Protecting Your Home During Christmas

The Christmas season is upon us. For many of us our homes will be transformed into Winter Wonder Lands, while all these decorations look amazing they can be potentially dangerous. Our Head of Risk Survey, James Gleeson, sets out some simple practical tips and advice to ensure your home is safe and sound this festive season.

Many of our heart-warming Christmas traditions can pose risks of fire, electrocution or other injury if used improperly or carelessly. Observing the rules of common sense when using these items won’t dampen the holiday spirit, if anything, it will ensure that the magic remains from start to finish.

The Christmas tree is the centre piece for many of our homes at Christmas whether real or fake there are precautions you should take to ensure your tree doesn’t spoil Christmas. Which do you prefer real or fake?

The Real Deal

Selecting the right tree is the first step in ensuring a Christmas without incident. The perfect tree:

  • Live trees should be selected for their moisture content, since dry trees are an increased fire hazard. So, select the freshest tree you can find. To check its freshness shake it to see if it “snows” needles. A dry tree will drop many needles on shaking.
  • Check for a strong smell of pine and needles that bend between your fingers rather than snap off.
  • Be wary of judging a tree by its green colour as dry trees are often sprayed green to increase their sale value.

Once you have selected and bought your tree, make sure you store it outdoors until you are ready to use it. Once you bring it indoors you should:

  • Cut off the bottom diagonally two inches from the base of the trunk and set it in a sturdy, wide stand with ample water in the bottom.
  • Check water supply daily and refill as necessary, as trees absorb a large supply of water. Alternatively, the tree can be secured in a bucket of wet sand with a water bowl. A pint of water will need to be added to the water bowl daily.
  • At all times, handle the tree carefully. Needle cuts on the skin or in the eyes can sting and be slow to heal due to chemicals in the needles and tree sap.
  • Position the tree in an area away from heat sources, such as radiators or fireplaces.
  • Also, place it in an out-of-the-way area near an outlet, to eliminate the need for extension leads.

Plastic fantastic

Many of us will go the fake route with our Christmas tree. If you have been using a tree for many years it is worth a check to make sure it is up to date in terms of fire safety. Your tree must be labelled as fire-resistant, make-sure when buying a new tree that it is indeed fire-resistant. This label doesn’t mean the tree won’t burn; it simply means it won’t burn as easily.

Decorating your tree

Decorating the tree is a wonderful family task, if the tantrums and argument can be avoided. The following steps will help keep your tree and decorations safe from harm:

  • Use only non-combustible or flame-resistant materials to decorate a tree.
  • In homes with small children, take special care to avoid decorations that are sharp or breakable.
  • Keep trimmings with small removable parts out of the reach of children to avoid the child swallowing or inhaling small pieces, and avoid trimmings that resemble sweets or food that may tempt a child to eat them.
  • Avoid placing small or breakable ornaments on lower branches where children or pets can reach them and knock them off. Every year many children are treated for cuts from broken ornaments, or from swallowing broken pieces and small parts.
  • In homes with small children and pets, try to block off your tree so the children and pets cannot reach the tree.

Indoor & outdoor lights

We all love Christmas lights; they bring the season to life adding so much festivity to our homes. Of course proper care is needed to make sure they are safe.

Indoor lights:

  • Ensure that all light strings (used on the Christmas tree or for decoration elsewhere) are properly wired.
  • Carefully examine strings of lights for damage before placing them on the tree. Discard any light sets with exposed wires, cracked sockets, loose connections, or worn insulation.
  • Plug in lights and observe them for fifteen minutes for signs of smoking or melting before attaching them to the tree.
  • Never string lights while they’re plugged in, and avoid setting lights on tree decorations.
  • Do not overload outlets, and use no more than three standard-size sets of lights per single extension lead.

Important: Use only indoor light strings for inside decorating and outdoor lights for outdoor decorating.

Outdoor lights:

  • When purchasing outdoor lights, choose low voltage sets.
  • Fasten outdoor lights securely to trees, house walls, or other firm supports to protect the lights from wind damage.
  • Use only insulated staples to hold strings in place — not nails or tacks; alternatively run strings of lights through hooks (available at hardware stores).
  • If you are putting lights or other decorations at a height, ensure you have a safe means of access to height.
  • When using a ladder, always ensure that someone else is available to hold or “foot” the ladder.
  • When you replace a bulb on a light string, ensure the voltage and/or wattage marked on the light set is compatible with the replacement light.
  • Unplug the light string before you replace the bulb so there is no danger of shock.

Important: Tree lights and other electrical decorations should always be unplugged when leaving the house or going to bed. The lights could short out and start a fire. Outlets should be readily accessible for quick disconnection if necessary.

Caution with Candles

The use of candles in the home has greatly increased in recent years, not just at Christmas time but year round. Fires caused by candles are most common in December. The majority of these fires occur after candles are left unattended, abandoned or inadequately controlled. A great number result when combustible material comes too close to the flame. The problem with candles is that most people don’t realise how quickly something can go wrong, or they don’t know the precautions they should take for safe candle use. This risk rises at Christmas with the US National Fire Protection Association highlighting that candles are responsible for 11% of fires in December compared to 4% during the rest of the year.

The safety tips:

  • All candles should be in double insulated containers or in a sturdy, non-combustible base. They should be located away from combustibles.
  • Extinguish all candles when leaving the room or going to sleep.
  • Keep candles away from things that can catch fire, such as clothing, books, paper, curtains, Christmas trees, or decorations.
  • Place candles on stable furniture in sturdy holders that won’t tip over and that are big enough to collect dripping wax.
  • Don’t place lit candles in windows, where they may ignite blinds or curtains.
  • Place candles only in areas where they won’t be knocked over by children or pets.
  • Extinguish taper and pillar candles when they get within two inches of the holder or decorative material. Extinguish votive and filled candles before the last half-inch of wax starts to melt.
  • Avoid candles with combustible materials embedded in them, or with holders or decorations that could ignite.
  • Don’t allow children or teens to use candles in their bedroom. Nearly half the victims of candle fires are under the age of 20.

Finally, keep a fire extinguisher handy in the home and make sure you have at least 2 smoke detectors installed in your home (and be sure to check they work, ideally twice a month).

Wishing you and yours a safe and wonderful Christmas.

Disclaimer: Allianz accepts no responsibility or liability for any losses that may arise from any reliance upon the information contained in this guidance

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