May your days be merry and bright – and may all your holidays be safe.
How to Have a Safe Holiday Season
The 2019 holiday season is officially here. For most people, that means it’s time to start thinking about buying presents, planning big meals, scheduling travel, and / or planning party outfits. For insurance nuts like us, that means it’s time for a refresher course on all the ways things can go wrong at your house.
Here, we present a breakdown of the many ways holiday celebrations can bring extra risk into your life – and tips for how to minimize that risk to keep your home and family safe. We’ve also included a holiday home safety checklist at the end, so if your schedule is already jam-packed, feel free to jump right there.
Holiday Cooking Risks & Safety Tips
Thanksgiving is maybe the biggest cooking event of the holiday season, but it’s really just the start of a season of feasting – at parties, on holidays like Christmas and Kwanzaa, at cookie exchanges, etc.
That’s good news for hungry revelers, but it also increases the risk of fires. In fact, cooking is the leading cause of home fires in the United States, sparking 172,100 fires per year – nearly half of all fires that start in houses. Maybe not surprisingly, cooking-related fires spike on Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day.
And here’s a sobering statistic: while home fire deaths overall have fallen significantly since 1980, cooking fire deaths have stayed constant, suggesting that improvements in education and technology haven’t affected the risks of cooking.
To improve kitchen safety and prevent fires in your home this holiday season, follow these steps:
- Never leave cooking food unattended. The most common cause of cooking fires is leaving the stove (or fryer) unattended.
- Fry with care. Deep-fried turkeys have grown in popularity in recent years, but deep-frying is much riskier than roasting (53 percent of home cooking fires are ignited by fat, grease, or oil). If you go the deep-fry route, follow FEMA’s safety guidelines.
- Read food labels. If you’re buying unfamiliar foods for the holidays or cooking for a bigger group than usual, read ingredient lists and be on the lookout for common allergens. Warning your guests (and avoiding known allergens) can prevent dangerous allergic reactions.
- Invest in a meat thermometer. Undercooked meat can cause food poisoning. If you’re cooking meat this holiday season – especially if it’s a large animal like a turkey – use a meat thermometer to ensure that it’s thoroughly cooked and safe to eat.
Holiday Candle Risks & Safety Tips
There’s no doubt that candles make a cold winter night seem cozier and more inviting. And they’re part of many holiday traditions: lighting candles is part of ritual celebrations of Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa.
Christmas day (which has 2.8 times as many candle fires as an average day).Maybe it’s no surprise, then, that the top days for candle fires in the United States are:
- New Year’s Day.
- New Year’s Eve.
- Thanksgiving Day.
- Christmas Eve.
And here’s a hint about why Christmas Day comes first on that list: 59 percent of candle fires start when something combustible (like discarded wrapping paper) is left too close to a candle. Another consideration: in December, candle fires started by decorations catching light are three times more common than during the rest of the year.
Every year, candles cause 8,690 home fires. To keep from adding to that total, follow these candle safety tips:
- Use sturdy holders for lit candles. Holders that are too light or improperly weighted increase the chances of a lit candle toppling and igniting fuel nearby.
- Keep lit candles on sturdy, clear surfaces. No wobbly tables. No tables with piles of paper. A clear, steady area ensures that the candle stands upright.
- Blow candles out before they burn all the way down. This is especially important for candles in glass jars, which can explode if they get too hot (which can happen if a flame gets too low).
- Don’t leave candles alone. As with cooking, don’t leave a burning candle unattended. And note that kids don’t count: never leave kids in a room alone with a burning candle.
- Don’t burn candles in rooms where people fall asleep. Eleven percent of candle fires sparked because someone fell asleep while the flame was burning.
- Leave a clear 12 inches on every side of the flame. With plenty of clearance, it’s less likely that flammable material will blow into the flame or that the flame will catch something nearby on fire.
- Consider fake candles. Flameless candle technology has come a long way in recent years. Many fake candles offer the same cozy, flickering light as the real thing – with none of the risk. (Bonus: scented candles cause allergic sinus reactions in some people, so going fake may help your guests breathe easier.)
Winter Weather Risks & Safety Tips
Some parts of the holiday season affect you whether or not you plan to celebrate. Without proper preparation, winter weather can cause both physical injury and property damage.
Depending on where in the country you live, you can keep your property and your visitors safe by following these tips:
- Prepare for bad weather. If you get snow and ice, stock up on salt and shovels ASAP. You’ll want to be prepared to keep your walkways clean before the first storm hits. Keeping the areas around your house walkable helps prevent slip-and-fall injuries.
- Check your home’s seals. Make it harder for water to creep into your house by keeping your gutters clean and sealing any cracks along windows, walls, and doors. When temperatures drop, even a little water in a crack can cause problems: as it freezes, it expands, which means more room for water to get inside and do damage.
- Clean your chimney. If you have a fireplace or wood-burning stove, be sure to clean your chimney at least once per year. The buildup of substances like creosote (which can be removed with regular cleaning) contributes to 28 percent of heating-related fires.
- Follow other fire safety protocol. This fireplace safety guide from the state of Maine offers more detailed guidance on keeping your home fireplace or woodstove safe: clear the area around the fireplace, don’t burn cardboard or trash, and soak hot ashes in water and store them in a metal container after cleaning the fireplace.
- Keep flammable objects at least three feet from heat sources. As with candles, keeping “stuff” away from heat sources (like space heaters, which cause 43 percent of home heating fires) can prevent fires.
Christmas Tree Risks & Safety Tips
Christmas trees have gotten safer since the days when we used actual lit candles to decorate them, but they still cause about 200 home fires every year.
You can minimize the chances that your evergreen will go up in flames by following these Christmas tree safety tips:
- Pay attention to your wires. Forty percent of Christmas tree fires happen because of problems with electrical distribution or lighting equipment. If you’re not sure what counts as “too much,” read and follow the instructions on your lighting equipment and / or surge protector.
- Keep trees away from heat sources. About a quarter of tree fires happen because the tree is too close to a heat source (fireplace, space heater, radiator, etc.). When you choose the perfect place for your tree, make sure it’s clear of things that get hot.
- Keep it watered. In the event of fire, a watered tree burns much slower than a dry tree, which increases the odds that you’ll catch the fire and put it out before serious damage is done.
- Get rid of it! A shocking 21 percent of Christmas tree fires happen between February and November, possibly because trees still lingering by February are dry and more flammable. Avoid this fate for your tree by getting rid of it by mid-January.
- Consider going fake. Fires aren’t the only risk Christmas trees present: they also cause allergic reactions in many people. As with candles, artificial trees can reduce your fire risk and save the sinuses of some of your loved ones.
Holiday Travel Risks & Safety Tips
Whether you’re headed over the river and through the woods or up the turnpike, there’s a good chance you’ll travel to see family and friends during the holiday season.
To increase the odds that your time away from your home doesn’t lead to any unplanned problems, follow these holiday travel safety tips:
- Install a security system. Nobody wants to come home to a burgled house. Installing a security system – especially a “smart” system that sends you real-time updates or one alerts a central monitor – can help deter would-be thieves and ensure that any attempted burglary is addressed as soon as possible.
- Install smart sensors on your water pipes. These smart-home systems can prevent water damage by sensing unusual water activity (such as what would occur if a pipe froze and burst) and automatically shutting off your water when it happens. When you’re not around to turn off the water manually, a smart sensor can offer major benefits.
- Pause your mail or have a neighbor collect it. Piled-up mail or newspapers can signal to thieves that nobody’s home, so consider pausing mail delivery for the days you’ll be gone (which you can do via the USPS website) or asking a neighbor to bring it inside every few days.
- Hire a shoveling service, if necessary. If you live in an area where it snows a lot, consider hiring a shoveling service while you’re away. This ensures that you’ll be able to park when you get home and that you’re not signaling your awayness loud and clear to potential burglars.
General Home Safety Tips for the Holidays
We’ve spent a lot of time on fire prevention here, and we’re not finished yet. The holidays come with several season-specific fire risks, but prevention isn’t something you should only be thinking about from Thanksgiving to New Year’s.
Consider this: 21 percent of the deaths caused by home fires happen in houses where the smoke detector isn’t working. Of those, 46 had missing or disconnected batteries and 24 percent had no batteries. By taking just a few seconds to test your smoke detector right now, you can help prevent damage and injury to everyone who visits your home.
Here are some other safety tips to keep your home and loved ones safe over the holidays:
- Check your smoke detectors. Replace dead batteries and hook up disconnected batteries. (We really can’t say this enough times.)
- Choose flame-resistant or -retardant decorations. They can make a big difference in the event of a blaze.
- Choose the right lights. Some lights are meant only for indoor use, some only for outdoor. Follow directions on the box.
- Use clips, not nails, to secure lights. This prevents damage to the cords, which can spark fires.
- Ask smokers to smoke outside. Provide them with a large, deep ashtray that’s not likely to overturn. Wet butts before discarding them. Ask smokers to keep their lighting equipment away from kids.
- Use fireworks with care. While Fourth of July is the biggest holiday for fireworks injuries and fires, a full 10 percent happen between December 30 and January 3, with the bulk of those happening on New Year’s Day.
Holiday Home Safety Checklist
Ready to have the safest holiday season of your life? Take a minute to read through this checklist and verify that you’ve taken appropriate precautions based on your plans for celebrating.
- Check your smoke detectors and replace dead or missing batteries
- Prevent cooking fires
- Never leave cooking food unattended
- Check for allergens on food labels
- Use a meat thermometer
- Use turkey fryers on a sturdy, level surface away from flammable materials
- Keep kids away from turkey fryers
- Test the fill level of a fryer with water and your turkey to avoid overfilling
- Completely thaw your bird before frying to prevent splattering
- Use a cooking thermometer to prevent overheating of oil
- Use gloves to touch lid, pot, and handles of a fryer
- Prevent candle fires
- Use sturdy candleholders
- Keep candles on sturdy, clear surfaces
- Blow candles out before they burn all the way down
- Give burning candles a one-foot berth on all sides
- Never leave burning candles unattended
- Never leave kids alone with burning candles
- Don’t burn candles where people sleep
- Consider fake candles
- Prevent weather-related injuries and property damage
- Buy shovels and sidewalk salt before the first storm
- Update seals on your windows and doors to keep water out
- Clean your chimney
- Clean the area around the inside of the fireplace
- Keep your roof clear of debris
- Don’t burn cardboard or trash
- Soak hot ashes in water and place them in a metal container
- Prevent Christmas tree fires
- Don’t overload electrical outlets
- Keep trees away from heat sources
- Water trees regularly
- Get rid of trees before they dry out
- Consider a fake tree
- Avoid theft and property damage while you travel
- Install a home security system
- Install smart water sensors
- Pause mail delivery
- Hire a shoveling service
- Choose flame-resistant or flame-retardant decorations
- Use the right lights (indoor vs. outdoor) for the decorating job and hang with clips, not nails
- Ask smokers to smoke outside
- Use fireworks with care
Happy holidays from everyone at Kin! We look forward to helping you keep your home safe and comfortable into the New Year!