Just as quickly as the leftover turkey was loaded into the fridge for next-day sandwiches, holiday lights were strung up in and outside homes, Menorahs and stockings were positioned over fireplaces and wrapping paper began getting folded around boxes to keep the contents inside a secret.
No matter which holiday you celebrate, we can all agree that it’s a wonderful time of year. And what’s the most agreed-upon holiday decoration? Strands of white or colorful bulbs to light up homes and other buildings around town. Those string lights can easily lead to home fires if not properly arranged and inspected.
How Common Are Holiday Fires?
According to the American Red Cross, an average of 47,000 home fires occur during the winter holiday season each year, resulting in 2,200 injuries and $554 million in property damage.
The U.S. Fire Administration and the National Fire Protection Association reported that between 2009 and 2013, decorations (excluding Christmas trees) were the first items ignited in an average of 860 house fires – resulting in $13.4 million in property damage – per year.
Follow these tips to decrease your risk of holiday home fires.
Get Out Your Magnifying Glass
Holiday lights typically get put up the day after Thanksgiving or shortly afterward (save for those who decorate the day after Halloween) and taken down about a week or so after Christmas – a total of, let’s say, six weeks. For the other 46 weeks of the year, holiday lights sit crumpled in cardboard boxes in attics or basement storage closets. A lot of deterioration can happen in 46 weeks, so as soon as you take the lights out of their boxes, inspect every inch for frayed wires and cracked bulbs, which can spark when plugged in and either shock someone or spark a fire.
If you notice any warning signs with last year’s strands, don’t chance using them. Toss them out and go buy new ones.
Don’t Pull a Clark Griswold
Avoid overloading your outlets, and don’t string more than three strands together. Both of these scenarios can cause overheating, again potentially leading to electrical shock or a fire igniting.
When putting up lights outdoors, make sure to find strands and extension cords that are weather-resistant. And when attaching them to your home, do so carefully and avoid using nails or staples, which could damage the wires or bulbs. Opt for tape, adhesive strips and plastic hooks instead.
And before you go to bed or leave the house, unplug your light display – both indoors and outdoors.
O Christmas Tree
When it comes to Christmas trees, be aware of the fire risks they pose. Christmas trees are often decorated with string lights, ornaments and ribbon. However, string lights should never be used on a metallic tree and candles should never be used to decorate trees.
From 2009 to 2013, the USFA and NFPA reported an average of 210 home fires per year in which Christmas trees were the first item ignited, resulting in $17.5 million in property damage annually.
Spread Holiday Cheer Safely
According to Electrical Safety Foundation International, 86% of Americans decorated their homes in 2013 to celebrate the winter holidays. If you fall into this percentage, be cautious and have a happy holiday season!
Shannon Ireland writes for SafecoInsurance.com and HomeownersInsurance.com, an online resource for homeowners and drivers across the country. Offering automobile and homeowners insurance quotes, consumers rely on HomeownersInsurance.com for competitive rates from top-rated insurance carriers. The HomeownersInsurance.com blog provides fresh tips and advice on a range of financial topics to help homeowners and homebuyers make educated decisions about their insurance purchases.