Be sure when buying replacement strings of lights that you are getting CSA-approved products; and be cautious not to go overboard like the Griswolds.

Homes: Beware holiday decoration hazards

Christmas just wouldn’t be right without coloured lights, natural wreaths, garland, tinsel and stockings.

  • Dec. 10, 2015 12:00 p.m.

It has been estimated that as much as 80 per cent of North American homes are decorated for the holiday season.

For many people, Christmas just wouldn’t be right without coloured lights, natural wreaths, icicle lights, garland, tinsel, stockings hung from the mantel and, of course, a carefully decorated Christmas tree.

And by now many local Christmas decorators have already mounted their lights and outdoor decor, and erected their decorated tree.

Holiday decorations add to the spirit of the season and are a source of joy for a home’s occupants.

Taking safety precautions can be very important to avoid serious damage, injury or even death during the holiday season.

Because December is one of the deadliest months of the year for house fires, and Christmas decorations have everything to do with that.

From dried out trees and forgotten candles, to over-plugging house lights, firefighters across the country have been called to hundreds of thousands of house fires over the decade because ’tis the season.

And it can start with the tree.

A Christmas tree starts to dry out from the moment it’s cut down. But how quickly it dries out can depend on the type of tree it is, to the dryness of the house, and how frequently the tree is watered while it’s on display.

Although man-made Christmas trees can present fire risks, natural trees are more likely to catch fire than artificial ones. This is especially true if they dry out.

Every year Christmas trees are implicated in hundreds of home fires, including deaths, injuries and millions of dollars in property damage. And Christmas tree fires are likely to be serious and more likely to result in deaths than other home fires.

Electrical failures and malfunctions frequently cause trees to start on fire. But heat sources, such as candles and lights that are too close to the tree, can frequently cause fire.

And it shouldn’t come as any surprise that the week between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day produces more candle fires than any other time of the calendar.

December produces many candle fires, where combustible seasonal decorations are too close to the candle’s flame.

And it’s not just fires that one should consider when lighting candles.

Candles, especially the scented varieties, can release hundreds of chemicals, including cancer-causing benzene, into a home’s air when they are burned.

Besides trees and candles, every year hundreds more home fires occur because of holiday lights; often resulting in death, injuries and millions of dollars more in property damages.

These fires are typically because of electrical failures or lights malfunctioning.

Putting too many strings of lights into an extension cord can result in disaster. Depending on what kind of cord you’re using, you shouldn’t plug any more than three standard-size set of lights into each extension cord.

And it’s important to ensure one is using the correct lights for the correct purposes.

Some lights are for indoor use only and not weatherproof. Other lights are made to be put up outside and can burn too hot if placed on anything in the home. It’s important not to mix up the two.

But bulbs can also explode, sending sparks and glass flying, which can endanger exposes skin or catch garments on fire.

And Christmas lights can wear over time. Even new ones can be flawed.

Be sure you check each bulb for broken or cracked sockets, frayed wires or loose connections. Throw away any light strings that show problems. Defective lights can cause fire.

Be sure when buying replacement strings of lights that you are getting CSA-approved products.

The CSA Group — an internationally accredited, not-for-profit member-based association dedicated to advancing safety, sustainability and social good — tests lights to ensure they’re safe. Approved brands will have a label on the box and on the light set. And of course being a little over cautious can also make a lot of difference when it comes to being safe.

Christmas decorations are an important part of the holidays.

It is worth it to take the precautions that ensure they don’t become the Grinch that spoils Christmas, too.

– By Kevin Gillies, a freelance writer for Black Press.

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