Protect Your Family and Home
Christmas trees, ornaments, string lights, candles, and other decorations play a big role in making the holiday season merry and bright, but they can also be dangerous if you do not take the proper precautions. Here are several holiday safety tips to help protect your family and home from fires and other mishaps.
Before the holidays start, test the batteries in all smoke detectors. Make sure your fire extinguisher is in working order and check its pressure gauge. If you don’t have a fire extinguisher, get one – and quick! Homeowners should have at least a Class B-C extinguisher, which is good for trash and paper fires as well as fires caused by grease and flammable liquids. Place the extinguisher in a central location in your home.
Smart Tree Placement
Real and artificial trees can both present potential fire hazards. Regardless of what kind you use, always place your tree several feet away from heat sources like fireplaces, radiators, candles, or heat vents. Also make sure the tree does not impede foot traffic or block doorways.
If you decide to use an artificial tree, choose one that has been tested for safety and labeled as fire-resistant. Avoid old-fashioned aluminum trees, as they can cause electrocution if they come in contact with a faulty string of lights. If you must use a metal tree, do not use lights on it. Instead, mount colored floodlights near the tree.
Christmas trees that have been chopped down can easily catch fire when they get dried out. Purchase your tree as close to the holidays as possible, so it is fresher. Look for a tree with vibrant green needles that are hard to pull off, and a trunk that is sticky with resin. Have the tree vendor cut off a few inches of the trunk to help the tree absorb water when it’s set up in your home, and make sure you refill the tree stand at least once a day.
The safest and “greenest” Christmas tree is a live potted tree, which won't dry out and can be replanted in your yard instead of thrown on the trash heap. The tree should be moved out of the house within three weeks, before it becomes too acclimated to indoor heat. Keep it in its burlap in the garage or a similar area until the ground thaws in the spring for planting.
Stable Tree Setup
A heavy, unstable tree poses a danger of falling over and hurting someone. That makes proper tree setup essential. Artificial trees usually come with their own stand, but if you choose a cut tree, you will have to pair it with a tree stand or base. Metal stands are generally more durable and sturdy than plastic, and last longer through the years. The width of the base is the key to a secure and steady setup. Check the packaging for information on the height and weight range the tree stand can support, and make sure your tree’s measurements fall within those guidelines. The base should have four – not three – bolts or other restraining mechanisms. The bolts work in pairs to help you adjust the tree’s position from front to back and side to side until it is standing completely upright. For added support, once you have the tree properly situated in its stand, you can even insert hooks into the ceiling or nearby walls and anchor the tree with fishing wire.
Smart Ornament Placement
If you have pets or small children, it’s wise to be cautious and deliberate about ornament placement on your tree. To protect pets and kids from the threat of glass shards, carefully hang your most delicate and breakable ornaments up high, safely out of reach. Same goes for choking hazards such as small baubles, ornaments with small parts, and bells. If you have cats, you might want to forgo tinsel, which is particularly tempting to them and can be especially harmful if ingested. Light strings pose a threat as well. To ensure safety, make sure to unplug them when not in use and consider purchasing cord covers designed to discourage pet chewing. In general, never leave a toddler or pet unsupervised with your Christmas tree.
Beware of Toxic Seasonal Plants
The dangers of the poinsettia plant are generally overblown, but it’s not entirely harmless. If ingested, it can irritate the mouth and stomach, sometimes resulting in diarrhea or vomiting. If the milky sap comes in contact with skin, irritation, including redness, swelling, and itchiness, may develop. Rarely, eye exposure can result in a mild “pink eye” reaction. A number of other common holiday plants are much more harmful. For example, eating holly berries will cause nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and diarrhea. Acute stomach and intestinal problems result from nibbling on mistletoe’s greenish, white berries. All parts of the yew plant (pictured), including the red berries, are highly toxic, causing dizziness, pupil dilation, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, racing heart, muscle weakness, and convulsions. If you choose to decorate with these holiday plants, take the utmost care to make sure children and pets cannot access them.
Before You Climb on that Ladder!
Climbing any ladder involves some risk. Some ladder safety tips to help you minimize risk while decorating your home for the holidays: Make sure your ladder has slip-resistant rungs and feet. Inspect it for cracked uprights, split rungs or loose rivets. Be sure a stepladder’s spreaders are fully open and locked. Angle straight ladders 75 degrees from the ground (1 foot out for every 4 feet up) and extend them 3 feet beyond the roof or work area for proper stability. Always face a ladder when climbing and descending and don’t go beyond the labeled highest step recommended.
Light String Smarts
Only use lights with the UL (Underwriters Laboratories) seal of approval. Old light strings can be dangerous, so check yours for signs of excess wear. Look for broken or cracked light sockets, worn or frayed wire and loose plugs. Make sure to use lights that are marked as suitable for outdoors for your exterior decorating and lights that are marked as suitable for indoors for your interior decorating. LED holiday lights are a great choice for both settings. In addition to being shatterproof and shock resistant, they produce almost no heat, making them safe to touch and greatly reducing the risk of fire. Whatever kind you choose, follow the manufacturer’s limits for the number of light strings that can be connected together safely.
Before stringing outdoor lights, check for overhead power lines. Never place yourself or any object, like a ladder, in a position where you or it may come in contact with a power line – the result can be fatal. To be safe, keep at least 10 feet away from overhead lines. Fasten outdoor lights securely to trees, house walls, or other firm supports to protect the lights from wind damage. Use only insulated staples, not nails or tacks, to hold strings in place. Before stringing lights on outdoor trees, make sure tree limbs haven’t grown into or near power lines. Branches, entire trees and even the ground adjacent to a tree can become energized when trees contact power lines.
Use only smaller lights indoors. The larger, thumb-size lights get extremely hot and can cause a fire if they touch dried-out pine needles or paper decorations. Never run power cords under rugs or carpet, as this poses a fire hazard. Instead, tape the cords to the floor or carpet using blue painter’s tape to prevent them from causing trips and falls. Finally, always turn off your holiday lights (both indoors and out) before you leave home or go to bed.
Before You Light that Fire!
Getting toasty warm in front of a roaring fire is one of the joys of winter, but there are special fireplace safety considerations to make during the holidays. Before lighting a fire, remove all garlands and other decorations from the fireplace area. Check to see that the flue is open, and always use an ash screen to prevent sparks from shooting across the room. Never burn wrapping paper or evergreen boughs in the fireplace. Do not remove embers or ash from the fireplace. If you must, place them in a metal container that has a lid and cover them with water. Do not place them in a plastic or paper bag or any other container that is not fire-resistant. Never leave the ash disposal container indoors or close to your home or another structure.
Smart Candle Placement
Accidental candle fires increase fourfold during the holiday season. Follow these candle safety tips in your home to reduce the risk of fire: Trim candle wicks to ¼ inch before use. Long wicks can cause uneven burning, dripping or flaring. Always use a candleholder specifically designed for candle use. For added safety, put a hurricane lamp around the flame. Always keep burning candles out of the reach of children and pets. Place candles where they will not be knocked down or blown over, and keep them well away from drapes and blinds. Never put lit candles on or within three feet of a Christmas tree or other greenery. Don’t leave candles burning unattended or allow them to burn overnight. Don’t burn a candle all the way down – stop using it when it gets down to two inches. If you have children living in or visiting your home, store candles, matches and lighters out of their sight and reach (preferably locked away).