Fires from cooking, fireplaces and lighting displays can be easily prevented with a few practical steps. (Photo: iStock)
Fires from cooking, fireplaces and lighting displays can be easily prevented with a few practical steps. (Photo: iStock)

Between giving gifts, preparing large meals, and planning family gatherings, the holidays can be a stressful time of year.

Adding another thing to think about may seem overwhelming, but home safety is an important consideration. A devastating burglary, expensive electrical fire, or messy burst pipe is the last thing anyone wants to deal with — or pay for — during the holidays.

Be cautious this holiday season to ensure you don’t encounter any dangerous situations or lose any of your home’s value.

Here are six holiday safety tips to protect your home:

wrapped Christmas gifts

(Photo: iStock) 

1. Avoid visible gift displays.

People have many new, high-value items wrapped up in their homes around the holidays that burglars can easily and quickly grab—causing potential damage to windows, doors, and a home’s interior and exterior in the process. Police are unlikely to track down a thief and find your gifts: about 87 percent of burglaries go unsolved because of a lack of witnesses and evidence.

Though it’s tempting to set up a picturesque holiday vignette of a Christmas tree surrounded by piles of gifts near your front window, the Los Angeles Police Department encourages people to put presents out of view from windows and doors. Better yet, keep expensive gifts hidden until you’re ready to give them.

 

close-up of Christmas tree

(Photo: iStock) 

2. Pick a fresh tree and water it daily.

Christmas trees cause an average of 210 fires and $17.5 million in property damage a year. To avoid this, choose the freshest tree possible. The National Christmas Tree Association recommends running a branch through your fingers to check for signs of dryness. Do not buy a tree if its needles come off easily, its branches break, it has discolored foliage, it smells musty, or its bark is wrinkled.

After bringing your tree home and putting it in a stand, check its water level frequently to make sure it doesn’t go below the base of the tree—otherwise, your tree may begin to dry out. And remember any sources of heat, like tree lights, fireplaces, heating vents or sunlight from a window, will cause a tree to dry out more quickly.

Lit Christmas tree

(Photo: iStock) 

3. Choose your lights carefully.

Electrical issues are behind a third of Christmas tree fires, and the majority of those fires involve decorative lights. Consumer Reports cautions to only use lights tested in a nationally-recognized laboratory, like Underwriters Laboratory (UL). Old lights, especially if they are uncertified or damaged, generally draw more power and are a major risk.

The best lights for Christmas trees are certified miniature lights that emit low heat. But no matter what lights you use, always inspect them for loose connections, broken or cracked sockets, and frayed or bare wires. And never leave a lit Christmas tree unmonitored — turn off the tree lights when you leave the house or go to bed.

 

outdoor light display

(Photo: iStock) 

4. Prevent outdoor light displays from overheating.

Though it’s easy to plug numerous strings of lights together to wrap around the roof, this can cause a major fire hazard. Overloading a single electrical outlet with too many lights will overdraw the power and cause overheating. This can trip the circuit breaker and start an electrical fire.

Prevent this from happening by never attaching more than three strands of lights together. Consider using LED lights, because they use less energy and don’t get as hot as traditional incandescent lights. And, if you’re hanging up lights outdoors, make sure to use ones that are certified for outdoor use.

insulated pipes

(Photo: iStock) 

5. Drain outdoor pipes and insulate indoor ones.

During cold winter nights, the water in pipes can freeze and cause them to burst, which may cost up to $6,000 to repair. To avoid an expensive cleanup, take preventative action. Outdoor pipes like sprinkler lines, hose bibs, and swimming pool supply lines are the most likely to freeze. Before cold weather hits, drain the water from your sprinkler lines and swimming pool, remove outdoor hoses, and close the inside valve to outdoor hose bibs.

Unheated interior areas, like basements, garages, kitchen cabinets, crawl spaces and attics, are also at risk. Pipes in these areas need to be insulated with pipe sleeves, heat tape or heat cables that are certified to cover exposed pipes. The American Red Cross advises that even one-quarter inch of newspaper can provide insulation.

Millennials in kitchen cooking

(Photo: iStock)

6. Keep an eye on all food being cooked.

Cooking mishaps cause nearly 72 percent of Thanksgiving Day fires, leading to $28 million in property loss. The number of kitchen fires on Thanksgiving is more than twice the amount of fires on other days of the year, and turkey fryers alone have caused $8 million in property damage.

The American Red Cross recommends cooks should never leave food unattended and avoid wearing loose-fitting clothing and long sleeves. Also, enforce a “kid-free zone,” use a timer, install a smoke alarm, and keep cooking areas free of items that can catch fire, like oven mitts and towels.

Though some common household threats, like burglary, are actually more common during other times of the year, the holidays bring with them unique dangers. Implement these safety tips to avoid a stressful holiday hazard and to make sure your home doesn’t incur any damage.

Sage Singleton is a home and community safety expert for SafeWise. She has written for a variety of audiences ranging from government sites to lifestyle magazines. She can be reached at sage.singleton@safewise.com.

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