan on 30 in inclement weather. And remember that weather can be clear and road conditions can still be hazardous. Slow down, take your time, and plan on conditions changing throughout the day.

3. Two words: snow tires. If you’re commuting, they are a must. They don’t necessarily need to be studded, but snow tires are one of the best investments you’ll make if you live in Vermont, especially rural Vermont. All-wheel drive helps, but I’d say 98% of Vermont residents agree: it is not a replacement for snow tires. All season tires aren’t good enough either unless you’re already a seasoned snow/ice driver.

4. Get an AAA membership. It is totally worth it. Needing to be towed after you slide off the road even one single time will cost more than an annual AAA membership.

5. Keep your gas tank at least ¼ full. Not just because you may need to re-route or because you’ll want it if you get stuck, but when the gas tank is less than ¼ full, the cold can cause condensation in your tank, and not only could corrosion occur, but your fuel line could freeze. Not good!

6. Have your car prepped for everything. Have a snow brush in your car at all times. Keep a small snow shovel and blanket in your car as well. Extra windshield wash is also a great idea. Other things you may want to include in an emergency car kit would be: flashlight, extra wool socks, extra hats and gloves/mittens, an extra battery brick for your phone, and high energy snacks. Kitty litter is also commonly recommended in case you get stuck and need traction under your tires on slippery surfaces. Travel with baby wipes and bottles of water; they will both freeze if left in the car, but both can be invaluable.

7. Consider having your car undercoated or rust-proofed to prevent corrosion from salt used on the roads.

8. Keep a set of jumper cables in your car and know how to use them. Cold temperatures contribute to battery draining, so this is a great idea. Even if you aren’t driving daily, your car should be started at least once a day when temperatures dip into the teens, and especially in subzero temperatures.

9. Know the laws! It is illegal in Vermont to let your car idle for more than 5 minutes. So, keep your idling to a minimum, and DON’T let your car idle at all in your garage or when your car exhaust is blocked by snow to avoid the possibility of carbon monoxide poisoning.

-Also, before driving, clear the snow off your car really well. You can get ticketed if you don’t because snow and ice chunks can fly off your car, blinding other drivers or causing damage.

-Pay attention to your town or city’s parking bans. Cars can’t be parked on the side of the road if plows are going to do their job effectively. If you don’t move your car during a parking ban, your car may end up plowed in, ticketed, or towed.

10. Cold temperatures cause your tires to deflate because cold air takes up less space than warm air. Watch your dashboard symbols and keep your tires inflated.

11. Find the location of your car’s backup camera lens (if you have one) and keep it clear and clean. It’s useless covered in slush.

12. Cell service in Vermont is spotty. Make sure you know your route before you get on the road. Tell someone where you are going and when you plan to arrive. Keeping an actual Vermont state road map is a must for when you don’t have reception for your GPS or phone, or when GPS takes you to a road that is closed for the season and you have to find an alternate route.

13. If your child is in a car seat, put layers OVER the straps to keep them warm. Putting snowsuits or heavy coats on babies or children creates huge gaps between the child and the straps and in the event of an accident, the straps will no longer protect your child no matter how tight you think you’ve tightened them. See this video for details! Put blankets over your child after they are strapped in the car instead, or put their coat on backward, with their arms in the coat after they’ve already been strapped in. For tiny babies, lined car seat covers with elastic that goes around the seat itself and does not interfere with the straps work really well.

14. You should wear lighter layers in the car too, especially for long trips. Adult straps work the same as those in your child’s car seat and a bulky coat could be dangerous for you.

15. Even though you should wear light layers, pack more layers for each passenger in your car. Always act as if you’re going to be pushing your car out of a ditch. You never know when you’re going to need to, and you want to be prepared!

house inWhat do you need to consider as a homeowner to survive winter in Vermont?

Cold temperatures not only affect your car and what you should have with you when you travel, but they also affect your home and how you care for it as well. Here are some things you need to be aware of to keep your home safe during Vermont winters.

  1. You need to keep track of how often you clean your dryer vent.

We all know that lint collects on a screen in your dryer and you should peel that layer off after every dryer cycle. During the winter, when you are wearing heavier fabrics such as wool and heavy cotton, your dryer collects even more lint than usual. Since lint is flammable, it is absolutely imperative you keep track of how often you clean your dryer vent so you don’t have a fire. You can do this yourself; there are plenty of videos online to teach you or you can hire someone to do it. It is recommended that you clean your dryer vent at least every 2 years.

One final thought about dryer vents: if yours is low to the ground outside like mine is, just make sure you keep it clear of snow.

2. Keep your gutters clean.

If you haven’t dealt with leaves or ice melt before, then this tip is for you! Clean the leaves out of your gutters when you notice them before the snow comes. If you don’t, you’re going to end up with a lot of water backup whether it is raining or just melting when things thaw. If the water backs up, you can end up with mold growth or the water re-routing to areas you do not want it to! The last thing you want is a leaky roof, so please pay attention to this advice.

3. Keep your chimney in good working order.

No matter what your heating source, keeping track of your chimney’s status is critical. Having a crumbling chimney, one that takes on water and gets moldy, or one with plants growing out of it is going to be a problem. While fixing any problem with your chimney may be costly, the domino effect of what happens when your chimney is in poor repair will be much worse.

Fireplaces are cozy additions to many Vermont homes. If you have a fireplace, the safe thing to do is to get your chimney flue(s) cleaned and inspected once a year when you aren’t using your chimney.

4. If you have a wood stove or wood-burning fireplace, buy your wood a year or two before you intend to use it. Wood needs time to dry, because wet wood is useless when it comes to heating your home.

5. If you have a gas fireplace or a pellet stove, be aware that they get HOT to the touch. Get a safety screen for it or put a play fence around it if you have kids.

6. Clear your sidewalks, decks, roofs, mailboxes, and fire hydrants daily.

If you aren’t used to shoveling snow, you may not think to clear more than just your driveway. However, there is more to think about when it comes to shoveling and clearing snow. For example, your town, village, or HOA may take responsibility for plowing or shoveling sidewalks, but you should be prepared to do so if they do not. You should shovel out any fire hydrant near your property, at least 3 feet out from it on all sides in case of emergencies. As far as mailboxes go, if they aren’t shoveled out, your mail carrier can’t deliver your mail. Do them a favor!

If you haven’t shoveled snow before, you will learn quickly that it can be heavy!

Leaving too much snow on your deck or on your roof if it doesn’t have a steep pitch can compromise the structural integrity of your house. Even if you have a snowblower, get a shovel for that deck and consider getting a roof rake too if your home’s roof has a gradual pitch.

7. The snowplow will plow you in.

There is no way around this. You will have a heap of packed snow at the end of your driveway once the plow has gone by. I like to go out and create a path to the end of the driveway and shovel this heap first while I have the most energy and then work my way back toward the house and towards the unpacked, lighter snow.

8. Don’t turn off your heat when you go on vacation. If the pipes get too cold while you’re gone, they will burst.

9. If you’re moving to a rural area, you may want to consider having a generator in case of power loss. If you have one, install it outside your home.

10. Have a list of emergency numbers posted in a convenient place, including the name of someone who can fix your furnace. The minute you don’t have the number you need on hand, you’ll need it.

Are there any other suggestions I should consider as I embark on my new Vermont winter adventure?

  1. Well, having a humidifier never hurts. The air gets dry in Vermont. Prevent nose bleeds by running one during the winter.
  2. If you have a dog, regular ice melt/salt isn’t good for the pads on their feet. You can go the ‘paw bootie’ route, but investigate your options with ‘paw wax,’ too.
  3. Speaking of animals, if it is too cold outside for you, it’s too cold outside for your pet to stay out there longer than a couple of minutes to do their business. Get a pet sweater if you like to walk your dog but if the temperatures are dangerously low, snuggle with your pet at home instead.
  4. Don’t spend your entire winter inside. We have snowfall and cold temperatures the better part of 7 months out of the year. You’ll go stir crazy if you stay inside. Seasonal affective disorder is real and getting out during the day can help avoid triggering it. Embrace the weather and find a winter activity your family loves to do. Get fitted for skis, buy a sled, or invest in some skates. Spend your time building snowmen and making snow angels. Read up on the tracks animals make in winter, and do some investigating. When you’re done, be sure to come in and drink oodles of hot chocolate.

No matter where you’re coming from, we here at Vermont Mom want to welcome you to our great state! May your first winter in Vermont treat you well!

How to Survive A Vermont Winter: Tips for Newbies

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