Holiday Fire Safety: Trees & Lighting

As we move further into the holiday season, the risk of home fires increases even more. In Part 1 of our holiday fire safety series, we discussed open-flame hazards, such as fireplaces, candles, and cooking. In this post, we’re going to talk about how decorations can be hazardous, including things like Christmas trees, lighting, and other electrical hazards.

Christmas Trees

Real Christmas trees look and smell great, but they are also one of the leading causes of fires during the holiday season—starting about 210 fires each year. Here’s how to keep your tree pretty and bright (minus the flames of course).

Fire safety starts with the tree selection process. The Christmas Tree Association says that fresh trees are less likely to catch fire because they aren’t dried out. The CTA also says to keep an eye out for “vibrant green needles that are hard to pluck.” This means the needles will be less likely to shed and start a fire with any possible hazards. Keeping it watered after you put it up in your home is another way to help prevent fires.

Once you’ve found the perfect tree and bring it home, avoid placing it next to the fireplace or any candles. Open flames plus dry needles and wood are not a great combination. If your tree has the remotest chance of making contact with a flame, coal, ember, or even a tiny spark, move it further away.

Turn off your lights connected to the Christmas tree whenever you’re not home or you are going to sleep at night. Remember what we said above about using a timer for your lights? Even if you don’t have one for your other lights, it’s a good idea to use one for your tree lights to avoid overheating. Also, investing in some LED lights for your tree is another good idea.

Finally, don’t hang onto the tree longer than necessary. The longer you have it, the drier it will become – and the more likely it will be to start a fire. If you live in a place with tree collection, find out when someone is coming around to pick it up. Otherwise, dispose of it responsibly or repurpose it.

Indoor & Outdoor Lighting

Some people are known to go a little “extreme” with their holiday décor – especially with outdoor lights! Whether you’re lighting up your indoors or your outdoors, here are a few precautions you might want to take.

Buy LED lights! Curious children are extremely likely to reach out and grab bright holiday lights, but if you use LED lights, they will not be hot enough to burn anyone – even if someone grabs them directly with bare hands. They are also going to be much less likely to overheat and spark a fire that way.

Also, it’s a good idea to set up a timer system. That way, even if you forget to turn off the lights, they will automatically turn off at the designated time. This will prevent overheating by leaving the lights on too long – and it will also save you a few dollars on your electric bill.

Finally, if you are using outdoor lights, make sure they are rated for the outdoors. Many lights are made for use in either location, but it is always good to double check, especially if you have older strings of lights that you inherited from your parents. One way to know the difference is that the lights will have an Underwriters Laboratories (UL) tag on them that indicates whether they are safe for indoor or outdoor use. Outdoor tags will be red or silver with red lettering.

Find more safety tips in our Electrical Safety Guide.

Electrical Safety

Holiday decorations usually mean a plethora of cords, wires, and plugs. This can quickly lead to overloaded outlets, dangerously hanging wires, and trips and falls – among other potential hazards. These precautions will help minimize the burns, sparks, and flames potentially associated with electrical decorations.

First of all, inspect everything closely – every wire, every plug, and every bulb. Yes, it may take awhile, but if even one little nick in wire insulation or one jiggly prong on a plug can cause irreparable damage (and possibly death), so it’s worth taking a little extra time to make sure everything is safe. If you have the slightest doubt about whether an electric decoration is safe, it’s better to throw it away rather than tempting fate.

Once you’ve made sure everything is safe to plug in, plan out your wire routes to minimize criss-crossing and potential for tripping. Criss-crossed wires can easily become tangled and interfere with each other, and if wires are in high-traffic areas, they can cause people to stumble, which can damage the wires and lead to sparks or other hazards.

Finally, make sure outlets are not overloaded. If you need to have more plugs, make sure you use grounded power strips that have a built-in circuit breaker. This will help prevent fires and make sure that any power surges will cut off the power rather than potentially causing safety issues.

Stay Safe During the Holidays

Whether you are the brightest house on the block or only put up a few small items to celebrate the season, there are always things you can do to make your holiday as safe as possible. Don’t skimp on the safety, and have other tips and information, tweet us or share with us on Facebook.