Staying Safe During The Holidays

Last night, a friend completed her favorite Christmas tradition -- stringing cranberries for the tree, drinking homemade hot chocolate and watching "Elf." Yes, now is the time for tree decorating, which means it's also the right moment for a little home safety reminder. According to the U.S. Fire Administration, Christmas trees account for about 200 fires annually, resulting in more than $6 million in property damage. Read on to see how you can be safe -- fir or faux.
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Tips for real trees:

First, take a moment to watch this video from the National Institute of Standards and Technology and keep in mind that a Christmas tree is basically just a big pile of firewood.

  • Needles on fresh trees should be green and hard to pull back from the branches, and the needle should not break if the tree has been freshly cut. The trunk should be sticky to the touch.
  • Old trees can be identified by bouncing the tree trunk on the ground. If many needles fall off, the tree has been cut too long, has probably dried out, and is a fire hazard.
  • Use only non-combustible or flame-resistant materials to trim a tree.
  • Do not place your tree close to a heat source, including a fireplace or heat vent. The heat will dry out the tree, causing it to be more easily ignited by heat, flame or sparks.
  • Do not go near a Christmas tree with an open flame - candles, lighters or matches.
  • Be careful not to drop or flick cigarette ashes near a tree.
  • Never put tree branches or needles in a fireplace or woodburning stove.
  • Do not put your live tree up too early or leave it up for longer than two weeks.
  • Keep the tree stand filled with water at all times. When the tree becomes dry, discard it promptly.

Tips for tree lighting:

  • Use only lighting listed by an approved testing laboratory.
  • Inspect holiday lights each year for frayed wires, bare spots, gaps in the insulation, broken or cracked sockets, and excessive kinking or wear before putting them up.
  • Check lights for broken or cracked sockets, frayed or bare wires, or loose connections. Replace or repair any damaged sets.
  • Turn off all lights on trees and decorations when you go to bed or leave the house. Lights could short and start a fire.
  • Don't touch decorative lights or electric decorations when your hands are wet.
  • Do not link more than three light strands, unless the directions indicate it is safe.
  • Connect strings of lights to an extension cord before plugging the cord into the outlet. Make sure to periodically check the wires - they should not be warm to the touch.

Tips for artificial trees:

When Good Housekeeping did their research, all the artificial trees tested passed a flammability test. Still, it doesn't mean you can throw caution to the wind.

  • Look for the label, "Fire Retardant," when purchasing an artificial tree. This label does not mean the tree won’t catch fire, but that it will resist burning and should extinguish quickly.
  • Wash or wipe down your artificial tree with a cleaner, then wrap it in plastic before storing it. Dust increases flammability.
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Tips for aluminum trees (there's only one, but it's important!):
  • Do not use electric lights on a metallic tree. The tree can become charged with electricity from a faulty light, and a person touching a branch can be electrocuted.

If you want some awe without the shock, try using a color wheel next to the tree or tracking down a vintage tree turner.

So, have you ever had a holiday-related fire in your home? And are there any safety tips that you keep in mind while decorating?


Images: Bruno Bolzano, Smaku and Michelleration from flickr

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