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Decorating safety tips for the holiday season

November 2, 2015
If using open flames as part of your holiday spread, be sure to follow fire safety precautions.

From Thanksgiving to Christmas to New Year's, the next few months will be a time of heavy decorating. According to the Electrical Safety Foundation International, 86 percent of Americans decorate their homes during the winter holidays, and many of those decorations will use electricity or open flames.

"The combination of candles and combustible seasonal decorations causes fires to spike during the holidays.”

Though holiday decorations can add twinkle and cheer to the season, they can also increase the risk of fire and electrical injury. According to the National Fire Prevention Association, the winter months are the leading time of year for home fires, but you can prevent damage to your home and protect your family from harm by following safety precautions.

Avoid combustible situations

The combination of candles and more flammable objects in the home, such as combustible seasonal decorations, causes fires to spike during the holidays. The NFPA reported 12 percent of the 10,630 home candle fires recorded from 2007-2011 occurred in December. In more than half these instances, the blaze was caused by a flammable material left too close to the candle. If you are using candles for Thanksgiving or Christmas centerpieces or luminaries, be sure to keep them 12 feet away from anything that can burn, the agency recommended. Keep any decorative flames within sight at all times.

Christmas trees are another major fire starter, the NFPA reported. From 2009-2013, fire departments responded to an annual average of 210 home fires that began with a Christmas tree. These fires caused an average of $17.5 million in property damage each year. To reduce the risk of fire, keep real trees watered. No matter if trees are real or artificial, it is recommended that they are kept away from other heating sources like radiators and fireplaces.

Follow electrical safety precautions

"Electrical fires and injuries are often caused by misused or malfunctioning equipment.”

Decorative lighting and other electronic decorations can cause fire or shock if not handled properly.The Consumer Product Safety Commission reported injuries linked to holiday decorations, from shock to burns, led to an estimated 15,000 emergency room visits in November and December 2012. The NFPA also recorded an average of 150 home fires from 2007-2011 associated with holiday lighting and line voltage decorations.

Electrical fires and injuries are often caused by misused or malfunctioning equipment. The CPSC advised against connecting any more than three sets of string lights to one extension cord. Additionally, the commission stated any string lights showing fraying or exposed wires should be replaced, and only string lights that have been independently tested for fire safety should be used.

It is recommended that families inspect their home's wiring before plugging in any decorations. The ESFI recommended inspecting sockets for signs of damage including cracking or charring. If any outlets have exposed wires, this can also lead to dangerous electric shock. Avoid running too many electric decorations through one outlet or circuit as this can cause the system to overload and result in fire. Also, be sure the insulation on any extension cords you use is in good shape and hasn't been pinched or torn by a door or piece of furniture.

Most importantly, be sure to turn off and unplug all decorations before leaving your home or going to sleep.