Festive decorations, twinkling lights, and jolly get-togethers are staples of the winter holidays, but the holiday season brings unique fire risks that can turn holiday cheer into devastating loss.
The National Fire Protection Association reports that fire departments in the United States responded to approximately 790 fires a year that start with decorations1. That doesn’t include the numerous fires started by Christmas trees. Fire departments responded to an average of 160 Christmas tree started fires each year between 2016 and 20202. Holiday-related fires amounted to millions in property damage3 and left families to rebuild their lives during a season that is supposed to be merry and bright.
Many fires are preventable. Taking a few precautions when decking the halls can help prevent home fires and keep you and all your loved ones safe throughout the holiday season.
Checklist to Safely Use Indoor and Outdoor Holiday Lights
Before installing your holiday lights, here are some safety measures to take. If you’ve already installed your lights, it’s still a good idea to go through the checklist and ensure your decorations are as safe as possible.
- Examine your lights. Before installing your lights, look for any cracks or frays in the electrical cord. Damaged light strings need to be properly discarded. Any broken or missing bulbs should be replaced because the string can overheat if there is an open socket.
- Test your lights before installing them. Plug in each string to make sure the lights are in good working condition.
- Buy the right lights for your specific use. Outdoor and indoor/outdoor lights are designed to withstand harsh and wet winter conditions. Look for lights that are UL Listed which means Underwriters’ Laboratories certifies the lights meet safety standards. Make sure extension cords and other electrical equipment is labeled for outdoor use if that’s where you’ll use them.
- Hang your lights with the proper tools. When attaching to your roof’s edge, use UL-approved plastic hooks or clips. Tape may not withstand the weather. Staples, nails or tacks can damage the cord and create a fire hazard. For columns, railings, or windows, try adhesive hooks or clips. If you can, have a buddy help you hang your lights to make installation safer and easier.
- Avoid connecting extension cords. It’s not a good idea to connect multiple extension cords together. They can trip your breaker, become a trip hazard, or overheat and cause a fire. Instead, invest in a single extension cord that is long enough for your purposes.
- Don’t overload a socket. Pay attention to how much you have plugged into each socket. An overloaded socket will trip the circuit breaker, be warm to the touch, flicker the lights, give off a burning smell or even scorch the plugs and outlet.
- Christmas trees need special care. Did you know about one-third of all Christmas tree fires start because of an electrical issue4? Make sure your tree lights are in good working order and do not overload the socket you use. Keep your tree away from heat sources like space heaters, vents, fireplaces, and candles. Real trees should be watered properly to avoid drying out and becoming highly flammable.
- Turn your lights off before bed or when you’re not home. Always turn your indoor and outdoor holiday lights off before you go to bed or when you leave the house. Smart plugs can help you schedule your lights from an app. A manual timer is also an option.
- Put your lights and other decorations in safe locations. Don’t let your decorations, tree or lights block access to a door or window. These emergency exits should stay accessible year-round for your safety.
- Don’t let your lights stay up in the harsh winter for too long. Some people take their lights down immediately after the holidays, others leave them up all winter, and some even leave their holiday lights up all year long. If you want your lights to last year-after-year, you’ll need to minimize their exposure to winter weather and take them down shortly after the holiday festivities are done.
- Organize and store your lights properly. Tossing your lights into a bag or bin might be fast but it also makes damage more likely. Loosely wrap your lights around a storage reel or other storage device. You can also use thick cardboard to wrap your lights around. Store your lights in a secure container so they are safe until next season.
Holiday lights and other decorations bring a little magic to the winter holidays. Taking safety measures to properly install your holiday lights is an important step in protecting the people, pets and things that matter most. Insureonline.com's licensed insurance agents can help you find the right home, renters, condo, or mobile home insurance. Talk to an InsureOnline.com licensed agent today about the coverage that is right for you and your family. Call us today at (844) 358-5605.
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1, 2, 3: National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), Winter holidays, December 2022.
4: National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), Christmas Tree Safety, 2020.