The holidays are the time to break out the ugly sweaters, enjoy our friends and family, and find alternative uses for Aunt Frannie’s Fruitcake (doorstop, hammer, weightlifting, etc.) But before any of the festivities begin, the decorations come out of storage. While it might not be the first thing on your mind while decking the halls, fire safety is something to remember. In the United States, an average of 17 deaths each year are related to Christmas tree fires, with property damages exceeding 2 million dollars. Additionally, fires from candles, faulty lights, and other mishaps total up to hundreds of millions in property damages and numerous lives lost. So, how can you best prepare your house this holiday season to stay toasty but not roasty?
As the centerpiece of the holiday cheer, Christmas trees are usually the first item to go up, and the last to go down. That being said, Christmas trees need special attention as they can become highly flammable over the course of their stay in your home. While you not only want to select a tree that fits your home, and will hold all your ornaments, there are some other things to consider when going to purchase a tree.
Fresh trees will last longer and are less likely to catch fire. There are several ways to test for freshness
- The needles should be hard to pull off the branch.
- Bend the needles between your fingers--the needles should be hard to break.
- Feel the trunk of the tree for sticky resin. The fresher the cut, the stickier the trunk.
- If you lightly shake the tree, the needles shouldn’t fall off.
When you’ve found the right tree, taking care of it will not only keep your Evergreen fresh until after the presents are open, it also helps reduce the chances of fire. Here are some tips to keep your tree as fresh as your new egg nog recipe:
- Cut off the bottom two inches of the trunk. This helps the tree to better absorb water, like cutting the end of the stem of flowers.
- Put the tree into a wide stance, water-holding stand. You want the base of the tree stand to be able to compensate for the weight, width, and height of the tree.
- Keep it hydrated! Make sure the tree gets water every other day, and never runs dry. You want your tree to be drinking as much as crazy Uncle Robert is at your Christmas party.
The placement of your tree is important as well. Make sure that the tree isn’t blocking exits, and won’t be too close to any sources of heat, such as vents, fireplaces, or space heaters. While it might look like a pretty picture to have your tree by your hearth, it will dry out the needles faster.
Putting lights on your tree makes it a focal point of the room--but make sure you don’t overload your circuits and cause an electrical fire. When plugging in one strand of lights to another, limit it to three strands total.
A more fiscally responsible choice is an artificial tree. While you might shy away from the idea because of it not seeming authentic, keep in mind that a lot of artificial trees are now quite beautiful and come pre-decorated (more time for the aforementioned egg nog). Make sure that when you purchase an artificial tree you make sure that the tree is non-flammable. Look for the tags that specifically state this. This way, you get a worry free tree for years to come. Make sure that when you pull it out of storage next year, you check the wires for fraying and replace any busted bulbs.
Lights and Decor
While not everyone goes all out for Christmas decor, it’s a safe bet to say that most people will break out some twinkling lights. While it is an easy way to get festive, lights can easily become hazards if precautions aren’t taken. Here are some useful guidelines for lighting:
- Only use indoor lights inside. The casings around the wires of inside lights are not designed to withstand the elements and can easily crack or fray, leading wires to be exposed to water.
- Never use tacks or nails to pin up lights. Instead, spring for some light clips, that have adhesive to stick to the wall. These keep damage to a minimum and don’t run the risk of piercing the wire.
- Never leave lights on when you aren’t home or go to sleep. While it might be tempting to let the neighbors know that you are the Christmas Queen, you don’t want to come home from dinner to a smoldering home. Timers can be an easy way to turn the lights off after bedtime.
- Lights from Christmases long, long ago? No problem! Just check for frays and burnt out bulbs. Discard if there are any wires that are frayed, and replace any bulbs that didn’t make it.
- As stated before, don’t use more than three strands connected together. It overloads the circuits and can cause electrical fires.
- When decorating trees outside, make sure to not put lights on trees that come into contact with power lines. If a tree is close to the lines, call your electric provider and ask them to come to trim the tree.
Paper snowflakes, garlands, stockings, and other various items are great inexpensive ways to bring the yuletide cheer to your home. Just keep in mind that when hanging stockings or garland on the mantel, avoid lighting a fire. While the idea of warm socks is cozy, Christmas is meant to be spent at home, not at a hotel after those stockings spark. Avoid putting real candles in your windows, as curtains are highly flammable. Use battery-powered candles instead.
Nothing says Christmas like chestnuts roasting on an open fire...or maybe toasting marshmallows on a bent wire hanger, because who has really roasted chestnuts? Regardless, there are a few simple steps to keeping your fireplace safe for the winter season.
- Make sure the damper is open. This is the flap that opens up to allow smoke to go up the chimney. Instead of rolling around in soot like Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins, use a flashlight and a mirror to check if it's open.
- Get your flue cleaned once a year. Then you really can have a chimney sweep in your living room, and it won’t be you!
- Even if you don’t get a professional to come to clean your chimney, check for animal nests.
- Cap your chimney to prevent aforementioned animal nests, and birds flying into your living room. They also prevent rain from falling into your hearth.
- Never burn wrapping paper in a fire. Though it might seem like a tempting way to get rid of the mess, wrapping paper can flash fires. The paper ignites suddenly and burns at a high intensity. Instead, recycle or reuse!
- Burn dense wood such as oak for a less smoky fire. Pine, cedar, and other softwoods create lots of smoke that can create soot build up in your flue. Plus it doesn’t smell as nice.
- Speaking of wood, use firewood that has been cut and dried for at least six months, and stored high and dry.
For those of us without fireplaces, space heaters are a great alternative to fireplaces for keeping your house warm in the winter months. Keep in mind a few things about space heaters though, before plugging in:
- Give your space heater its own space! Don’t put them close to rugs, furniture, Christmas trees, or window treatments. Give at least three feet of clearance between these items and other flammable items in your home.
- Invest in a space heater that uses “smart” technology. Many use thermostats to turn off when the room reaches the desired temperature, or turn off if they get tipped over.
- Keep an eye on active children and pets that might knock over a space heater, or stray too close and burn themselves.
- Never leave a space heater unattended.
- Many space heaters operate by pulling air in through vents, so make sure to regularly clean these for dust accumulation.
- Using an extension cord increases the chance of fires. Instead, find a closer outlet, or if a cord has to be used, make sure it is three prong and is capable of handling the amount of electricity the space heater requires.
Enjoy the holidays and revel in the glory of your decorating skills, especially with the peace of mind that you are protecting you and your family against the worst. Our team is still here finding temporary housing solutions for displaced policyholders and adjusters. Temporary Accommodations wishes you and yours a fabulous holiday season, and a Happy New Year!