At this festive time of year most of us have decked our halls to one degree or another and are planning holiday festivities. One thing that I really enjoy is driving around and seeing homes decorated with lights. Whether the display is big or small, it’s an outward sign of people sharing their holiday spirit with their neighbors and the community.
As we celebrate the holidays with home decorating and increased entertaining, keep in mind that these activities can also increase risks of fire and accidents. Certainly, I’m not trying to take the fun out of the holidays by turning it into an insurance lesson, but you can’t deny that every year you hear news stories about situations that can darken a holiday. Just be sure that you’re taking precautions that keep your holiday festivities safe as well as fun. Here are a few things to consider.
Christmas trees are beautiful, but can be a fire hazard. Even artificial trees, can pose a hazard, so look for the “Fire Resistant” label when purchasing a tree. When buying a live tree, check for freshness…needles should be hard to pull from branches and don’t break when bent. Tap it on the ground…it shouldn’t lose lots of needles. When setting it up at home, fresh cut the trunk and put it in water immediately.
Make sure the tree is placed away from heat sources. Be sure not to block doorways. Be sure the tree is secure in its stand. Trees can dry quickly in a heated room, so keep the water filled. If your tree becomes dry, stop lighting it. Remove evergreens as soon as practical after the season. Following Christmas tree safety guidelines helps avoid a fire that could ruin more than your holiday season.
Before putting lights on your tree, check them to be sure all the bulbs work and that there are not cracked sockets or lose wires that can cause fires. Don’t try to repair sets…throw them away. Don’t overload extension cords or run them under furniture or rugs. Keep lights away from pets and small children.
When decorating outside, be sure the lights are approved for outdoor use. Use plastic hooks or insulated staples to hang lights. Don’t use nails or tacks or other methods that can damage wires. Plug all outdoor lights into a circuit that has ground fault interrupter protection. When removing lights at the end of the season, don’t tug on them as it can cause damage. It’s a good idea to check lights as you take down the tree and dispose of any bad sets immediately to avoid problems next year.
Turn off indoor lights when you leave the house or go to bed. Consider turning them off unless you're going to be in the same room. Lights can short out and cause a fire. If something happens, you being able to respond quickly can make all the difference. You can now buy wireless remote control switches that make it really easy to turn lights on and off without having to crawl or bend behind the tree.
When possible use decorations that are flame resistant or flame retardant. Keep candles away from combustible materials and don’t leave matches where children can reach. Place candles in locations where they aren’t easily knocked over. Don’t leave burning candles unattended.
If you enjoy poinsettias, you don’t have to worry about them being poisonous, which is a persistent myth. However, they can cause nausea and vomiting if ingested, so keep them out of reach of small children and pets. If using fresh evergreens, keep them away from heat sources. For extra safety, consider spraying greens with a flame retardant solution and be sure to remove them when they are dry.
If you decorate around your hearth, remove combustible materials before lighting the fire. Check to be sure the flue is open. Have your flue cleaned to avoid build-up that can cause chimney fires. Don’t burn wrapping paper; it can cause a flash fire that could get out of control.
food & alcohol safety
Unattended cooking is a leading cause of fires, so stay focused. When preparing food, follow standards to avoid bacteria contamination from raw foods. Thaw meats in the refrigerator. Wash hands frequently. When serving food, never leave food that requires refrigeration at room temperature for more than two hours. Take care not to put hot dishes at the edge of counters where they could be knocked over.
If you’re having a party and serving alcohol, be a responsible host and take steps to protect you and your guests. Limit your own intake so that you can judge guests sobriety. Encourage designated drivers, and if a guest has had too much to drink or is overly tired, arrange for a ride or have them sleep at your home.
If traveling, have a friend or neighbor keep an eye on your home. Be sure to stop your mail and newspaper delivery. Don’t post travel plans on social networking sites since you can't always be sure who is reading it. If you have an alarm system, activate it even if you’re just going out for the evening.
Regardless of how you celebrate, all of us at Murphy Insurance wish you a happy holiday season.