The holiday season is upon us, and nothing sets the mood like twinkling lights, wreaths, and tinsel. While you're busy turning your home into a winter wonderland – right here in Florida! – it’s important to keep safety in mind. House fires, slips and falls, and other household accidents are surprisingly common during the holidays. Below are some holiday decoration safety tips to remember as you go about making your home merry and bright this year.
Handrails Are for Hands
It's OK to decorate handrails and banisters – but keep the part of the rail you clasp onto free of adornments. There should be ample room so hands of all sizes can get a good grip. This helps anyone climbing stairs on your property to maintain stable footing and prevent slips and falls. This is especially important for guests visiting your home who may be less familiar with your layout.
Checking Your Lights Twice (& Then Some)
Before you start stringing up lights, make sure you're using the appropriate power cords: indoor cords should be used inside only, and outdoor cords outside. Inspect the cords and bulbs to ensure nothing is frayed, damaged, or broken.
Another important holiday decoration safety check is to look for certification by Underwriters Laboratories (UL), which determines whether a product is as safe to operate as intended. You should find the staggered “UL” logo on holiday lights, appliances, computers, medical devices, batteries, fire extinguishers, and more. Here’s how to identify a counterfeit UL logo, which is common among cheap knockoffs sold by mail.
Don’t allow lights or their cords to lay across walkways to avoid a tripping accident. And don’t string an endless number of light cords together; always follow the safety instructions the products came with.
Decorations: Choose Wisely
If there are pets and little children in the household, avoid metal hooks, glass ornaments, and other sharp or easily broken decorations. In addition to potential cuts and abrasions, you’ll want to nix those items as little ones might swallow and choke on them.
Step Up Without Falling Down
Anytime you find yourself up on a ladder to decorate, be extra careful. Falls from a ladder or the roof are extremely common during the holidays. Good holiday decoration safety dictates you have someone assist you whenever you bring out the ladder. Use it only on a flat, stable surface and never reach. Instead, go back down the ladder, move it, and try again. A concussion – or worse – is not worth it.
Balance Your Electrical Load
Don't overload your electrical circuits. You probably already know this, but what does it mean, exactly? Besides not plugging too many items into the same power strip or outlet, you can avoid overloading a circuit by matching an item’s energy needs – in wattage or amperage, found on most products and their packaging – with an outlet capable of handling it.
The electrical circuits in most homes are either 15 or 20 amps and tend to correspond to different rooms, but not always; larger appliances may be assigned their own circuit. A good rule of thumb is to aim for using 80% of a circuit’s capacity. You can see the amount of amps per circuit along the top edge of each toggle switch inside your breaker box. Using the 80% rule, you’ll want to aim to use up to either 12 or 16 amps, respectively – especially when items powered by the circuit are expected to use continuous power (run for 3 hours or more).
As you’re determining where to plug in your holiday lights and other electrical decorations, avoid areas of the home already supporting a large number of appliances, such as the kitchen. And choose LED lights, if possible, as they use much less current than conventional lights.
If you’re counting on having the biggest outdoor light display on the block, it’s a great idea to have a dedicated circuit (a breaker and wire for one or several specific outlets) installed by a licensed electrician. Without a dedicated circuit, most homeowners plug the outdoor holiday lights into an outlet in the garage, which may also be used to power a freezer/refrigerator or other major appliance. The problem is, when the circuit is overloaded, it could start an electrical fire. Or, if using a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) outlet, the power will cut out and you could lose all the food in the freezer or refrigerator.
Christmas Tree Tips?
No problem. If you're planning to put up a real Christmas tree, choose the freshest one possible. Freshly cut trees are typically sticky at the trunk bottom and the needles are actually difficult to pull off the branch. Don't let the tree go dry – keep water in its base at all times. Avoid putting the tree near a light switch or in a high traffic area to avoid it being jostled, potentially breaking ornaments or even toppling the tree itself.
Don't put the tree on top of or under a vent, or near a fireplace, to avoid the risk of fire. Speaking of fire, if you're planning on burning the tree after the holidays are over, think again. There is sap in the branches and trunk, which could easily explode out of the fire and onto nearby combustibles, causing a rip-roaring fire in no time. Much of these guidelines apply to fire-resistant artificial trees, which can go up in flames as well.
Other Fire Hazards
When it's time to turn in for the night, be sure you've turned off all holiday lights, inside and outside. Ditto for when you leave the house – even if you’ll be gone for only a short time. It can take just minutes for an electrical fire to get out of hand. Keep a functional, multipurpose (ABC-rated) fire extinguisher in the kitchen and bedrooms. You should also have working smoke detectors located throughout the home.
Shine Bright, Safely, This Holiday Season
From all of us at Florida Peninsula Insurance Company, we wish you a safe and joyous holiday season! We hope these holiday decoration safety tips come in handy this year and into the future. If you’d like to review your family’s needs for homeowners insurance, condo insurance, renters insurance, or more – get in touch! To get the process started, contact your agent or get a quote online with us now.