Wrap Up
the Holidays Safely

5 Golden Safety Tips to Make the Season Bright

It’s beginning to look a lot like … the holidays! Yes, it’s that time of year. Time to gather and celebrate with family and friends, cook special feasts, and hang festive decorations and lights.

It’s also a time to think safety. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), household fires increase during the holiday season due to decorations being placed too close to a heat source. To ensure a safe and joyous holiday, follow these 5 golden safety tips:

Deck the Halls  – Away from Flames

Beautiful ornaments, festive garland and other décor will literally go up in smoke if they are placed too close to an open flame. Candles have the potential to burn a little too bright if unattended or forgotten.

As December is the peak month for candle fires, the NFPA recommends keeping candles or any heat source at least 3 feet away from your holiday decorations. Also, avoid placing candles where people or pets can accidentally knock them off a shelf. Most important, if leaving the house or going to sleep for the night, be sure to extinguish them.

If you use electric candles in your windows, unplug them at night and don’t just loosen the bulb to turn them off – technically, they’re still “on” and present a potential fire or electric shock hazard. Cordless, battery-operated, or sensor-based candles are a safe alternative and add a pretty flicker of light on shelves or in windows.

O Evergreen Tree – Please Water Me

Real trees can quickly dry out and become tinder for an open flame or faulty wire. A dry tree can be engulfed in flames in less than a minute, burning everything from the ceiling on down – the Fire Research Division at National Institute of Standards Technology (NIST) demonstrates in this video.

As newly cut trees form a seal at the base, remember to give the bottom a nice trim before placing it in a tree stand. Quickly add plenty of water and check the water level daily. The NFPA recommends keeping your tree at least 3 feet away from fireplaces, candles, heat vents, hot lights (e.g., lamps) and other heat sources. When the needles start to fall off and blanket the floor, properly dispose the tree away from your house.

Silent Night – All Is Calm, All Should Not Burn Too Bright

Holiday lights come in many colors, shapes, sizes and functionality. Some lights are now more energy efficient, don’t burn as hot as some traditional lights and last longer so check all labels. Other important features to look for include:

  • What is their intended use – indoors or outdoors?
  • Do they include a Underwriters Laboratories (UL) safety standards listing?
  • What is the maximum number of light strings that can be connected safely so you don’t overload the electrical circuit? 

According to the NFPA, Christmas lights cause 40% of Christmas tree fires. When plugged in, broken bulbs or damaged light strings can potentially cause an electric shock or fire, especially on a dry tree. Even artificial trees are susceptible to a fire hazard due to faulty wiring or lights running too hot.

Inspect your lights prior to hanging them to ensure all bulbs are working properly and the wires aren’t exposed or damaged. A single blackened or broken bulb tends to impact some or all bulbs on a string, so narrow down the bad bulb(s) either manually or with a bulb tester. Carefully fix bulbs with those orphaned packages of replacement bulbs/fuses – usually found cast aside in a junk drawer or a holiday box somewhere – or if more than half the string is out, it’s probably time for a new one.

When attaching your string of lights to extension cords, be mindful extension cords can overheat and cause fires if used improperly. According to the Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI), 3,300 home fires originate in extension cords each year. They recommend matching the power or amperage on the light strings with the amp rating on extension cords. Don’t plug one extension cord into another or pig pile several light strings into one – you can overload the electrical circuit. The ESFI also warns don’t nail or staple extension cords to walls and don’t run them under rugs, through walls, doorways, ceilings or floors as the extension cord can overheat and catch fire.

In addition, always be sure your extension cord wires aren’t damaged. When used outside, plug them into a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI), which is an inexpensive and easy-to-install electrical device (gift idea!) that could prevent over two-thirds of the approximately 300 electrocutions still occurring each year in and around the home. The device could also prevent thousands of burn and electric shock injuries each year. Finally, a good best practice is to wrap the connecting extension cord juncture with electrical tape and keep the connection off the ground – out of water or snow.

Up on the Roof Top – Avoid Flying Off a Ladder

Hanging decorations and lights on the exterior of your house is well worth the effort but can be hazardous when accessing those high roof edges. To prevent flying off a ladder and making a huge clatter, observe these safe ladder techniques:

  • Inspect the condition of your ladder. Do not use ladders with broken or missing rungs or steps, broken or split side rails, compression failures, or other faulty or defective construction.
  • Ensure the ladder’s feet are securely in place and on a level surface while using. Don’t stand it on movable objects or lean it on doors people can open.
  • Lock step ladders or the extended rungs on extension ladders.
  • Angle the ladder properly. The base should extend not less than one-fourth the ladders length. The minimum slope should be 50 degrees. For example, if the ladder extends up 20 feet, it should extend out 5 feet.
  • Use electrically resistant fiberglass ladders to prevent the potential for electric shock.
  • Always face the ladder and use at least one hand to grasp it.
  • Never carry heavy loads or objects that could cause you to lose your balance and fall – raise objects up with a hand line or have a safety buddy hold the ladder steady and hand you stuff.
  • Observe the 3-point rule when ascending or descending – always maintain two hands and one foot, or one hand and two feet on the ladder rungs.
  • Never stand on the 4 top rungs of a straight or extension ladder, or on the top 2 steps of a step ladder.
  • Never over-reach while working from a ladder. It’s best to work with your body within the ladder’s side rails. Descend and reposition ladder as needed to stay close to work.
  • Watch out for power lines when hanging lights in and around trees.

Remember to keep safety top of mind at the start and end of each day. We hope these safety tips help ensure a happy and safe holiday season.

Be safe and Happy Holidays!


National Fire Protection Association (NFPA)