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Safety at home should be part of your family’s holiday plans

Barbara Buffaloe, LEED A.P., M.S., former Extension Associate & Resident Instructor, Architectural Studies, University of Missouri Extension


Living room decorated for ChristmasEvery year holiday decorations and Christmas trees account for almost 2,000 fires and cause more than $41 million dollars in property damage, according to Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI). Your family can avoid these hazards if you take the time to plan the placement and use of your decorations.


Shocking holiday safety statistics:

  • Nearly 130,000 fires will be reported in December alone, claiming over 400 lives and causing more than 1,600 injuries.
  • An estimated 76 percent of Americans decorate their homes during the holiday season.
  • Almost one-fourth of all Christmas tree fires are started because the tree was placed too close to a heat source.
  • On average, more than 200 fire-related fatalities and injuries occur on December 31 and January 1 alone.


READ THESE important tips if you don’t have time to read all the tips below:


  • Stapling or nailing through electrical/extension cords may damage the wire or insulation, which could lead to an electrical shock or fire.
  • Check packaging to determine the maximum number of strings that may be linked together.
  • Keep your holiday trees well-watered and away from heat sources. Dry and neglected trees can easily catch fire from a short in electrical lights or lit candles, lighters and matches.
  • Turn off electrical light strings, candles and decorations before leaving home or going to bed.


Here are some additional safety tips to follow when decorating, as recommended by ESFI:


  • Before you begin, read and follow the manufacturer’s instructions concerning installation and maintenance of all electrical decorations.
  • Inspect each decoration before plugging into an outlet. Cracked, frayed or bare wires and loose connections may cause a serious electric shock or start a fire.
  • Prevent shock by plugging outdoor decorations into circuits protected by ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs).
  • Avoid plugging in too many holiday lights and other decorations into a single outlet. Overloaded outlets can overheat and cause a fire.
  • Be careful not to mount or hang light strands in any way that might damage the cord’s insulation.
  • Use only lights and electrical decorations that have been certified by a recognized independent testing laboratory such as UL, CSA or ETL. Using these certifications also protects you from counterfeit products that are on the market.
  • Before using electrical products outdoors, make sure the product is approved and marked “for outdoor use.”
  • Send warranty and product registration forms to manufacturers so they can notify you promptly in case of a recall or safety concerns.
  • Turn lights and other decorations off when you leave or go to bed. This will also save you money on your energy bills.
  • Only use extension cords that are in good condition. Keep all outdoor cords protected from the elements. Indoor extension cords can overheat if they are under furniture or carpeting or behind baseboards. Extension cords are designed to be a temporary solution to power needs. Use caution with extension cords as improper use can pose serious shock and fire hazards.
  • Watch children around decorations. Because decorations are often brightly colored and mouth-sized, children are at risk for choking and electrocution. Keep such items off of the ground and out of reach.
  • Never leave a child unsupervised while cooking or near a gas or electric stove. Unattended cooking is one of the leading causes of home fires during the holidays.


Space heaters are the top cause of deaths in home heating equipment-related fires. ESFI gives some important tips for using portable electric heaters:


  • Plug portable space heaters directly into an outlet; do not use an extension cord.
  • Keep space heaters at least three feet away from any combustible materials.
  • Don’t use space heaters in rooms where children are unsupervised because they may stick their fingers or other objects through the protective guards, causing burns or shocks.
  • Plug space heaters into ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) outlets to prevent the chance for shock. A GFCI outlet should also be used in any area where water may come in contact with electrical products.
  • Check the cord before plugging in the heater – if frayed, worn or broken, do not use.
  • Keep all heaters out of high traffic and exit areas.


Remember that this is a time for family and friends, so relax and use your head when planning how you want to celebrate the season.



Electrical Safety Foundation International,


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Last update: Tuesday, December 13, 2016