(BPT) - Snow and ice, high winds, bone-chilling cold, heavy rains and flooding – no matter where you live, some form of weather-related crisis may put your home, family and belongings at risk this winter. Before the worst of it arrives, it pays to take some vital steps to ensure you'll be protected throughout the season.
Americans filed insurance claims that totaled nearly $2 billion in insured losses during 2013, according to the Insurance Information Institute. Weather-related power outages cost $25 billion to $70 billion per year, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
To ensure your home and family are protected through winter, take these easy, affordable and smart steps to prepare:
* Create a family disaster plan so everyone knows what to do if severe weather hits. Your plan should detail whether everyone should remain inside the house if they're home or where to find appropriate shelter if they're out.
* Prepare a home emergency kit. Your kit should include a set of warm clothes for every family member, blankets, bottled water, non-perishable foods, necessary medications, first aid supplies, a battery-operated radio with extra batteries, a flashlight, matches, a list of emergency contact numbers, and a solar cellphone charger so you can stay in communication without power.
* Inspect your home to ensure it's ready for winter. Look at critical areas that may bear the brunt of a storm, such as the roof, windows and doors. Check the insulation in your attic to ensure it's adequate and in good condition, and have your furnace and water heater professionally inspected to confirm proper functioning.
* Install a backup generator to protect vital home systems – such as heat, lights and refrigeration – in case of power outages. Standby power is an affordable way to protect your home from the damages that can be associated with a power outage. A standby generator permanently connects to a home like a central air conditioning unit and automatically turns on when power is lost. Companies like Kohler are starting to offer more compact-sized, affordable standby generators that are ideal for smaller homes, cabins or situations requiring less power. An 8, 10 or 12 kilowatt standby generator will power a few key items during an outage, such as a refrigerator, lights and sump pump. This will help keep your home up-and-running and will protect those who are most vulnerable during a power outage, including seniors and young children. Visit www.kohlergenerators.com to learn more.
* Bookmark the National Weather Service's mobile website on your smartphone so you can check official weather reports. Check with your mobile service provider to ensure your phone is set up to receive severe weather alerts.
While winter storms are unavoidable, with some preparation it's possible to avoid many of the damages and risks associated with severe weather – and keep your home safe and your family comfortable.