Essential Tips for Safer Holidays (at Home or Away from Home)

Whatever you’re celebrating in winter (Christmas, Hanukkah, winter solstice…) it usually involves fun activities like decorating, cooking or traveling. Unfortunately, behind the sparkle and dazzle, safety hazards lurk. This is not to say you shouldn’t have fun or avoid leaving your house… simply take some precautions in order to keep yourself and your loved ones safe.

If you’re staying home…

Every year, U.S. fire departments respond to about 230 home fires started from Christmas trees, according to a National Fire Protection Association study. And Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day rank as the peak days for kitchen fires.

Although Christmas tree fires are not common, they can be deadly. Even hanging decorations can pose a risk that lead to injuries and emergency room visits.

Being aware of common safety measures during this busy and stressful time of year is key, whether it’s the simple act of unplugging your tree lights or keeping an eye on your stove while cooking a big meal.

Cooking is the No. 1 home fire hazard, and December is the peak time for candle fires; these often occur in the bedroom, after people fall asleep.

Stay in the kitchen when cooking and always keep an eye on the stove, oven or grill.

Keep oven mitts, dish towels and other flammable items away from heating elements and open flames.

Keep an eye on candles and fireplace fires, and be sure to extinguish them before going to bed or leaving the house.

Keep children at least three feet away from fireplaces.

Check your smoke detectors. This is not something that you should skip… ever. They should be checked once a month.

Holiday lighting poses the risk of overdrawing power and creating a fire hazard. This is especially true of older lights

Stringing more than three strands of Christmas lights together, especially older ones, and connecting them to a single electric outlet can cause overheating. The circuit breaker trips in order to protect the circuit from overheating and causing damage or an electrical fire.

Older strands are more likely to overheat regardless, because they require more electricity.

Inspect your lights before hanging them. If they look worn (frayed wires, loose or cracked bulbs), don’t hesitate to replace them. Switch to LEDs, which are more energy-efficient and burn cooler than conventional incandescents.

Always unplug your lights and decorations before going to bed or leaving the house.

If you’re travelling…

Put lights on a timer. If you have holiday lights, put them on an automatic timer when you go out of town. You can set the timer up so that your lights go on at a certain hour each night, making it appear as if you’re in your home at all times. Consider setting a few indoor lights on timers as well to help your residence look lived in even when you’re not there.

Don’t leave a key in the property. Having a spare house key is a must. However, it’s crucial to be careful about where you store that key. Don’t leave it in a fake rock or place it under your doormat because these are locations criminals will look. Instead, leave a key with a trusted friend or neighbor so you’ll have it if you need it, but know your key won’t end up in the wrong hands.

Ask someone to pick up your mail, or stop your mail. Here’s another benefit about having friendly neighbors: They can pick up your mail and newspapers. Having newspapers piled up on your doorstep might as well be a sign saying, "Hey everyone; I’m not home."

Keep valuables out of sight. Go through each room to see if there are any valuable items that are out in the open. Even if these items can’t be seen directly from a window, you should find a safe place for them. If someone does break in to your residence, you don’t want to make it easy for them. Store your valuables in unexpected locations. Use common cleaning supplies and pantry items to keep your valuables safe from theft.

Leave your curtains or blinds in their normal position. It would make sense to close your curtains when you leave, but this may not necessarily be the best option. If you don’t normally close your curtains, this could be a sign telling others that you’re out of town. It’s best to leave your curtains as you normally would, and make sure any valuables that can be seen through the windows are out of sight. You don’t want to give someone a reason to want to come in.