When professional home inspectors assess the current condition of your home, they are searching for safety issues, as well as providing you with a comprehensive review of the status of hundreds of components in the home. Because a home inspection focuses on the current condition of all items, it is impossible to know what will happen when conditions change. Christmas is one holiday when safety should be foremost in every homeowner's mind. The additional electrical burden of from decorative items, plus the addition of New Year's fireworks and a Christmas tree means more residential fire danger in the winter, including Christmas and the New Year, than any other time of the year. To keep your family safe:
• Inspect electrical cords on all holiday lights and decorations for frayed wires, gaps in insulation, broken or cracked sockets and excessive wear.
• Use only lighting certified by an approved testing laboratory such as Underwriters Laboratory Inc.
• Connect a maximum of three light strands, then connect these strands to an extension cord before plugging the cord into the outlet. Touch the wires periodically as a test. They should be warm, not hot.
• Use only nonflammable or flame-retardant decorations and place them away from heat vents and heat sources, such as a fireplace.
• Unplug lights when you are not home or go to bed.
• Never use lighted candles on trees or in decorations.
• Indoor extension cords should never be used outdoors.
For more holiday fire safety tips, go to the U.S. Fire Administration website.
A healthy, well-cared for Christmas tree is not the fire hazard people will warn you about. It is not until a Christmas trees drys that it becomes more firewood than decoration.
A dry Christmas tree, combined with an ignition source, can be consumed by flame in seconds. A fresh, green Christmas tree watered every day will resist burning even when put in contact with direct flame for short periods according to testing done at the U.S. Building and Fire Research Lab.
When picking out a tree, Canadian and U.S. federal safety organizations suggest consumers use three freshness tests.
Branch Test - Make a cup with your hand. Draw the end of a branch through your hand. If the tree is fresh, the needles should slide through your hand without dropping off.
Stump Test - Bang the stump of the cut tree sharply on the ground. A freshly cut conifer should not loose its green needles. However, it may loose some older, yellow needles. These older needles are constantly shed.
Needle Test - Fold a single green needle back until the tip touches the stem. It should make a circle and bounce back into shape when you let go. If the needle breaks, or falls off, the tree is probably too dry. (Of course, if the tree is frozen, this test will not work.)
Water the tree frequently after purchase. Trees may drink up to four liters of water per day. The use of additives in the water is a subject of some debate. When in doubt, water.