Protect your home and loved ones from common dangers this holiday season
As we approach the holidays, our thoughts turn to parties, presents, and preparing delicious food. It’s a festive season that many of us look forward to all year. Unfortunately, along with family gatherings, gifts galore, and Christmas cookies come unique risks to our homes, loved ones, and personal possessions.
According to the Red Cross, the number of home fires increases during the fall and winter months, peaking in December and January. And CNN has reported that in many states, December is a peak month for home burglaries. Frigid weather may also mean frozen pipes and the attendant water damage, while busy holiday schedules and seasonal vacations mean no one is home to hear fire alarms, deter burglars with their presence, or notice interior flooding before extensive damage occurs.
Thankfully, there are many things you can do to protect and secure your home and loved ones this season. Read on for our top holiday safety tips.
A tragic Christmas tree fire teaches valuable lessons about holiday safety
In January 2015, tragedy struck a family in Annapolis Maryland when wiring beneath their 15-foot Christmas tree started a massive fire. The dried-out tree fueled the blaze, which engulfed the home in minutes and claimed the lives of six people before they had a chance to escape.
The tree had been up for nine weeks and had been watered only weekly. According to NBC News, “As part of the investigation, the ATF conducted controlled burns, and found that a tree watered daily took seven minutes to ignite a dangerous fire. A tree watered only weekly, however, erupted in 30 seconds into flames that could be dangerous.”
National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) statistics show that although Christmas tree fires represent less than 1% of all residential fires, they’re much more likely to be deadly than most other types. In fact, “One of every 45 reported home Christmas tree fires results in a death, compared to an annual average of one death per 139 reported home fires.” Here are some ways to prevent Christmas tree fires and other blazes related to holiday decorations:
Tips to prevent Christmas tree fires
- If you choose to decorate with a real Christmas tree, choose a fresh tree, which is much less likely to catch fire than a dry one. Look for a tree with soft, flexible green needles that don’t fall off easily, rather than one with brown, brittle needles that drop when the tree is shaken gently.
- Place your tree in water as soon as possible after you get it home. A Christmas tree stand with a large water reservoir works best.
- Use a Christmas tree stand that fits your tree. Avoid carving off the sides of the trunk to fit the tree into the stand, as its outer layers of wood are the most efficient at taking in water.
- Keep Christmas trees and other combustible materials away from heat sources like fireplaces, radiators, and heat vents. Make sure the tree isn’t blocking an exit.
- Provide your Christmas tree with a constant source of water, making sure its base is always submerged. Check the water level in the reservoir multiple times a day if necessary.
- Check your Christmas tree for signs of dryness regularly and remove it from your home if it does dry out, or as soon as the holidays are over.
Holiday and Christmas safety tips for decorating
- According to NFPA, electrical distribution or lighting equipment is involved in 44% of Christmas tree fires. When purchasing decorations, opt for items that are labeled as flame resistant or flame retardant. And only use electrical decorations that have been tested for safety by an independent lab, such as UL (formerly known as Underwriters Laboratories).
- Follow packaging directions for decorative light strings. Lights are typically labeled for either indoor or outdoor use, but not both. Do not string together more sets of lights than the product’s instructions recommend.
- Inspect electrical and battery-operated decorations for damage before use. Look for loose or damaged sockets, wires, and connections which can cause electrical shock or start a fire.
- When putting up holiday decorations, protect electrical cords from damage. Don’t pinch or bend them, force them into small spaces, or place them where they’re likely to be stepped on or tripped over. Never nail or staple electrical cords.
- Be careful not to overload electrical circuits and outlets. Be mindful of how many decorations and appliances you have plugged into each outlet and circuit.
- 57% percent of December home-decoration fires are started by candles. Consider using battery-operated candles in place of traditional ones for Hanukkah celebrations or to set the Christmas mood. And never place burning candles near anything flammable or leave them unattended.
- You should also turn off or unplug electrical decorations before leaving the house or going to bed.
Environmental alarms provide early warning of potentially dangerous situations
With the increased risk of fire during the holiday season, it’s important to have working smoke alarms installed throughout your home. Smoke detectors should be tested monthly, at a minimum, and alarm batteries should be replaced regularly. NFPA provides valuable information on smoke alarm requirements, testing, and more.
Cold winter weather may cause damage to your home’s pipes. Flood sensors can detect even the smallest leaks and alert you to problems in time to prevent expensive water damage. During the busy holiday season, it can be especially helpful to have smoke and heat and flood sensors (as part of a smart home security system) that alert you to risks at home, even when you’re away.
Home security is another facet of Christmas safety
Around the holidays, darkness falls earlier than any other time of year, providing cover to burglars interested in making off with our holiday goodies. Stacks of gifts sit, waiting to be wrapped, or on full display under the Christmas tree. Cash-filled cards wait on counters or in stockings, ready to be handed out.
Keep your home and property secure with these holiday safety tips
- Rather than displaying the piles of gifts spilling out from under your Christmas tree to passers-by, keep your curtains closed to avoid tempting would-be burglars.
- After you’ve opened your presents and put them away, don’t set out boxes from large or expensive gifts on your curbside, either. Instead, flatten and fold the boxes and put them in opaque garbage bags or bins to await trash collection.
- Keep your home’s exterior well-lit to deter thieves. Decorative light displays are pretty, but bright lighting outside of entry areas is what really matters when it comes to home security. Motion-activated lights can be especially effective.
- Make sure your home’s entry points are secure. Doors and windows should be locked. It may seem like common sense, but according to the 2014 FBI Uniform Crime Report, as many as 35% of burglaries occur through unlocked doors and windows. Even second-floor windows need to be locked. Burglars may not have access to flying reindeer, but most are fully capable of climbing trees or using ladders to access second-story points of entry.
- Plug in exterior decorative lights outside, rather than running the cord through a slightly open door or window. Even the small gap left by the cord provides space for burglars to pry open doors and windows and access your home.
- Don’t hide spare keys in obvious places (under a doormat, in a planter, on a light). Better yet, don’t hide a spare key at all—leave an extra with a trusted neighbor or install a smart door lock. These locks allow you to unlock the door using a keypad or a mobile app.
- Install glass break sensors, door and window sensors, motion sensors, and cameras with motion detectors. In conjunction with professional home security monitoring services, these devices can sound an alarm, provide instant mobile alerts, and notify security services to send emergency personnel if someone enters your home without your permission.
- Spread a little holiday cheer by getting to know your neighbors. Let trusted individuals know if you’re going to be gone, and they can notify you or the appropriate authorities if they see anything concerning.
- If you travel for the holidays, don’t advertise your absence. Ask a friend or neighbor to pick up your packages, shovel your snow, or make footprints and tire tracks on your sidewalk and driveway. Utilizing smart light bulbs or wireless light controls to turn your lights off and on remotely or on a set schedule also helps your home looked lived in when you’re away.
- Police yourself on social media. Don’t update your current location when you’re away from home, brag about upcoming trips, or talk about expensive gifts you’ve received. Burglars seek out this information and use it to target homes and the best times to break-in.
- Install a comprehensive home security system with professional monitoring services and arm it. Using a service that provides cellular monitoring secures your home even if a burglar were to cut your landline.
Follow these holiday safety tips and enjoy security this festive season and throughout the new year. Interested in learning more about safeguarding your home and loved ones year-round, or getting up-to-date news on the latest in-home security technology?