Here's your go-to guide for holiday home safety
Stay injury- and fire-free in the most festive months of the year.
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Ah, the holidays. It’s a time of cheer, depression, family dysfunction, and everything in-between! Unsurprisingly, it’s also a time when the fire departments and the police departments are at their busiest.
Between the social events, the shopping, and the traveling, the holidays are stressful enough; no one wants to add “fire damage” or “lasting physical injury” into the already-packed calendar that is the last three months of the year. As a starting point for fire prevention, be sure to check out our article about the best fire extinguishers for homeowners.
We researched some of the most common injuries and types of fires that happen around this time of year. Here are some tips that will help you to avoid having to spend time in the ER when you’d rather be handing out Halloween candy, eating Thanksgiving turkey, lighting Hanukkah candles, or singing Christmas carols.
1. Minimize real-flame candles. Stay away from the pyrotechnics as much as possible, even if you’re just lighting tealight candles to sit inside your jack-o-lanterns. The National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) recommends that you always use battery-operated candles or glow sticks in jack-o-lanterns.
2. Keep decorations away from heat. Corn stalks, crepe paper, and other spooky decorations are often extremely flammable. Be sure to keep all decorations as far from sources of heat as possible, whether it’s a candle or a space heater.
3. Make sure you can walk—and see—in your costume. We all love a great Halloween costume, but try not to wear costumes with long trains of fabric or ones that block your regular or peripheral vision. The former could present a tripping hazard, and the latter is especially problematic when it comes to moving quickly, going up and down stairs, or navigating public transportation.
4. Don't sacrifice your fire alarm for your smoke machine. Nothing creates a spooky atmosphere better than some dry ice or a smoke machine, and these tend to set off fire alarms. Please do not turn off your fire alarms, since if an actual fire does break out, they may prove to be life savers.
5. Make a haunted house, not a death trap. If you’re setting up a haunted house, be sure that there are multiple exits clearly marked, and that the paths to those exits are clear. Getting lost in a haunted maze can be fun, but if you can’t escape it in an emergency, it really can turn into a house of horrors.
According to the NFPA, unattended cooking is the leading contributor of cooking fire and fire deaths on Thanksgiving. Additionally, out of the entire year, Thanksgiving is the day with the highest number of home cooking fires. As a precaution, be sure to test your fire alarms before the cooking begins.
1. Know that turkey fryers are a fire hazard. The NFPA advises against using turkey fryers, since they are a massive fire hazard. If you must fry a turkey, though, please do it well away from your home, and have (and know how to use) multiple fire extinguishers.
2. Keep an eye on your stove. Do not leave food that is cooking on a stovetop or in an oven unattended. Stepping away for even a few minutes can result in a quickly growing kitchen fire.
3. Escort kids out of the kitchen. Keep children away from cooking food (unless carefully supervised), or any utensils or food preparation tools with sharp blades. It just takes one moment of inattention for a kid to be splashed with hot oil or to cut herself with a knife meant to cut through meat.
4. Minimize tripping hazards. Big holiday meals with lots of slow cookers and appliances can mean cords in high-traffic pathways. Make sure the table and major socializing areas are free of tripping hazards. Big meals often mean large or heavy food platters, and tripping over a toy or a pair of shoes while carrying a big tureen of soup could mean a twisted ankle and scalded relatives.
Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Christmas, and Winter Solstice
Whatever winter holiday you celebrate, it’s usually a time of lighting candles and eating big meals. Please abide by the same safety tips mentioned in the Thanksgiving section.
1. Remember that your Christmas tree is highly flammable. Christmas trees, whether they’re real or fake, are extremely flammable. Be sure to keep them at least three feet away from any heat sources, including baseboard heating, space heaters, and candles. For real trees, the better watered it is, the less flammable it is.
Keep your tree away from heat sources, and water it regularly. Lastly, be sure to use a Christmas tree stand. They not only provide an easy place to water your tree, but it can make your tree less of a tipping hazard.
2. Don't leave your menorah unattended. Make sure that any lit candles are not left unattended. Candles can fall over, or hot wax can drip down from candle holders and ignite any number of flammable objects (tablecloths, wrapping paper, etc.).
3. Take good care of that roaring fireplace. Do not toss anything in a fireplace that’s not supposed to be there (i.e. anything not logs/wood or newspaper). Do not leave fireplaces unattended, especially immediately after adding logs to the fire.
Be sure to have your chimney flue serviced before you actually start using the fireplace. Santa may not care if the chimney’s blocked up, but without a safe place to vent the hot air, your fireplace is a fire hazard waiting to happen. Lastly, make sure to hang decorations a safe distance away from the fire in your fireplace. It’s pretty easy for a stray spark to ignite a stocking.
4. Hang holiday lights safely. If you’re hanging lights outdoors at heights high enough to require a ladder, be sure to have someone holding the ladder while you’re standing on it. Also make sure that the ladder’s support struts are locked in place, and do not stand on the top step of the ladder—there’s nothing against which you can brace yourself if you lose your balance.
In general, having a second pair of eyes while you hang lights outside isn’t a bad idea. If something does happen, it helps to have someone else around who can dial 911. When plugging in outdoor lights, make sure you're using specific outdoor plugs; with wind, water, and snow, extension cords from indoor outlets might not be up to snuff.
5. Know how to properly clean broken ornaments. Not everyone buys the expensive glass or metal baubles to adorn their tree, but if you have them, and they fall and break, be sure to sweep up or vacuum up as much as possible. Slivers of glass or metal can stab your feet, or be ingested by unknowing kids or pets.
6. Consider if you really need those roof decorations. We understand that you really want to put a replica of Santa’s sleigh and reindeer up there, but if you can skip the roof decorations, please do so. Thousands of people are hospitalized each year around the holidays due to falls from the roof or from ladders. If you really must get up onto the roof, keep an eye out for icy spots, be sure to wear boots with strong treads or grips, be sure to have a second person spotting you, and move very, very carefully while you’re up there.
7. Use the right extension cords—and keep them out of high traffic areas. A number of injuries are caused by extension cords, but not the way you’d expect. While you do have to ensure you're using outdoor extension cords, people often trip over extension cords, both indoors and outside.
If you do use extension cords for holiday decorating, make sure the cords are tucked along walls or are otherwise out of the way. Do your best not to stretch them across doorways, stairs, or other regular access points.
8. Don't overload your circuits with plugs. Between the lights, the decorations, and new gifts, it is easy to overload the circuits in your house. Avoid plugging multiple power strips or extension cords into one another. For devices that draw lots of power, like hair dryers, coffee makers, and space heaters, don’t plug any other devices into those wall outlets.
Make sure the areas around power strips and outlets are free of any flammable materials. If there’s a power surge, sparks from the outlet could ignite anything nearby.
If you have a GFCI outlet (that’s one of the outlets that has the “test” button on it), those outlets have a safety feature where they trip (shut off) when they sense too much power is being drawn. If a specific outlet has turned off more than once, that’s a signal that too many things (or a single power-sucking device) are plugged into that outlet. Unplug everything, and see if you can multiple outlets around the house, instead of cramming multiple devices onto one outlet.
New Year’s Eve
Remember that fireworks are dangerous. We all love playing with fireworks. However, it’s also relatively easy to start a fire with fireworks. You wouldn’t think it’d be possible, but a number of firework-related injuries occur each year via the most benign of them all: sparklers.
When you’re setting off fireworks (assuming it’s legal in your state), make sure that you’re setting them off in a flat, wide-open space that is largely dirt or pavement, since fireworks can easily ignite dried grass.
Additionally, keep fireworks safety items on hand like a bucket of water, a hose, and/or a fire extinguisher. If something goes wrong, you can put out the fire quickly; if your fireworks display is successful, you should douse all of the used or dud fireworks before tossing them out.