Weather Outside Frightful? Keep Your Home Delightfully Safe – Here’s How

family by fireplace reading

Hunkering down near a cozy fire or enjoying the warm glow created by flickering candles sounds like the essence of winter, until the unthinkable happens and a fire starts. Unfortunately it’s all too common: The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) estimates there are an average of 362,000 unintentional residential fires each year.

As you might expect, the winter months are the most dangerous, with almost half of all home heating fires occurring in December, January and February, finds the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). And with energy prices spiraling, many homeowners might be more tempted than ever to try to heat the home through alternate means this winter. Add in the potential hazards that come with holiday decorations, and now is the ideal time to review winter fire safety tips.

Here is everything you need to stay festive and warm – and also safe – this winter.

1. Use a light hand so as not to overpower electric circuits.

Your electric circuits are only designed to handle a certain amount of electricity, and it can be risky to overload them. Here’s how to avoid it:

  • If you need extension cords to light up your room, plug them directly into a wall socket, never into another extension cord. 
  • If your outlets or switches are buzzing, warm to the touch, or emitting a burning odor, you’ll want to unplug some of the cords or choose another outlet.

2. Deck the halls carefully.

Your family might have an opinion on white versus colored lights, but there should never be a debate on safety. Mind these tips:

  • Always plug outdoor lights into a ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) outlet, which acts as a circuit breaker to prevent electric shock from wires exposed to wet weather conditions. 
  • Use light clips to hang the lights, instead of nails or screws which could puncture the wire, leading to shock or malfunction.  
  • If you’re using an extension cord outside, choose one designed for the exterior, which means it will have more insulation to protect it from temperature variations. Affix it to the sidewalk with electrical tape so it doesn’t create a tripping hazard.

3. Keep your Christmas tree merry and bright…but safe.

The NFPA finds that 40% of home Christmas tree fires involve lights. Here is what to watch for:  

  • Combining a heat source with a dry tree is a recipe for disaster, so your first step is to always keep your fresh tree adequately watered. If the water reservoir remains full, it means your tree is no longer taking water and could be on the verge of drying out. 
  • As soon as your tree starts to change from green to brown or shed excess needles, consider it no longer safe and remove it from the house. 
  • Before you string lights, check the cords to see if they are frayed or bare and look for a UL Safety Certification, which means the décor has been designed and manufactured to comply with specifications from Underwriters Laboratories, an independent product safety testing organization.

4. Avoid menorah (and other candle) mishaps.

Whether you’re having a special Hanukkah remembrance or just burning a candle for ambiance, the precautions are similar:

  • Position your menorah or candle on a sturdy surface and high enough so kids and pets can’t accidentally get near it or topple it. 
  • If children will be lighting the candles, check for loose clothing that could dangle in the flames as they move from candle to candle. 
  • On that note, make sure candles aren’t near any flammable objects, like curtains or papers. 
  • Never leave an open flame unattended or children unsupervised near a candle.
  • Make it a habit to conduct a last-minute sweep before you go to bed to see that all flames are extinguished.

5. Clean your fireplace. 

Make sure you’re only burning what should burn:

  • Engage a professional chimney cleaner each year to remove dangerous creosote as build-up in your chimney and firebox can cause your warming fire to ignite unexpectedly.
  • When cleaning out the fireplace yourself, make sure ashes have cooled completely.
  • Once they are no longer warm to the touch, you can sweep or scoop them into a paper bag to dispose of them.

6. Don’t mix heat and other materials. 

Be constantly aware whenever a fire or heat source is active:

  • Before lighting or igniting any heat source, including candles or your fireplace, space heater, or wood stove, confirm there’s nothing combustible (paper, fabric, etc.) within three feet. 
  • Verify you have extinguished all heat sources before going to bed, including turning off your space heater.

7. It’s the most wonderful time of the year…to replace your smoke alarm battery.

Even if you are taking all the precautions you should, a tragedy can still happen, and smoke alarms are your last line of defense so make sure it’s in good working order:

  • Experts recommend you change your fire alarm batteries every year, and many people make a habit of changing their fire alarm batteries on the first Sunday in November when most of the country switches to Daylight Saving Time. 
  • If you haven’t recently changed your batteries, now is the time.

Sufficient homeowners insurance is vital to protect your home and belongings if a fire or any other disaster should occur. Visit Matic today to compare policies and ensure you’re protected this winter and beyond.