Ask the Expert: How Can I Prevent Holiday Home Electrical Hazards?

Today's “Ask the Expert” column features Jay Gregg, Director of Marketing with Pillar To Post.

Q: As a homeowner, what can I do to prevent electrical hazards during the holidays?

A: The holidays are a cozy and beautiful time of year. Crackling fires, decorated Christmas trees casting a warm glow for the family gathering around and an influx of loved ones helps infuse the darkest and coldest winter months with cheer and warmth. Unfortunately, the holidays also come with an increased risk of electrical malfunction and fire thanks to all the decorations that give the season its character. Therefore, it’s important to plan your holiday decorating and activities with proper electrical safety in mind.

The first step to any safe holiday season is knowing how safe and up to code your home is to begin with. New homeowners should always have a proper and complete home inspection performed by a certified inspector before purchasing, or at least immediately upon moving in. Even long-time homeowners should keep up with home inspections to better understand how their house is aging. Knowing the structural condition of your house will put you in the best position to safely set up your holiday decorations and carry out holiday activities.

Beyond maintaining a home that’s up to code, here are a few easy, but important, steps to keep your home safe during the holidays:

• If you prefer natural Christmas trees, keep them watered. Shorts in electrical lights or open flames from candles, lighters or matches start hundreds of tree fires every year. A well-watered tree resists fire, but a dry tree can be engulfed in flames within seconds.
Place your tree and decorations at least three feet from all heat sources. Be especially vigilant about the placement of space heaters if you use them in your home.
Extinguish all candles and turn off all space heaters, decorations and lights before leaving the house or going to sleep. This prevents a fire from starting when you are not home, or when your family is vulnerable in their beds.
Refrain from plugging multiple electrical decorations into a single outlet or into each other. The more you overload a power strip or outlet, the greater risk you run of causing an electrical fire. Plug your decorations into multiple outlets and be sure to read the instructions included with them to determine the safest method of use.
Make sure you use non-flammable or flame retardant decorations. Should something go wrong, flame resistant decorations will at the very least slow the spread of fire.
Make sure all smoke alarms work. Test smoke alarm batteries monthly and change the batteries at least once a year. If you can’t prevent a fire, a smoke alarm will allow you to curb the damage and protect your family’s safety.
Fire hazards exist outside the home as well, so it’s equally important to take safety into account when installing outdoor decorations:

Only use lights and electrical decorations that are approved for outdoor use. Outdoor decorations are manufactured to withstand rain, snow and other kinds of weather. Indoor-use decorations and lights are not, and can malfunction and trigger an electrical fire when they come in contact with weather and the elements.
Keep all extension cords and strings of lights suspended away from standing water and snow. Wires that come in contact with water or snow can trigger fires and cause electrocution.
Keep decorations away from major power lines and high-voltage areas. Decorations that accidentally come into contact with a high-voltage power line can easily start a fire and cause electrocution as well.

According to the Electrical Safety Foundation International, the peak months for home fires are December through February, so your extra care and vigilance will be well worth it.

Reprinted with permission from RISMedia. ©2013. All rights reserved.

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