The holiday season is upon us! Thoughts of glowing tree lights and the comfy coziness that warms our homes…the soft flicker of candles and the delicious scents that evoke childhood memories…the Christmas tree itself, decked with old and new ornaments, a place to gather ‘round and snuggle in with hot cocoa.
Ah, what a sweet scene!
As we deck our halls this year, there is a whole aspect of decorating that we must keep in mind – Holiday Home Safety. This festive season is also the time of year when accidents happen – from 2013-2017, U.S. fire departments responded to an average of more than 1,000 fires annually, caused by Christmas trees and holiday decorations (www.nfpa.org.) The tips in this Holiday Home Safety Guide are things you probably already know, and these are things you are most likely already doing. It’s always good to review – it’s literally better safe than sorry.
The three areas we are focusing on are: Candle Safety, Extension Cords and Power Strips, and Christmas Tree Safety.
According to the National Fire Protection Association:
-on average, 23 home candle fires are reported each day;
-the top three days for home candle fires are New Year’s Day, Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve;
-about 37% of home candle fires start in bedrooms.
It’s easy to get distracted with people in and out, little kids and pets running around, and falling asleep because we’re so worn out from all of the fun we’re having.
Use Battery-Operated Candles
I remember when these first came out – what a novelty! They were mostly little tea lights and votives. They were expensive and primarily available through wholesalers. LED replacement batteries were hard to find, and you had to turn each one on and off. Now, they are everywhere: in many styles, a range of price points, with timers and remote controls, and replacement batteries are easy to find. They are worth the investment.
Keep the 12” Circle Rule
Keep a 12-inch circle around any lighted candle. This keeps the open flame away from draperies, pillows and throws, bedding, and mail and paperwork that can be tossed on a table or counter.
Use Glass Hurricanes and Containers
If you want to have real candles, place them inside glass containers. Use hurricanes, glass jars, votive holders, lanterns, and other decorative containers to keep the flame safe from drafts or from being accidently knocked over. Keep in mind the containers themselves, especially metal lanterns, can become hot, so handle them with care and don’t burn yourself.
Keep the Flame in Sight
A scented candle is nice in a bathroom or powder room, but out of sight, out of mind. This also applies to bedrooms, a place that has so many flammable items. If I have a scented candle, I usually put it on the stovetop on a plate or trivet. I can see the kitchen from most places on the first floor, and I won’t forget it, because we turn all those lights off at night.
Extension Cords and Power Strips
This might not seem like an obvious safety issue, but did you know that extension cords are meant to be temporary? And I’m sure you know that power strips aren’t supposed to be overloaded? Or that there is a difference between a power strip and a surge protector?
According to SafeBee.com, a power strip is basically like an extension cord, while a surge protector will protect against power fluctuations in your electrical service. (According them, surge protectors will not prevent lightning damage.) Make sure you know what you’re buying and how many watts it can handle.
The Lifespan of Extension Cords
According to the Electrical Safety Foundation International (esfi.org,) extension cords are for temporary use and can deteriorate rapidly. You should never use a cord that is hot or damaged in any way.
Read the directions. Yes, extension cords come with directions. If it says not to join more than 3 sets, then don’t do it! Same with power strips/surge protectors. Don’t plug overloaded extension cords into power strips – that won’t end well.
Do not run any cords, extension or otherwise, under carpeting or rugs. Not only does that present a possible tripping hazard, they can wear away if you walk on them, exposing wires, and creating a fire hazard. Duct tape and painters tape aren’t good looks. They make special rubber floor cord protectors to run cords through (I found them on Amazon.) They aren’t pretty either, but that’s what they’re made for.
Pay attention to whether your cords/power strips/lights say “For Indoor AND/OR Outdoor Use.” Water and electricity don’t mix, so don’t put cords made for indoors out in the weather. Can outdoor cords be used indoors? Since each product is different, be safe and read the directions.
O Christmas Tree
Whether you get a real one each year, or have a “permanent botanical” – fake – tree, there are safe ways to enjoy both.
When you buy a tree from a tree lot, it was probably cut a few weeks ago.
-Shake it to see how many needles fall off. If it looks like a Charlie Brown tree, it’s probably already too dry.
-If you can, cut a slice off the bottom. This will give you fresher wood that’s not sealed from the original cut, and it gives you a fighting chance to get the tree to drink some water.
-Use hot water from the tap to water the tree the first few days. After it’s cut, the tree will produce sap, which can seal the bottom. The hot water will at least keep the sap soft for a few days. I’m not sure about additives. Your tree nursery may have some suggestions, but we’ve always used plain hot water.
-Check the water level of tree often. It’s a good idea to check it in the morning and at night. The more you keep the water level up, the longer it will keep drinking. We had a little Santa gizmo that looked like a tree ornament and had a sensor in the water. It would light up when the water was low. Even so, there’s no substitute for eyeballs on the water level.
-Use the right lights, and don’t overload how many strands can be plugged in together. Plug the tree directly into the wall outlet. Read the directions! Also, beware of using old or too many extension cords. If your “vintage” lights still have cloth on the wires, get new ones.
– Whether you have incandescent or LED lights on your tree, turn them off when you’re not at home. Same for fake trees.
-Most fake trees these days come pre-lit and will stay lighted if the occasional light goes out. If you set up your tree and most of the lights are out, it might be time to invest in a new one. We have a fake tree for the first time this year, and I have put the date on the box, so I’ll know when it’s getting worn out.
-Plug the tree directly into the wall outlet. We had a step-on switch that made it easy to turn the tree on and off. Again, it’s best to plug that directly into the wall outlet, too. I have been researching the ways that Alexa ™ can turn tree lights on and off, and there may be other phone apps that do it as well. That will work well if your outlet is hard to reach.
-If you need to add lights to your tree – say it with me – read the directions! Make sure you have the right type of lights, don’t plug too many strands together, and don’t overuse the extension cords.
-Whether you have incandescent or LED lights on your tree, turn it off when you’re not at home. Same for real trees.
I know you already checked your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and changed out those batteries when we changed the clocks back a couple of weeks ago. By following these holiday home safety tips, my hope is that you and yours have a safe, exciting and blessed holiday season!
P.S. I’d love to give a shout out to the National Fire Protection Association, headquartered in Quincy, Massachusetts – nfpa.org. They have tons of seasonal fire safety information, including free printable tip sheets and childrens’ coloring pages.