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12 tips for safer holiday home decorating

12 tips for safer holiday home decorating

For many, the holidays are a joyous and busy time of year. Between entertaining guests, decorating your home and shopping for gifts, it’s easy to get wrapped up (no pun intended) in the holiday cheer – leaving safety as one of the last things on your mind. However, certain holiday decorations can introduce new risks into your home that you need to be aware of and plan for. 

Before you start ‘decking the halls’ this holiday season, here are twelve practical safety tips you should follow to keep you, your home, and your loved ones safe.

1. Test all smoke alarms before you start decorating.
Holiday decorations, such as live evergreen trees and candles, can introduce new fire risks into your home. Before you start setting up any holiday decorations, it’s important to ensure that all smoke alarms in your home are working correctly. Take a walk through your home and test each smoke alarm, installing new batteries as required. Any smoke alarm older than ten years should be replaced.

2. If you’re buying a live evergreen tree, make sure it’s fresh.
When choosing your tree, you want to select one that’s fresh and moist. Not only will a fresh tree last longer and look better, but it will also pose less of a fire hazard than one that’s dry and brittle. To check that the tree you’re shopping for is fresh, ensure that its needles are green, hard to pull from the branches, and don’t break when bent between your fingers. The bottom of the tree should be sticky, and when tapped on the ground it should not lose many needles. 

3. If opting for an artificial tree, check for a “Fire Resistant” label.
This label means that your artificial tree is less susceptible to catching fire. Continue to exercise caution and be mindful of any nearby heat sources, since an artificial tree – like an evergreen tree – still poses a fire risk.

4. Position trees away from heat sources.
If you’re bringing a live evergreen tree into your home, you’ll need to find a spot for it a safe distance away from any heat sources. Take a look around your home and note the location of any fireplaces, vents, space heaters and radiators. These heat sources could quickly dry out your tree and increase its flammability. If you choose to decorate your tree with lights, make sure that they are in good working condition and are never left on unattended – this applies to artificial trees too.

5. Keep your tree hydrated.
Once you’ve found a nice, cool spot for your tree, secure it in a stable tree stand and remember to monitor its water levels daily. The base of the tree’s trunk should be submerged at all times. If you notice that your tree’s needles are brown, or if they fall off easily, it’s a sign that your tree is too dry and can quickly become a fire hazard.

6. Choose your ornaments and interior decorations carefully.
Opt for decorations that are non-flammable and fire resistant. If you expect to be sharing your home with children or pets at any point over the holidays, you should avoid decorations that are sharp, breakable, have small parts or could be mistaken for food or candy. Shiny decorations – such as tinsel and ornaments – are particularly attractive to cats and can pose a choking risk. Take a walk through your home and remove any loose or low-hanging items that could be harmful to small children or pets.

7. Always keep burning candles secure and within sight.
Keep all candles on a stable, heat-resistant surface. Ensure that all lit candles are positioned a safe distance away from any flammable items – such as trees, curtains, furniture, or other decorations. If pets or children will be in your home, ensure that any lit candles are kept in a place where they are safely out of reach and cannot be easily knocked over. Extinguish all candles before you leave the room, leave the house, or go to bed. Never leave a lit candle unattended.

8. Beware of poisonous plants.
Poinsettias, holly, and mistletoe – while festive – can be poisonous when eaten. Be sure to keep these holiday plants out of reach of small children and pets, or avoid them altogether. 

9. Plan your exterior decorations thoughtfully and assess any risks ahead of time.
Ensure that all exterior decorations are located in a place where they will not impede walking paths. Keep railings clear so you and your holiday visitors can grab onto them for stability when necessary. Rooftop decorations, such as inflatable Santas and reindeer, can become a safety hazard in inclement weather. Keep an eye on the forecast and give yourself enough time to safely remove exterior decorations if necessary. 

10. Carefully check all lights, outlets, and extension cords before plugging in.
If you’re in the market for new holiday lights, opt for LED lights. LED lights remain much cooler than incandescent bulbs, meaning that they are less likely to burn fingers or cause a fire. Double-check if your lights are suitable for indoor or outdoor use, and string them accordingly. Check each strand of lights for frayed wires, broken bulbs, or loose connections before plugging in. Avoid mounting lights with nails, tacks or staples, as these installation methods could damage the cord’s insulation, risking electrocution or fire. Instead, string lights through hooks, or secure them with plastic clips or insulated tape. Extension cords should never be connected together. Instead, use a longer extension cord that wraps close to the wall where it will not pose a tripping hazard. 

11. Avoid overloading circuits.
Circuit breakers and fuses act as fail-safes against an overload of electricity. If one of the circuits in your home becomes overloaded, the circuit breaker or the fuse blows, breaking the circuit to prevent an overload. However, circuit breakers and fuses aren’t always reliable. To avoid a fire hazard, ensure that your home’s circuits are not overloaded with too many lights, extension cords, or other electronic devices. 

12. Turn off all lights before leaving home or going to bed.
Always remember to turn off all lights before leaving home or going to bed. Not only will you save money on your energy bills,but ensuring that your holiday lights aren’t left on unsupervised will mitigate your risk of fire. Consider putting your holiday lights and other electronic decorations on a timer, so you never forget to switch them off before falling asleep. 

Sometimes accidents happen to even the most prepared and cautious homeowners. That’s why it’s important to know that you have the right insurance coverage. If you have any questions about your existing home coverage, contact your OTIP insurance broker at 1-888-892-4935.

We wish you a safe and happy holiday season!