Winter season safety tips for your home, vehicle, and pets

Remember to bring your pets inside during especially cold weather. Even with their furry coats, spending long hours in the cold can put them at risk.

Be prepared and have the right tools to get you through the season

Posted by Tanya Fish

With winter weather now upon us and the holiday season right around the corner, we've compiled our best tips for ensuring your vehicle, home and pets are safe and prepared for colder weather.

Vehicle maintenance key to safe winter driving

Proper vehicle maintenance is important all year long. It's even more essential when temperatures drop and weather conditions become more unpredictable (and even treacherous). Here are some things that you should check to be sure your vehicle is winter weather ready:

  • Brakes: Wet and icy roads require properly functioning brakes, with plenty of pad left to ensure you can stop quickly and limit sliding or hydroplaning.
  • Tires: Check your tire pressure and tread. Look for your tire's tread wear indicators. These are bars of hard rubber that are normally invisible but appear across treads that have been worn down. If these indicators appear in two or three different places, less than 120 degrees apart on the circumference of your tire, it's time to replace it. You may also want to consider winter tires, especially in colder climates such as northern B.C. Transport Canada has some great tips on tire safety.
  • Wiper blades: Your wiper blades must be in good condition to give you visibility no matter what the weather is doing. Most blades have a lifespan of about one year. And be sure to check your wiper fluid levels; without enough fluid, your wipers can't do their job.
  • Antifreeze level and ratio: While you're checking your car's wiper fluid, ensure you have enough antifreeze and that it’s the proper mixture. The correct ratio of water to antifreeze is 50:50. Many auto service stations and repair centers will check this mixture free, or you can buy a tester at most automotive or hardware stores and do-it-yourself. Use a pet-friendly antifreeze that is propylene glycol-based. Learn more about the dangers of antifreeze for pets.
  • Emergency kit: Keep an emergency kit in your car that includes non-perishable food, water, and a first aid kit. Road flares, a collapsible shovel, jumper cables, and a few pieces of warm clothing and/ or a blanket are also important in case you run into car trouble. See the Government of Canada's checklist of what to include in your car's emergency kit.
  • Snow brush and windshield scraper: It's never fun to come back to your car and find it covered in icy frost and having to pull out a credit card to scrape your windows. Keeping a windshield scraper in your car will make the job much easier. Completely scrape all of your windows to ensure you have full visibility. Use a snowbrush to remove any snow that might have piled up on your car before you begin driving. You should especially be sure to clear any snow on the roof so that it doesn't fall on your windshield and block your vision if you stop suddenly.

Safety tips to prepare your home for winter weather

Taking the time to get your home ready for the colder temperatures and winter weather can save you a lot of hassle later, and help your family stay safe and cozy throughout the season.

Here are some of your best bets for home maintenance during the winter season:

  • Service your fireplace: Whether your fireplace is wood-burning or gas, have it inspected and cleaned by a professional before roasting any chestnuts or curling up with a good book.
  • Inspect your furnace: Your home's heating system will be working a lot of overtime to keep your home warm when the temperatures drop. A yearly inspection and servicing of your furnace will ensure it is in good working order and running efficiently — which can save you money on your heating costs.
  • Clean furnace filters: Your furnace filter should be cleaned at least once every three months. To clean it, turn off your furnace and open the panel door and remove the furnace filter (a framed, rectangular screen). Run the filter under hose or tap to clean it and remove any dust particles. Let it dry and return it to the furnace.
  • Clear out gutters: Remove leaves, sticks, and other debris from gutters so melting snow and ice can flow freely and prevent flooding. Before getting out the ladder, see our graphic on ladder safety.
  • Test CO2 monitors and smoke detectors: Ensure your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are in good working condition and replace batteries if needed.

Take care to ensure the property surrounding your home is safe as well. Icy patches on sidewalks and walkways are a real safety concern. Prevent slips and falls with a pet and eco-friendly ice melter, like Paw Safe. Traditional ice melters contain salt and chemicals that can be harmful to pets, children and the environment. Sand or cat litter can also be used to increase traction, but aren’t as effective at actually melting ice.

If you're heading out of town, ask a neighbour or friend to come by to apply ice melter around your property and shovel your walks and driveway if it snows. If you’re out of town for longer than a couple of days, consider shutting off the main water valve to your home to prevent your pipes from freezing.

Injuries from slips, trips, and falls greatly increase in the winter months. Wearing shoes with solid traction is important. The Canada Safety Council has more tips for safe winter walking.

Help your pets be warm and comfortable this winter

Bring your pets inside during the winter. Extended time spent in cold weather — especially when the mercury drops below zero — can cause weakness, lethargy and even put them at risk for hypothermia and frostbite. If they do have to spend time outdoors, ensure they have access to warm shelter and aren’t out for lengthy periods of time.

A bit of basic grooming can protect your pet from the wrath of old man winter. Clip the hair between your dog's toes to prevent snow from sticking, which can create discomfort and difficultly walking. Trim their nails to give them better traction when walking on icy surfaces. Also, be sure to wipe their paws when they come inside. Salt from the roads and antifreeze can cause irritation and even be life threatening if ingested.

A jacket or coat can provide short haired dogs with an extra layer of insulation and protect them from the icy winds and precipitation.

Tanya is a member of BC Hydro's digital communications team.