5 Essential Products to Help Weather a Winter Storm

Forget hot cocoa and a blanket—these products could save your life in a serious snowstorm

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Person using snow blower in the middle of a snow storm. Photo: Getty Images

During winter months, each storm brings with it a new round of homeowners flooding home-improvement centers in search of generators, flashlights, and just about anything else that can help with prolonged cold spells and periodic power outages.

And ultimately, the eve of a storm is a terrible time to shop for cold-climate essentials. "The period leading up to—and immediately after—a bad storm tends to be the worst time to shop for essentials like generators and snow blowers," says Courtney Pennicooke, CR’s market analyst who oversees outdoor power equipment and generators.

More on Weathering Winter

Instead, seize any lull in bad weather to make informed purchases on the gear you’ll need most when clouds turn gray.

Here, we’ve compiled the five items that CR’s experts consider to be essential for weathering a bad winter storm—and, for each product category, top-rated picks from our tests, listed in alphabetical order. To learn more about each, you can see our buying guides for generators, chainsaws, space heaters, snow blowers, and smoke and carbon monoxide alarms. CR members can also jump to our ratings of generators, chainsaws, space heaters, snow blowers, and smoke and carbon monoxide alarms.

For the models below, we kept price in mind, too. You don’t have to spend a fortune to get your home winter storm-ready.

Generator

If you live in an area prone to power outages, consider a home standby generator. These are generally more expensive, but they can run on your home’s natural gas supply, or on propane for up to 13 days. Natural gas versions run indefinitely. Opt for a licensed electrician, who should connect it to your home’s electrical panel using a transfer switch.

Alternately, a portable generator can save you several thousand dollars. Consumer Reports recommends only models with integrated safety technology, including an emergency carbon monoxide shutoff that disables the machine when it’s used indoors or in an enclosed space.

Even with this potentially life-saving safety feature, it’s crucial that you use a portable generator only outdoors, at least 20 feet from the house, with the exhaust directed away from any windows or doors.

You’ll want to hire a pro to connect your portable generator using a transfer switch. But in a pinch, we walk through how to get your generator safely up and running during an outage until you have it installed professionally.

Here, a stellar home standby generator and two portable generators that earn CR recommended status, both because of their life-saving safety features and solid all-around performance during an outage.

Snow Blower

If the allure of easily removing snow from your driveway hasn’t motivated you to buy a snow blower, try thinking of it as a safety tool.

In a serious winter storm, you’ll be glad you have a snow blower, which can easily clear a path to your car, not to mention make it possible to pull out of your driveway once the plows have passed.

Below, the best snow blowers to clear a path quickly.

Space Heater

If the power goes out and you’re relying on a generator, a space heater will let you hunker down in a single room and stay warm while using considerably less energy than an electric heat pump or furnace, both of which heat your whole house.

If you heat your home with gas or propane or another heating source, skip the space heater in favor of your furnace. And if you rely on propane, heating oil, or wood pellets and a bad storm makes the roads impassable but doesn’t knock out the power, use the heater to stay warm and toasty while you wait for your next delivery.

We’ve rounded up three top-rated space heaters from our ratings.

Chainsaw

Heavy snow and ice can down branches long after a storm has passed. That’s one of the struggles faced by utility workers as they attempt to restore power after a storm. So take a hint from them and buy and use a chainsaw before a winter storm hits.

Not only will you get to choose from top-performing models, but by being proactive and trimming precarious limbs before a storm, you’ll also minimize damage to your home during snowfall and avoid the tedious yard cleanup after.

Below, three stellar chainsaws for quickly clearing limbs.

Smoke & CO Alarms and Fire Extinguishers

All three are safety essentials, but the unusual risks posed by weathering a winter storm power outage make them even more important.

Burning candles for light, operating a generator, or using a space heater can all increase the chances you’ll need one of these life-saving devices.

Here, three standout smoke and CO alarms.

Smoke Detectors 101

Your life could depend on a smoke detector actually detecting smoke. On the "Consumer 101" TV show, Consumer Reports expert Bernie Deitrick explains to host Jack Rico what you need to know about these lifesaving devices.


Paul Hope

As a classically trained chef and an enthusiastic DIYer, I've always valued having the best tool for a job—whether the task at hand is dicing onions for mirepoix or hanging drywall. When I'm not writing about home products, I can be found putting them to the test, often with help from my two young children, in the 1860s townhouse I'm restoring in my free time.