Be Safe When You Decorate!

By PHS | December 4, 2017

Once Thanksgiving has passed we tend to notice people really getting into the spirit of the season.  Holiday music playing on the radio, displays in every store we enter, trees traveling on the top of the cars passing by and twinkling at us from the windows of the houses that we pass and beautiful (and sometimes bewildering) light and lawn displays with neighbors competing for the most impressive demonstration of holiday spirit. We here at Premier Home Inspection Services want everyone to have a safe and happy holiday season so we put together a list of things to consider when decorating this year.

If you are a traditionalist and need to chop down or purchase a real tree, when selecting your tree you should choose one that has a sticky trunk, loses very few needles when shaken and has needles that resist being pulled or snapped in half.  Before putting it into the tree stand, trim at least ½” from the base of the tree to remove the sap seal.  Otherwise your tree will not be able to take up water.  Keep the tree watered and at least 3’ away from all heat sources.  If you prefer an artificial tree, be sure that it is fire/flame resistant.

Once you have the tree situated, it stands to reason that you are going to light it.  Inspect your light strings for damage.  If there are exposed wires or conductors and loose connections you increase your risk for short circuits, electrical shocks and fire – REPLACE!   This is a good time to consider replacing your incandescent lights with efficient LED lights if you haven’t already.  LED lights require less energy, generate less heat and last longer.  When purchasing lights always be sure that they are UL safety certified, that you purchase indoor/outdoor based on your intended use and that you follow instructions on how many can be strung together. Never string more than 3 sets together.

If the tree is just the beginning of your indoor decorating, plan your decorations to be away from all heat sources and spread the electricity demand between many circuits instead of all into one outlet.  NEVER plug strips or multi-plugs into each other!  You don’t want to overload the circuit, blow a fuse or cause a fire. You also want to be careful about where your wires are.  You don’t want them to be pinched, under a rug or in a path.  Also, be careful about poinsettia placement.  They are poisonous, so you want to be sure that pets and children can’t reach them.

Candles tend to be used frequently in holiday decorating, which makes it worth mentioning that December has the highest number of home candle fires.  Never leave lit candles unattended.  Keep them away from combustible materials and in a location where they can’t be knocked over.  They now make some decent battery-operated candles as well, so for safety reasons consider giving them a look! If you can’t give up real candles and didn’t check or change your smoke alarm batteries when you changed the clocks, at least do that now. You want them to work if they are ever needed!

They could have at least used matching extension cords! Photo Credit: Billy Boerner

If you will be displaying your spirit outside as well, consider these important safety tips. DO NOT use a metal ladder when decorating.  Metal conducts electricity!  Also, do not decorate within 10 feet of power lines.  Make sure that you are using lights intended for outdoor use and that they are plugged into a GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupter).  If your outdoor circuits aren’t GFCI protected, you can buy portable GFCI’s at a hardware store.  Many outdoor displays utilize extension cords.  Never use damaged cords and be sure that you are using one that is rated for outdoor use and that it meets your power needs.  Don’t overload!  Run the cords safely, keep clear of snow and water and do not connect extension cords to each other.

Properly tie your tree.

A few last thoughts to share before I close… Dogs have an amazing sense of smell so if you wrap chocolate (or other food items) and put it under the tree (or inside a cardboard box ready for shipment to a service member) your dog will likely unwrap it, consume it and give you the gift of a hefty vet bill for Christmas! Another “gift” you don’t want to give yourself for Christmas is a new garage door courtesy of forgetting a Christmas tree on the roof of your car.  Your children will have stories to tell about how funny it was that time Dad drove into the garage with the tree on the roof (TWICE) and you will have a new garage door (or a crumpled one) but avoiding the expense and extreme set-back to the holiday spirit is probably more valuable than the stories! (Although admittedly you can’t help but laugh!)

Finally, one last simple step to keep yourself safe: Turn off all decorations before leaving the house or going to bed!

Happy Holidays from your friendly neighborhood home inspectors!

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