17 November 2020

It’s Christmas: practical advice for safe decorating

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Cooler temperatures remind us all that Christmas and New Year’s celebrations are right around the corner! It’s time to start your Christmas gift list, think up your best child-pleasing lelf-on-a-shelf tricks, and turn your home into a Christmas castle.

The holidays may be the most magical time of the year, but they’re also when house fires are most likely to happen. While Christmas lights, candles, and fireplaces light up our homes and warm our hearts, they can also spark unfortunate incidents—and a home insurance claim.

So, for a trouble-free holiday season, follow these decoration placement and usage tips and have a safe Christmas. Here’s what you need to know to safely decorate your home at this most wonderful time of the year.

Natural versus artificial tree?

The annual debate is back! While many enjoy the smell of natural Christmas trees, others choose artificial ones since they’re easier to maintain, safe, and long-lasting. No matter which type you choose, here are a few tips to keep your tree from burning:

  • Place the tree solidly on a stable base so it doesn’t move.
  • Keep the tree at least one metre from sources of heat, like fireplaces, baseboard heaters, and outlets.
  • Don’t have the tree block windows and doors that could be used as emergency exits.
  • To prevent injury, keep fragile ornaments away from children and pets.
  • Don’t use artificial snow or tinsel, both of which are very flammable.

Natural Christmas tree

  • Buy your natural tree in mid-December. It will last 10 to 14 days, after which it dries out and becomes very flammable.
  • Choose a newly cut tree whose needles are very green and don’t come off easily. This means it has high water content, which makes it less likely to catch fire.
  • Bevel the trunk’s base to help the tree absorb water and keep it hydrated.
  • Keep the tree damp. The base must always contain two to three litres of water. Natural trees consume lots of water, especially during the first few days, so refill the base often.
  • Take the tree out of the house once the holidays are over. Follow your municipality’s bylaws for safe and suitable tree disposal.

Artificial trees

  • This is undoubtedly the safer option. Even better, choose a fire-resistant model that slows the spread of fire.

Decorative lights

Decorative lights are common causes of residential fires. For example, an overly dry tree can be the source of a devastating fire. The same can be said for damaged power cords. To light up your Christmas tree and the inside and outside of your house, follow these preventive measures:

  • Choose LED light garlands that emit little heat.
  • Choose lighting sets certified by the CSA (Canadian Standard Association) or the ULC (Underwriter’s Laboratories Canada). With the rise of online shopping, be careful what you buy—remember to ensure your electrical wiring meets safety standards.
  • Always turn off lights before stepping out or going to bed.
  • Examine cords and bulbs before installing them. If they are damaged, replace them.
  • Don’t overload electrical outlets or power bars.
  • When using extension cords, make sure they are suitable for their intended use.
  • Do not place electrical wires or extension cords under rugs.
  • Do not use outdoor lights indoors, and vice versa.
  • Do not affix lights using nails or thumbtacks. Instead, use plastic fasteners or ribbons.

The fireplace

Hearths and wood-burning stoves get lots of use during the holidays. They may stoke our Christmas spirit, but they must still be handled with care. Here are some tips on how to prevent fire hazards during the holiday season:

  • Never place Christmas stockings above heat given off by flames in the fireplace.
  • Don’t decorate the hearth using tree branches, pinecones, or other flammable decorations.
  • Never burn your tree in your wood-burning appliance. Materials may fly off it as it burns, greatly increasing fire risk.
  • Use the occasion to test your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Change the batteries if need be.

Candles

Candles and lanterns are a quick way to add a magical touch, but they can start a fire just as fast. So please handle them with care, whether during the holidays or any other time of the year.

  • Put them on stable surfaces where children and pets can’t reach them.
  • Choose lanterns over exposed candles.
  • Never throw away a match before running it under water.
  • Before you leave a room, put candles out, then wait several minutes to ensure their flames are extinguished.
  • Keep other objects at least 30 centimetres away from the flame.
  • Keep matchsticks and lighters away from children.
  • Keep them away from draughts and flammable items like curtains, flower arrangements, tablecloths, and books.

Be alert for danger signs.

Once you have safely put up your Christmas decorations, examine them often and be alert for the following signs of danger:

  • Large amounts of fallen pine needles. This means your tree is very dry, and highly flammable. It’s time to take it out of your house.
  • The circuit breaker trips. You have overloaded the outlets. Quickly correct this situation by unplugging equipment connected to that breaker.
  • Your extension cords are hot. They are overloaded.

Gift shopping and being away from home: be careful!

Stay safe over Christmas and beware of thieves, who are particularly active over the holidays. When you shop for gifts, park your car in a busy and well-lit place, put your purchases in your trunk where criminals can’t see them, and lock your doors.

If you must be away from home during the holidays, be extra vigilant.Keep thieves from your home by leaving a light on or putting timers on your lights to give the impression that somebody is home. If possible, leave a car parked in the driveway. Leave the curtains parted to show you have nothing to hide, tell a trusted neighbor about your absence and ask that neighbor to pick up your mail often. Whether you’re at home or not, don’t leave boxes that contained electronic devices or valuable objects by the curb or where thieves can see them.

Have you planned to visit family out of town? Take several precautions before leaving home for a few days. For example, take steps to prevent damage from water and frost. Contact your representative to learn more about your coverage and exclusions in your insurance policy.

If something happens over the holidays despite your precautions, your insurer will be there for you. In case of theft from your car or home, or a residential fire, your home insurance covers damages. If your car is stolen or damaged after being broken into and stolen, your car insurance will compensate you for losses incurred.

On that note, have a safe and happy holiday!