For many families, one of the highlights of the holiday season is decking the halls. As you wrap lights around your tree or light candles in the menorah, though, you are not just spreading holiday cheer – you’re also increasing the chances of fire in your home.
The holiday season is notorious for home fires, with an average of 47,000 occurring at this time of year, every year. Fortunately, there’s plenty you can do to protect your home and, more importantly, your family. Follow these four tips for a cozy, safe holiday season.
1. Keep Your Tree Hydrated
One of the biggest fire hazards in your home is your Christmas tree. Many homeowners neglect to regularly water their tree, which results in it drying out. Having a dry tree is a recipe for disaster. Think of it this way: Pine trees are used to make turpentine, an incredibly flammable substance. Your dried-out tree could light up in as little as 30 seconds.
That’s why it’s imperative that you properly care for your tree. First and foremost, buy one that’s not already dried out: Check the needles to make sure they’re still healthy. Have the seller chop the trunk to reveal a healthy, thirsty new layer. Then, stay on top of your watering schedule. It turns out that a well-watered tree is very, very difficult to set on fire, because it has water within its branches and leaves.
Finally, you can prevent a fire by putting your tree in a spot that’s far from any sources of heat. Newer string lights don’t emit much heat, either, so perhaps you’ll have to upgrade your decor as well. To further reduce your risk, you could even swap out your live tree for an artificial one.
2. Mind Your Candles
Flickering candles set a romantic, festive scene, but they also pose a fire hazard when left unattended. The number of candle fires is higher in December than in any other month, likely due to the fact that so many people use them to decorate. The best way to avoid this is to invest in a set of LED flameless candles, which glow and flicker like lit candles do. You could even pair them with a scent diffuser if you miss the fragrance of your candles.
This is especially troubling as a recent study by Fisher-Price found that only 29% of children engage in outdoor play, and that number is assuredly lower in the winter. Meaning there is a high risk of your little one possibly injuring themselves from a candle flame, or worse. If you love traditional candles too much to say goodbye, always supervise them while they’re burning and be sure to blow everything out before you leave the house. Also, be sure to leave space around and above your candle so it doesn’t ignite other pieces of decor.
3. Clear the Fireplace
Another fire hazard to consider in December: your fireplace. Everyone loves to gather around a crackling fire, but only do so after you have cleaned out the chimney. Have an expert inspect chimney walls to make sure they’re clear of any hardened soot, which becomes flammable. You should also invest in a screen if your mantle doesn’t have a built-in door to stop embers from crackling out and onto something flammable, like your carpet, furniture or tree.
Also, while many Christmas mornings involve homeowners throwing wrapping paper into the flames, you’re better off sticking to wood only, even when starting your fire. Accelerants and other liquids can cause things to get out of control.
4. Inspect Your String Lights
You probably only use your string lights once a year, meaning they sit in a box for the other 11 months. During that time – and during last year’s use – they may have become frayed to expose wires, whether they’re bent the wrong way or chewed by some type of pest. Exposed wires can be the spark to start a fire on Christmas, so make sure all of your string lights’ inner workings are protected before plugging them in.
Be aware of how you hang your lights, too. The convenience offered by a staple gun is negated by the fact that staples can cause your wires to break and open, increasing the risk of a fire. The same goes for nails. The safest way to hang your lights is with hooks or another type of hanger that simply holds the wires without piercing them. Finally, always turn your lights off when you go to bed or leave the house. If you must display your outdoor lighting masterpiece regardless of whether or not you’re inside, put your lights on a timer so that they’re not overworked.
Clearly, it takes a bit of preparation and dedication in order to safeguard your home over the holidays. With these precautions, the only thing you’ll have to worry about this December is whether or not you’ve got a gift for everyone on your list – that one is on you.
Megan Wild is a home improvement writer who cares deeply about function and form in the home. You can read more of her musings at Your Wild Home.