The holiday season has arrived and with it, overtaxed outlets, sparking fireplaces, and outdoor decorations swept away by gusty (and not-so-silent) nights. While it can be a magical time, it can also be one that quickly turns disastrous if the proper care and consideration aren’t taken. With a house full of family looking for all the Christmas cheer, this is no time to get reckless. To keep your home healthy and festive all season long, we’ve gathered the holiday decorating safety questions many of us have but are too afraid to ask. From whether it’s safe to use your Christmas tree as firewood, to the safest way to ensure your outlets aren’t working too hard, it’s time to do your holiday homework. It’s the season to be merry, so let’s not let these dangerous December errors put a damper on the festivities.
Is It Dangerous to Use a Christmas Tree as Firewood?
This is one to file in the better-safe-than-sorry category. A Christmas tree can put off a highly unpredictable blaze which can result in house fires and/or unsafe air quality within your home if burning indoors. The sap, pine needles, and even the freshness of your tree can all be contributing factors, causing sparking that could ignite nearby materials in your home and increased intensity of flames, potentially causing damage to your firebox, flue, or chimney. Instead, opt for a safe disposal method. Depending on the size of your tree and the directions specified by your city and/or collection group, disposal can be as easy as dragging your tree to the curb. If your city doesn’t offer a Christmas tree pickup service, or if you simply prefer to go another route, look into local charitable organizations that take tree donations such as community gardens or zoos.
How Many Christmas Lights Can I String Together?
It’s tempting to try and make the most of every extension cord, but maxing out your outlets can be a dangerous game that can result in tripped breakers, overheated wires, and even the danger of fire. According to an article by Mr. Electric, a Neighborly Company, it’s best to start by determining the maximum load of your circuit (whether it’s a 15-amp or 20-amp should be listed on your home’s electrical box) and ensuring you don’t exceed 80% of the circuit capacity. It’s important to keep in mind what other items are running on that same circuit as they should be included in your wattage count. For this reason, Mr. Electric recommends a separate circuit for holiday lights if possible.
Is a Natural or Artificial Tree Safer?
According to the North Carolina Consumers Council, both live and artificial trees come with their own unique fire concerns though natural trees tend to pose a greater fire risk. Some of the dangers often associated with a live tree can be mitigated by ensuring you get the freshest tree possible, which oftentimes means chopping it down yourself. If you’re buying from the lot, lift the tree and bounce the cut end on the ground in order to see how many needles drop. If it’s a significant amount, it’s better to find another evergreen that’s in better shape. A fresh cut to the bottom of the trunk and lots of water once you get home will keep your tree healthier for longer.
Artificial trees and live trees alike can be a fire hazard if proper precautions aren’t taken when it comes to overextending your electrical sockets. Also, be aware of any recalls that might be in place for pre-lit trees.
Is it Safe to Hang Stockings Over the Fireplace?
If you use your fireplace, you should always skip hanging the stockings with care while it’s lit. In fact, any kind of decoration whether ribbon, garland, or lights should be removed if they fall within the National Fire Protection Association’s recommended 3-foot zone. We’re not saying you should skip the stockings this year—and every one hereafter—but it is wise to simply take them down when your fireplace is in use. If your fireplace is strictly used for aesthetical purposes, feel free to keep those stockings up all season long.
Do Outdoor Decorations Have to Be Outdoor Grade?
Outdoor decorations should be outdoor-rated both for safety purposes (particularly when it comes to lights and electrical decorations) related to electrical shock and fire, and also when it comes to ensuring they don’t wear prematurely. Extension cords, lights, faux trees, wreaths, and more should all be outdoor grade.
You’ll also want to keep in mind where your items will be placed and whether they’ll have some coverage from the elements. Some wreaths and garlands are suited for outdoor use so long as they are shielded from the harshest outdoor elements. In an article on their site, Wichita, Kansas-based Graf Electric also recommends using a ladder made of non-conductive material when hanging lights outdoors, unplugging lights before bed or before you go out of town, and ensuring lights are securely fastened wherever they’re hung.