Is your home safety-proofed for the holidays?

Winter Safety

Winter SafetyFor many of us, the holidays are a busy time filled with gifts to wrap, cookies to bake, family to entertain and parties to attend. Unfortunately, it’s easy for fire prevention and other safety issues to be overlooked during the hustle and bustle of the season, but they should never get put on the back burner (pun intended). According to National Fire Protection Association, more than 40% of home fires occur during the months of December, January and February. Listed below are some precautions to take to help ensure that you and your loved ones have a safe and happy holiday season.

O’ Christmas Tree

While the Christmas tree is a festive tradition in many homes, it is estimated that about 600 fires a year are started by the ignition of Christmas trees. As such, care should be taken when selecting a fresh tree. The needles should be green, hard to pull back from the branches, and should not break when bent between two fingers. Another way to test the freshness of a tree is by tapping the base on the ground. If too many needles fall off, it means the tree is too dry and can create a fire hazard. After selecting your tree, cut a few inches off the trunk to expose fresh wood and help ensure better water absorption. Once in place, it is important to keep the tree stand filled with water at all times. If purchasing an artificial tree, look for one labeled “Fire Resistant.” Then, whether you choose to place your tree in your living room, family room or lower level, make sure it is at least three feet away from fireplaces, radiators and portable heaters.

Menorahs and other Candles

If you celebrate Hanukkah, choose a menorah that’s sturdy and made of fire-safe materials. A menorah should not be placed in closed areas such as between bookshelves. If you wish to display your menorah in the window, ensure that curtains and draperies are far away from the candles’ flames. You can place aluminum foil, a ceramic dish or other non-flammable material under the menorah to catch hot wax or to prevent a fire from starting should one of the candles fall over. Consider using battery-operated candles instead of traditional candles. However, if you can’t pass up the ambiance of traditional candles, never leave an open flame unattended and keep lighted candles away from combustible material. Ensure that all candles are extinguished before going to bed, leaving children unattended or departing your home.

Electrical Decorations and Extension Cord Safety

When decorating your home, be sure all of your electrical items and extensions cords have been approved by a nationally recognized testing laboratory, such the Underwriters Laboratory (UL). Remember to inspect and test your lights each year before using them. On any type of electrical decoration, it is important to check for cracked or frayed sockets, loose connections, and loose or bare wires, all of which can cause serious shocks or start a fire. Always unplug electrical decorations before replacing any bulbs or fuses, and remember to turn off both indoor and outdoor electrical decorations before going to bed or leaving the house. If using an extension cord for your holiday decorating, select one that is long enough to meet your needs, since it is not advisable to extend the length of an extension cord by connecting one to another. Ensure that the cord is rated for the products that will be plugged into it, and that it is appropriately marked for either indoor or outdoor use. Outdoor extension cords and light strands should be kept clear of snow and standing water. Also, be sure not to place extension cords in high traffic areas, under carpets, or across walkways, which can cause wear and create tripping hazards. Lastly, cover any unused outlets on the cord to prevent children from making contact with a live circuit.

Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire

Surely, fireplaces help to create cozy winter family gatherings, but homeowners should adhere to proper servicing schedules, maintenance recommendations, and safety precautions to ensure they don’t become an unwelcome guest. Whether you have a gas or wood-burning fireplace, a regular schedule of service and maintenance is highly recommended. Wood-burning fireplace flues should be cleaned at least once every two years – more depending on usage. An annual chimney inspection is also recommended, where an inspector will thoroughly review the condition of the caps and mesh, crown, flashing, bricks and masonry, liners, and ducts. Also, ensure that overhanging branches are cut back at least 10 feet from the chimney opening to prevent them from catching fire, as well as prevent any obstruction to the flow of smoke. With both vented-gas and wood-burning fireplaces, make sure the damper is open before lighting a fire. A closed damper would cause the smoke or carbon monoxide to back up into the room, which can be both dangerous and damaging. If you have a gas fireplace, remember that the pilot light is an active flame that is burning in the unit at all times. Therefore, it is suggested that you turn off the pilot light before using flammable materials in the vicinity. For additional information on fireplace safety see: Longing for a Cozy Fire?