An illustration of a home inside a snow globe.
Illustration: Edmon de Haro

 T he season of cold, ice, and snow is coming soon, and that wintry weather can pose a variety of risks to older adults in and around the home. CR's product testers and home maintenance experts can help you get your home ready for winter to safeguard your health.

Reduce Fall Risks Outside

Falls are the leading cause of injuries for older adults, so stock up on ice melt—which can help make slippery stairs, front walks, and driveways safer. And decide now who will shovel your walk after it snows. According to the American Heart Association, the exertion of snow shoveling can strain the heart, so you might want to hire someone to do the work for you. 

Do a Heating Checkup

According to the National Institute on Aging, older adults are at a higher risk of low body temperature, or hypothermia, which can lead to heart attack, kidney problems, liver damage, and more.

more on winter home prep

Hypothermia can occur even when home temperatures are only moderately cool—between 60° and 65° F. That makes it important to ensure that your heating system is in good working order.

If the system is powered by an oil burner or furnace, have a professional give it a yearly servicing. Replace the filter in forced-air systems. Jot down the date, so you know when it needs changing again, per manufacturer’s instructions.

Also check your home for areas where cold air may get in—especially the attic and basement/crawl space, where the foundation or floors meet walls, and where plumbing and wiring enters the home. Replace damaged and worn weather stripping around doors and windows, and make sure windows are latched.

Use Space Heaters Wisely

Older adults may need extra assistance keeping warm in winter, and a space heater can help if you choose right and use it safely. But space heaters cause thousands of house fires every year, so look for products that have safety features such as a switch that automatically turns off the device if it tips over.

Check the heater’s cord for damage regularly, and never use an extension cord. Our testers also recommend models with a fan, which can disperse heat more effectively.

Check the Detectors

Replace the batteries in your smoke detectors and carbon monoxide (CO) detectors, if you haven’t done so in the past year, and use your vacuum hose with the brush attachment to pull out cobwebs or dust that might interfere with the sensors.

You should have a smoke detector in every bedroom and at least one carbon monoxide detector in the house. If you have fuel-burning appliances, an attached garage, and/or a generator, place a carbon monoxide detector on every level of your home.

Be Savvy About Generators

Thinking about buying a backup generator? Try to do so before the bad weather so that it's properly connected to your home’s electrical system—and know how to use it safely. The Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that more than 150 people die each year from accidental, nonfire-related CO poisoning associated with products, including generators.

To prevent this, never operate a portable generator in an enclosed space, and place it at least 20 feet away from your home, windows, and doors, with the exhaust pointing away from the home.

Consumer Reports also recommends having a licensed electrician install a manual transfer switch for portable generators, or an automatic transfer switch for stationary generators. This safely connects a generator to your circuit panel via one cable.

Keep Air Pollutants at Bay

Exposure to air pollution has been linked to heart disease, lung disease, cancer, and even bone density loss. And indoor air can be up to five times more polluted than outdoor air, especially in the winter, when windows are usually closed—reducing the amount of fresh air coming in.

So refrain from burning candles and using your fireplace, and ban smoking indoors. Be sure that any harsh chemicals, such as solvents, glues, and pesticides, are stored away from living areas. (Consider replacing your forced-air system’s filter with one that can remove smaller particles.)

Product Picks

Consider these recommended models from Consumer Reports' tests to help prepare your home for winter. 

Quick Take

Vornado VMH600 space heater

Price: $150.00

Room heating
Spot heating
Hot surface
Unlock Space Heater Ratings
Quick Take

Kidde PI2010 smoke detector

Price: $30.00

Flaming fires
Smoldering fires
Unlock Smoke Detector Ratings
Quick Take

Generac XT8000 portable generator

Price: $1200.00

Power delivery
Power quality
Noise
Unlock Portable Generator Ratings

Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the October 2018 issue of Consumer Reports On Health.