Some say you should make your home cheery and bright as early as October; others say it's absolute lunacy to put up a wreath before Thanksgiving day. Regardless of where your allegiances lie on this critical topic, one thing is for sure; it's essential to practice indoor holiday decorating safety. Nothing can take the joy out of the most wonderful time of the year like a fire or other electrical hazard that can harm your home or health.
Keep your home merry and bright this holiday season with some of our indoor seasonal decorating safety tips. Are you looking for safety tips for lighting the outside of your home? Check out our article covering the dos and don'ts of outdoor holiday lighting.
“O Tannenbaum, O Tannenbaum”: Holiday Tree Lighting and Other Safety Tips
The origins of the Christmas tree are traced back to 16th-century Germans, who started the tradition of bringing decorated trees into their homes for the holiday season. Lit candles were added to the tree to give it the appearance of stars. Throughout time, we've adapted this tradition to use electrical lights instead of open flames on trees due to their efficiency and safety.
Centuries later, the Christmas tree remains the foundation of most home holiday decorations. It's the center around which all other decorations are placed. While essential to the holiday look, trees can also be hazardous if they aren't given proper care. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), between 2015 and 2019, U.S. fire departments responded to an average of 160 home fires that started from Christmas trees each year.
Regardless of where you fall on the artificial versus natural tree debate, it's essential to note the safety concern with real trees. If you neglect your tree, it can dry out and become flammable. Here are a few indicators to make sure your tree is still fresh:
- Color - A fresh tree will have green needles. Dry trees will show a pale grey or yellow-green color.
- Needle and branch strength - You shouldn't be able to pull a needle off the tree's branches easily. Also, needles should bend under your finger but not break.
- Tree branch temperature - A fresh tree with enough water will feel cool when you feel its branches.
A dry tree, a heat source and faulty holiday decorations don't mix. A spark from a defective bulb on an incandescent light strand, a wobbly candle that tips over or an ember from a fireplace can quickly set a tree ablaze.
If you choose to have a real tree in your home, you have to give it the proper TLC to stay as fresh as possible. You shouldn't let it get too dry, as it won't be as resistant to heat. Here are a few suggestions from the United States Consumer Products Safety Commission for taking care of your Christmas tree:
- Always place your tree away from fireplaces, radiators and other major heat sources.
- Trim branches as necessary.
- Cut 1-2 inches off the bottom of your tree when it begins to dry out for better water absorption.
- Keep the tree stand filled with water.
Now we've discussed ways to avoid turning your tree into kindling for a full-on holiday meltdown, let's move into one of the most common ignition: candles.
"...As We Dream by the Fire:" Christmas Candle and Fireplace Safety
Candles are a symbol of the holiday season. The small flame or collection of small flames can represent hope, unity and a time of peace on Earth. While the candle's symbolism of good tidings can encourage and uplift you, there is still a potential danger when you have an open flame in your home.
Regardless of the candle's size, an open flame near any flammable material can quickly turn a small blaze into a roaring fire. According to the National Candle Association, candles start an average of 8,200 home fires each year. The NFPA cites Christmas as the peak day for candle-related house fires in the United States.
A scented candle can add holiday appeal to your home with its aroma and warm glow, but it's smart to keep a few of the National Candle Association's best practices in the back of your mind when lighting these wax instruments of warmth:
- Trim your candle wick before lighting. If your candle doesn't have any manufacturer recommendations, ¼ inch is the suggested length for your wick.
- Don't let your candle burn all day or unattended. Leaving your candle burning unattended will increase the likelihood of an accident as you won't be able to respond to an accident as quickly. Enjoy your candles while you're in the room, limit sessions to four hours or less, and allow the wax to cool off afterward.
- Give lit candles three inches of space. You shouldn't place lit candles right next to each other. Then need space for even burning and wax melting.
Like a candle, the fireplace brings back many warm memories of past holidays for you. It's essential to keep any flammable decorations at least three feet away from your fireplace or lit candles. Make sure to use a screen whenever you light your fireplace to allow airflow for the fire while containing its embers. The candle and fireplace's spot as symbols of holiday illumination are longstanding, but electric holiday lights have become the go-to source of colorful outdoor and indoor lighting.
"May Your Days Be Merry and Bright": Indoor Holiday Lights and Other Electrical Safety
The electrical Christmas tree lights were popularized in the late 19th and early 20th century as lightbulbs became easier and less expensive to manufacture. Today, you're bound to see several outdoor holiday light displays when you take a trip through your neighborhood.
For indoor holiday lighting safety, it starts with the Christmas tree. If you're in the market for new lights, we suggest you use LED holiday light strands over incandescent. LED holiday lights are more efficient than incandescent lights and produce less heat, lowering the chance of a fire from your lightbulb.
It's essential to check your light strands for fraying or broken bulbs before use. Be careful not to overload your outlet. You can find some of the signs of overloaded outlets in our article here. Make sure extension cords aren't left plugged in for long periods. They should only be used temporarily around the home. Don't run extension cords under rugs, as this could overheat the cord and cause damage to your rug or floor.
If you notice that your outlet needs a replacement, consider upgrading to an Arc-Fault Circuit Interrupter outlet. These devices can make a huge difference in preventing potential electrical fires. The Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI) estimates that half of the electrical fires that happen every year could be prevented by AFCIs. A small piece of tech can make a world of difference.
While this may seem like a lot to take in, it's essential to remember that these tips can help keep you and your loved one safer and ensure the most wonderful time of the year is as wonderful as possible. For more great electrical safety content, visit our indoor electrical safety page.