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Home Safety Tips for the Holidays

Home Safety Tips for the Holidays

We can all agree the holiday season is the most wonderful time of the year. We love having time off work, and we love families and friends gathering together to enjoy one another’s company. We love giving and receiving gifts, and we love the delicious treats that are holiday traditions in all our households.

Although all of us might enjoy different holiday decorations, one thing we can all agree on is how important these decorations are when it comes to capturing the holiday spirit and inspiring it in others.

One thing you may not be aware of, however, is that holiday decorations can cause a real safety hazard. With all the electricity and electrical cords involved in setting up strings of lights, all the candles involved and the decorative garlands that are sometimes placed perilously close to open flames, holiday decorations are notorious for being a recipe for disaster.

The holidays are a time of joyous celebration, and the best way to ensure they stay that way is by taking a few simple safety precautions. This might seem like an unnecessary hassle, but it is always better to be safe than sorry. By checking that your holiday decorations are safe and secure, you can help ensure you and all your guests have a happy and accident-free holiday season.

How Often Do Accidents Occur During the Holidays?

Every time an accident occurs, it is easy to think, “That happened to someone else. Something like that will never happen to me.” But the truth is, accidents are just that — accidents. They can happen to anyone at any time, especially during the holidays when everyone is making merry, and no one is paying attention to basic safety measures.

The American Red Cross reports almost 47,000 fires occur during the winter holiday season.

In fact, the holiday season sees more frequent, costly and deadly residential fires than any other time of the year. The American Red Cross reports almost 47,000 fires occur during the winter holiday season. On Christmas Day alone, there are more than double the average amount of open flames in a house, according to the U.S. Fire Administration. On New Year’s Day, there are about twice as many as average.

These numbers are alarming enough, but the data goes on to say there are not only more fires than usual during Christmas, but that these fires do more damage. The average property loss from a fire during the holiday season is 34 percent greater than usual, and the number of deaths per thousand fires is almost 70 percent higher.

Statistics like these demonstrate that holiday fires are no laughing matter, and that household fire safety is something we all need to take seriously — especially during this season. To keep you and your loved ones safe this holiday season, let’s look at what causes most Christmas fires, and what you can do to limit these risks.

Christmas Trees

Between 2009 and 2013 alone, U.S. fire departments reacted to an average of 210 residential fires that began with Christmas trees, according to the National Fire Prevention Association. This number might seem outrageous to you, but consider the fact that Christmas trees are large, extremely flammable and often surrounded by candles and other open flames.

To prevent any Christmas tree fires in your home, practice the following fire safety home tips:

1.    Keep Your Christmas Tree Healthy

Unhealthy Christmas trees turn dry, brown and brittle. Not only is this unattractive, but it also makes them much greater fire hazards. The drier it gets, the greater the danger of a spark from the fireplace landing on it and setting it on fire.

To combat this, make sure your tree was freshly cut when you bought it, and that it has fresh-looking green needles. These are sure signs it will be healthy and alive. To keep your tree healthy, water it regularly. This will keep it moist — and more fire-resistant — and will also help it last longer.

If you notice that despite your best efforts, the tree is turning brown, drying out or dropping its needles, dispose of it at once.

2.    Buy Flame-Retardant Artificial Trees

If you do not care for live trees and prefer to buy artificial trees, be careful which model you buy. Make sure the box specifically says the tree is flame-retardant. If you are not sure, ask a salesperson or seek information from other sources. If you are still in doubt, do not buy it.

If you buy a pre-lit tree, make sure the lights are all in good condition. Check for things like exposed wires and bulbs that might be fire hazards.

3.    Keep Your Tree Away From Heat Sources

It is a good idea to place your tree at least three feet away from any nearby heat sources. This includes everything from heating vents, radiators, space heaters, fireplaces, candles and any other heat sources you may be using. This rule of thumb also goes for any garlands or other live greenery you may be using — keep them well away from any sources of heat or open flames.

Keep your tree at least three feet away from heat sources.

4.    Use a Reliable Tree Stand

It may seem easier just to use the old tree stand you pulled out of the basement that you have used for the past 20 years, but this is actually a safety hazard. Old, broken or otherwise unreliable tree stands increase the likelihood of your tree tipping over and falling into open flames or onto small children or pets.

The ideal Christmas tree base should have a wide, solid base and should offer a means of securing the tree to the stand.

Holiday Light Strings

Holiday decorations are a great way of keeping everybody in the spirit of the season, but they have also proven themselves to be deadly fire hazards. Some people may wonder if Christmas lights cause fires, and may doubt that they actually pose a danger. But the statistics on this matter speak for themselves. Every year, holiday lights cause an average of 860 fires, according to the National Fire Prevention Association. These fires result in millions of dollars of property damage, injury and even death.

Here are our best tips for recognizing the risks that might be present in your decorations and dealing with them.

1.    Have Your Wiring Checked

This suggestion might not apply if you live in a new home. But if you are in a home that’s a little bit older, it is a good idea. You can do the inspection yourself if you feel confident in your knowledge electrical wiring and circuitry, ask a friend who is well-versed in these areas or simply hire a professional. However you choose to do this, it is important to check that it is safe for your electrical system to plug in and turn on both interior and exterior lights.

2.    Check the Amperage of Your Light Set Boxes

Checking light set boxes is an important step because you do not want to overload your electrical circuits. To do this, you will need to determine the limitations of your circuits. Most homes are equipped with 20-amp circuits. A good rule of thumb, however, is that you should not load a circuit beyond 80 percent of its possible capacity. For example, a 20-amp circuit should not be loaded beyond 16 amp lights. Check the specs for any lights you buy to make sure they fall within the acceptable region.

3.    Limit What You Plug Into a Single Extension Cord

It’s important not to overload a single cord or outlet. To this end, it is best to connect no more than three strands of mini Christmas lights to a single extension cord. If you are using screw-in bulbs, do not use any more than 50 per extension cord.

4.    Inspect Your Light Strands

It might be easy to just pull your lights out of storage every year and put them up without a second glance. But it is important to take some time before you put your lights up and check for any signs of damage. Make sure no wires are exposed, and none of the bulbs are broken or exposed. Check for frayed wires or burn marks as well. If any strands show these telltale signs of damage, get them replaced right away.

5.    Don’t Leave Your Lights Running Overnight

Before you go to bed at night, switch your Christmas lights off. If you leave them running too long, they could overheat and cause problems. This rule also applies when you leave the house for long periods of time. If you struggle to remember to turn off lights, consider putting them on a timer.

6.    Do Not Connect Too Many Lights

When you are decorating, it can be easy to just keep connecting strands of lights to each other, especially if you are short on outlets. But it can be dangerous to connect more than three strands to the same chain of lights. If you need to use more strands than this, connect to a separate outlet to avoid the risk of overloading an outlet.

It can be dangerous to connect more than 3 strands to the same chain of lights.

7.    Hang Your Lights With Care

When hanging your lights, never use nails, tacks or anything else that pierces the protective outer layer of the wiring to hang the lights. Sharp objects can damage the wiring and cause any number of problems that could result in a house fire. Instead, hang your lights with clips or specially designed light hangers so the protective wire coating can remain intact.

Candles, Fireplaces and Other Open Flames

There is something about an open flame — whether it is a candle or a roaring fireplace — that just seems to exude a cheerful holiday spirit. Unfortunately, open flames can also be an extremely dangerous cause of Christmas fires. To practice fire safety in your home, follow these tips.

1.    Clear Away Obstructions

This rule applies to both candles and fireplaces. It might look pretty to surround candles with garlands, greenery and ribbons, but the risk of these decorations catching fire is too great. Similarly, you should never use candles to decorate your Christmas tree. The flames might catch the needles on fire, or a child or pet might bump into the tree, knocking the candle onto the floor.

When it comes to fireplaces, you should keep any decorations far away as well. Exercise any fire prevention strategies you would normally use, such as keeping children and pets well away from the fire.

2.    Do Not Leave a Fire Unattended

Never leave lit candles or a roaring fireplace alone with no one in the room. If you need to leave the room, blow out the candles before you go. If you are leaving the house, close down the fire and make sure it is dead before you leave.

3.    Do a Routine Check Before You Use the Fireplace

Many families only use their fireplace at Christmas. Other families use it throughout the winter, but light their first fire of the year during the holidays. If this is the case, make sure you run through some basic safety items before you light a fire. Make sure your smoke detectors are all in good working order. Educate your family and guests on your evacuation plan in the event of a fire. Give your chimney a good cleaning.

4.    Never Burn Wrapping Paper

It might seem like an easy solution to just throw discarded wrapping paper in the fireplace. But in doing so, you can spark a chimney fire or create other dangerous consequences. Always dispose of wrapping paper, cardboard and paper boxes, gift bags and tissue paper properly by either putting them in the trash or recycling. Only use your fireplace to burn wood.

Dispose of wrapping paper in the trash or recycling.

Traveling Tips

Not everyone stays home for the holidays. Some people travel to exotic locations and combine their holiday with a vacation. Others trade off holidays with their extended family and take turns hosting the parties. If it is not your turn to host this year, that means you get to travel and let someone else do most of the cooking and cleaning.

But before you go, there are certain precautions you should take to prepare your decorated house to spend a week or two without you.

1.    Set Your Lights on a Timer

If you are concerned about the possibility of burglary or a break-in during your absence, set your lights on a timer. This creates the illusion that you are still at home and will deter potential burglars from attempting to enter your home.

2.    Install a Home Security System

There are many options for home security systems, ranging from simple burglar alarms to high-tech options that let you monitor and control them from wherever you may have traveled, all through your smartphone. Whatever option you choose, a security system is a sound investment that will help keep your home safe from any break-ins.

3.    Unplug Your Lights and Decorations

Before you leave for your holiday vacation, unplug any strings of lights or other decorations. If you have a pre-lit Christmas tree, unplug that as well. These precautions help ensure no fires start in your house while you are gone.

4.    Do Not Share Your Plans

It is never a good idea to share your travel plans with strangers, or even to discuss them in public where someone may overhear you. You never know who might decide your absence would create the perfect opportunity to break in. For the same reason, you should also refrain from posting pictures of your vacation on social media until after you have returned.

Let Katherman Briggs & Greenberg Represent You

Have you been injured in a holiday accident at your house, or at a relative’s or friend’s house? If so, you need to be represented by a lawyer who understands the importance of getting you the results you deserve. We are a personal injury law firm that has helped many clients just like you. Call us today at 800-509-1011 or request a free consultation.

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