Keep Your Home Safe This Holiday Season
Every year, millions of us put up our Christmas trees, hang up our stockings, and wait for the Big Guy in Red to sneak in at night and pile up the presents. We spend quality time with friends and family, enjoy large meals, hot chocolate and sweet desserts. For many of us, it’s a mad rush followed by a serene calm in our neighbourhoods decorated by twinkling lights and hopefully a fresh coat of white snow. We tend to stay inside more, cuddle up in front of the fire, and we feel safe.
Unfortunately for some of us, this Christmas will be much more sinister. Statistically, a few hundred North Americans will spend Christmas huddling around a fire truck watching everything they have — material goods and memories — go up in smoke. Others will be injured by falling trees, electrical shocks or carbon monoxide poisoning. Investing a few dollars and a little time now can keep your family and your home safer this year.
If you have a real Christmas tree, be sure that it’s well supported in a stand that won’t allow it to tip over easily. Keep it far enough away from fireplaces and other heat sources that if it does topple over it won’t come into contact with them. Also be sure to trim the bottom of the trunk and keep it watered — the humidity in winter is much lower, which will dry out your tree quickly, which means it’s more susceptible to fire.
When it comes to lights, LED is the safest and most efficient — double bonus. You’ll want to avoid plugging more than three sets of lights into an extension cord and don’t use power bars. Check all wires and connections for damage to avoid arcing or overheating. If you prefer a fake tree, make sure it’s CSA approved and fire resistant. Tree fires are rare, but they tend to be very destructive.
Because we’re home more for the holidays, heaters and fireplaces get more use than normal. Make sure any heat source is at least a metre away from any combustibles, has a working thermostat and tip-over shutoff feature. Check any electrical cords and be sure they are in good shape, and that you’re not overloading your electrical system with armies of space heaters plugged into the same circuit.
Make sure your gas fireplace is in good working condition, and that you (and your spouse/partner/kids/roommates) know exactly where the gas shutoff valve is — you don’t want to be searching for it while flames are shooting into the room.
If you have a wood-burning fireplace, don’t keep combustibles in the area and ensure there is a screen or other device to keep sparks and coals where they belong. Make sure you have good airflow up and out the chimney. If your dryer or bathroom fans are running while you are having a fire, you could be causing negative pressure in the house, which will compete with the fireplace’s fresh air supply. Be sure the flue is open and never use gasoline or any other accelerant to light an indoor fire.
Have your chimney cleaned and inspected regularly by a professional — creosote buildup or cracks in the pipe are huge fire hazards. Don’t let kids play with fire in the house, and make sure it’s completely out and cold to the touch before closing the flue and going to bed. Invest in a few fire extinguishers and make sure everyone in the house knows where they are and how to use them.
Another important item to check is your dryer. Have a look at the exterior vent cover to make sure it’s not blocked by lint, snow or other debris, and be sure to clean your lint trap frequently. Lack of airflow out the vent can cause overheating, or in the case of a gas dryer, a buildup of dangerous gasses inside your home.
If you don’t already have them, install carbon monoxide detectors in your home. Carbon monoxide is tasteless, odourless and colourless and is called the silent killer for a reason. Any fuel burning appliance or fireplace in your home creates carbon monoxide, which is why it’s so important that all appliances have an exhaust vented to the outside that is intact and not blocked by bird’s nests, snow or other debris.
Wood burning fireplaces should have a fresh air intake vent, or should not be operated without a window open to allow gases to escape up and out of the chimney. Competing exhaust fans or vents can draw CO back into the room, and leave you susceptible to carbon monoxide poisoning. In low doses, CO can cause headaches and shortness of breath. Medium exposure to CO can cause dizziness, vomiting, confusion, drowsiness or fainting, and high exposures can cause unconsciousness, brain damage and death —
all before you see, smell or taste anything.
If you have children, talk to them about safety during the holidays. Teach them how to call 911 as well as where to find and how to use a fire extinguisher. Come up with an escape plan in the event of fire and practice it with them. Don’t forget to designate a safe meeting spot away from the house!
As you’re preparing for Santa, friends and feasts this year, be sure to spend some time on safety. Prepare yourself to have a safe and happy Holiday!