While it’s fun to decorate your home and get ready for festive gatherings, one thing that’s easily forgotten amid the holiday hubbub is safety. Consider these six seasonal safety tips for your home and family:
1. Don’t take electrical safety lightly.
With the proliferation of lights and electric-powered decorations, it’s wise to be diligent about electrical safety during the holidays. Before hanging lights, inspect each strand and dispose of any that appear damaged. You should also check all lights and electrical decor for current UL listings—if you find any with expired listings, throw them away.
Another important electrical safety guideline: don’t overdo it. Never connect more than three light strands together (unless you’re using LED lights—these pull far fewer amps than conventional lights) and go easy on the extension cords. An excess of extension cords poses a tripping hazard for you and your panel breaker, so avoid overloading your outlets and keep walkways clear of cords.
2. Hang lights with care.
Another holiday safety tip is to take precautions when hanging lights, especially from (or on) your roof. When accessing your roof to hang lights, it’s best to use an extension ladder instead of an A-frame ladder, as it will provide greater stability. Rest the ladder against the gutters or edge of the roof, make sure it’s positioned at a safe angle and tie it off at the top for good measure. Also, since you’ll be handling electricity, opt for a ladder that has fiberglass rails, which, unlike metal rails, won’t conduct electricity to the ground.
In addition to ladder safety, it’s wise to exercise electrical safety when hanging holiday lights. Avoid using adhesives like nails or staples to attach light strands, as these can cut through the wire insulation and create a fire hazard. Instead, use UL-approved hangers.
3. Reduce the risk of turning up the thermostat.
Beyond brightening up the night outside of our homes, the holidays provide an occasion to create warm, inviting spaces inside. However, it’s important to remember that the use of auxiliary heating sources brings an increased risk of related safety hazards. To minimize such risks, take proactive steps like changing your furnace’s air filter and having it inspected by a professional. When a furnace isn’t properly maintained, it can lead to problems with air quality and energy efficiency and even pose a fire hazard.
If your home has a fireplace, have your chimney inspected and, if necessary, swept. Like a dirty furnace, a dirty chimney can both decrease indoor air quality and pose a fire hazard. If you’re supplementing your main heat source with space heaters, make sure these are situated at least three feet away from any potentially flammable items.
4. Minimize fire risks.
Speaking of flammable items, people often forget that Christmas trees, while nice to look at, represent a potential combustion hazard. To reduce this risk, keep yours away from your furnace, fireplace or space heaters, and make sure it stays well-watered.
Another top cause of holiday house fires is unattended cooking equipment. With the increased amount of activity in the kitchen during the holiday season, it’s important to avoid distractions and keep an eye on things when cooking and/or baking.
5. Verify safety devices are present and functional.
With the increased use of heat and light sources during winter, it’s critical to verify that your home’s smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are situated and working correctly. Check the batteries and test all units for proper functionality. Additionally, make sure you have at least one fire extinguisher in the house and verify that it’s in working condition. If it’s more than six years old, replace it with a new one.
6. Give your kids the gift of safety.
The holidays are an especially exciting time for children, so don’t let the presence of potential hazards undermine the magic. Make an effort to keep lights, metal hooks, breakable ornaments and other dangerous decorations out of reach. If you have an infant or toddler, skip the tinsel this year—it’s a known choking hazard.
It’s also wise to keep children out of the kitchen when baking or preparing holiday meals. To minimize the chances for accidents, cook on the back burners as often as possible and turn pot handles inward when using the front burners. Before serving hot chocolate or apple cider to a child, check the temperature; if it’s too hot, add an ice cube to speed up the cooling.
All in all, by taking a proactive stance toward safety, you can better ensure a bright, warm and safe holiday for your family.
Read our follow-up article on safeguarding your home while away for the holidays.