My wife and I threatened to move back to the Midwest—where she’s from—for years before finally taking advantage of whatever dark forces sent the housing market skyrocketing, to sell our home and buy a bigger, older house. Having been married to a midwesterner for six years by the time we moved, I thought I’d have likely, through something akin to osmosis, absorbed most of the information I needed in order to get by, and I suppose I did, but there have nevertheless been plenty of surprises; there are many of the items I have learned are indispensable in the Midwest, and really, through any part of the US that resides in the snow belt. Though much of this list deals with winter, some of it deals with other challenges presented by homeownership here, and by no means is this meant to be exhaustive—it simply represents what I’ve learned in the seven months since making the move.
Staying warm in a snowy place is not as straightforward as you might think. In the South, when cold weather comes, you can usually get away with a warm jacket, maybe with a hoodie underneath. You may not give a second thought to the jeans and sneakers on your lower half. Up north, that’s a recipe for soggy shoes and frostbite, and the solutions are things you’ve never seen in a store before. Things like duck boots and snow pants.
Duck boots are the mullet of footwear—they look like someone chopped the top 2/3rds of a nice pair of boots you’d wear to a dinner party and glued them over galoshes. The right pair gives you good traction in snow while keeping your feet dry, and since snow can hang around for weeks at a time, they at least help you retain a little dignity with the nicer-looking upper half. The zippers on the side of the men’s and women’s duck boots I’ve selected are key—it’s a pain to have to deal with shoelaces while wearing four layers of clothing, so little things like that can make all the difference.
As for snow pants, they’re thicker windbreaker pants, and their primary purpose is to keep you dry. The fact the ones I picked are basically overalls may seem silly until the first time you get snow in your underwear, and while you don’t have to spend Nordstrom money, keep in mind that if you have to leave the house a lot or if you like to stay active in the winter, you’ll get a lot of use out of these, and spending money on winter gear is almost always a smart move.
Moving northward, it’s probable that the only time you’ve heard talk of humidity is from northerners trying to equate their experience with summer heat to yours by lamenting humidity. You might not realize that humidity—or a lack thereof—will become more than a reason to complain about the weather.
As a Texan, a basement is an exciting novelty, but there is more upkeep involved in having one than I knew going in. Controlling moisture is a vital part of life below-ground level. You’ll need a good dehumidifier, like this GE model, which I like for its large-capacity tank. It has a built-in pump and includes a hose, allowing it to drain into a sink or floor drain. You won’t need to empty it constantly. Its built-in humidistat will turn it off and on as needed, too, keeping your basement dry enough to prevent major mold problems. If you’re on a tighter budget, this Vremi 22-pint machine can be outfitted with a sold-separately hose, and the $180 sale price tag is a little easier to swallow.
The other half of the year, the air becomes hellishly dry, and though that can happen in a Texas winter, it usually only leads to some mild itching for me. Here, my entire body became a histamine-laden, paper-thin nightmare, so I decided maybe it was time to consider two things: a humidifier and lotion. I wasn’t looking for a smart humidifier, but this Levoit 4L smart humidifier was on sale, so I figured I’d give it a shot. I’ve been pleased so far: I wake up without a painful nose and dry throat, and I can check my phone to make sure I didn’t forget to turn it off instead of going back upstairs. As for lotion, I don’t like smelling like anything in particular, and my skin can sometimes react to fragranced stuff anyway, so I use this Everyone for Every Body unscented lotion—I’m still getting in the habit of using it, but I look a lot less like I got into a fight with a cat since I started the new routine.
It’s not unusual for a home in the northern part of the country to be decades old, and the basements can be … less than pristine. Our own house will turn one hundred years old this year, and though the basement is mostly dry, we did encounter a leak during heavy rains a couple of months after moving in. Thankfully, I have a wet/dry vac—this one, if you’re curious—so I was able to prop its hose against the hole after frantically soaking up the large puddle, which by the time we found it, had extended halfway through our basement. In the meantime, I did some quick research, then left to get some hydraulic cement, a stainless wire brush, and a masonry chisel. I already had a putty knife and nitrile gloves, which were also necessary.
The work is quick: you chisel out the hole so that it’s v-shaped—only imagine the bottom point of the v is pointing at you—or at least box-shaped, then you take the wire brush and scrub the area to give the cement something to grip. Then take a towel or whatever you have handy and sweep away all the resulting detritus. Mix your cement to a thick, maybe mashed potato consistency, put on some good shop gloves (latex or rubber), and quickly jam the stuff into the hole and all around it, smoothing it out after with the putty knife or paint scraper. It’s crucial that the mixing of the cement be done right before you use it because the stuff sets within just a couple of minutes. I plan to make sure I always have these things on hand, because this time I was lucky the leak happened while the hardware store was open—next time I may not be so fortunate.
I have never wanted to keep the weather out of my house more than I have since moved here. When my AC struggled in Texas, it sucked, but at least the heat dissipated somewhat at night. Here, at nightfall, it only gets worse, so it would behoove you to do something to keep the warmth in. The products here are literally the ones I used, and they’re novice-level; I plan to go back this summer and implement a more long-term solution, but if you just need to get it done quickly and you aren’t particularly handy, this stuff will work.
That Frost King door sweep up there slips right onto the bottom of your door and requires no tools, apart from something to cut off the excess length, like a hacksaw. The tubular weatherstripping is adhesive, so the only tool you need for that is a towel to clean the area to which you’re sticking it. You’ll notice I added two of them: the second type of weatherstripping is slimmer and not so thick, and I needed that to fit in the tighter hinge side of my exterior doors. The window caulk is pretty self-explanatory. Cut the tip-off at an angle, slap it into a caulk gun, and run a bead along the cracks around your windows or window frames. A clear, paintable, silicon-based caulk is ideal if you particularly care about looks.
I’ll never forget something a cycling friend from Minnesota once told me: if you’re out biking in the cold there, and your hub freezes or you otherwise break down in a way you can’t fix, make it obvious you’re stuck by flipping your bike upside down, and someone will pick you up, because they know if they don’t, you might die. That idea is completely foreign to me, as a Texan. I asked a local friend to help me make up a list of items one might need to keep in their car for a similar situation. We came up with this basic list of items that will keep you alive or help you get out of a situation when you’re stuck in the snow or broken down in a place where the weather might literally kill you.
First, if you’ve broken down in the cold, a sherpa-lined blanket, a trapper hat, and down mittens will keep you warm while you wait for a tow truck or other help to arrive. In a particularly dire circumstance that sees you marooned for an extended period, though, you’ll need to do better, and combining that blanket with an emergency cold weather sleeping bag is ideal.
Next, if you’re just stuck in some snow, you need to have the gear to get out of it, which is what the folding shovel and traction mat are for. Digging out around your tires will give your car some space to rock back and forth, while a traction mat can give you the extra, well, traction you need to get up and out of a hole. In a pinch, non-clumping cat litter (I originally recommended a clumping litter, and was duly corrected—evidently the clumping stuff can make things worse) can also give you a bit of extra grip. The mittens combined with some hand warmers will be nice, too, to use while you work.
Finally, the emergency weather radio and flashlight combo—although AAA batteries can power it, extreme cold can kill a battery, which is why it’s nice that the radio has a hand crank and solar panel. It’s also got a 2,000 mAh battery lithium battery to charge your phone or other devices with. You can buy larger-capacity variants if you want more battery power—2,000 mAh will only get most modern cell phones a partial recharge.
This story was originally published by Wes Davis on 01/25/2022, but was updated on 01/27/2022.