Christmas time and home safety

by Gilbert Migirditsian, professional engineer, home inspector, and founder of GM Inspection

Christmas Lights / Lumières de NoëlChristmas is that time of year when we take time with our family and loved ones to reconnect and create those moments we talk about years later. This means decorating the Christmas tree, decorating outdoors, wood burning fireplaces, stringing lights outdoors, and taking the time to slow down and enjoy the simpler things in life. We want our memories to be happy ones and not create stories we talk about for years to come where we refer to fire, shock hazards, and damaged parts of our homes. This lighter article will present some elements you want to keep in mind such that you can keep your home safe and make sure your memories are cherished ones and not sad ones.

Falls are, above all, one of the greatest concerns when decorating your home for the Christmas season. Installing that giant Santa Claus on your roof may bring you many headaches that Old Saint Nick hadn’t planned on stuffing your stocking with! According to a University of Calgary study, falls now account for 40% of injury deaths in Canada. This becomes especially true during the holiday season where many are checking into the emergency rooms due to mishaps following a fall. But what to do? Above all, make sure that the ground the ladder is resting on is stable and soft. If the ground is frozen, make sure you chip away enough ice and nail in a sufficiently strong base such that the ladder cannot slip out from under you. Furthermore, there are a large number of clips that can be used to attach the ladder to the building in order to avoid the top of the ladder moving while you are installing the lights. Finally, make sure you purchase a high quality ladder that is non conducting (not to be confused with insulating) when clean and in good condition and also robust enough to support your weight (for which the rating will indicate).

The next part of our Holiday tradition is the Christmas tree itself. Some like to have a real tree while others prefer an artificial one. Regardless of the choice being made, care must be taken in either situation to ensure that fire safety is taken into account. For example, if a real tree is the choice, then care must be taken to ensure it stays hydrated and doesn’t dry out. This means ensuring that it has enough water to stay hydrated and there is no risk of flame catching a nice dry surface and create a kindling fire. The choice of an artificial tree is also a good one but again, the use of a fire retardant material is a must. Make sure the choice is one of quality and not a bargain basement tree that may cause more headaches than you are looking for. But remember, flame retardant doesn’t mean flame resistant and the difference is a big one so always remain vigilant.

Another staple of any set of decorations is the use of brightly colored lighting. There are so many choices available with many different price points. This doesn’t mean electrical safety is to be taken for granted when everyone is on a budget. The first aspect to check is that the lights have been certified by an independent Canadian authority such as ULC or CSA. Make sure you are using indoor rated lights indoors and outdoor rated lights outdoors. Check all the lights and make sure that none are cracked or sparking in their respective sockets. This is also a good time to check for any frayed wiring which is also a risk of fire. Finally, ditch that dollar store extension cord and make sure you have a safe, grounded, electrical extension cord because that few dollars you saved may end up costing you a pretty penny in the long run!

Once the lights are safely lit on your tree, it’s time to go for decorations! Be careful with any decorations that can fall and break! Also bear in mind that anything you put on the tree can potentially catch on fire and any decorations need to be chosen carefully just as everything else.

Finally, anyone with a fireplace needs to care for this intricate part of their home. This subject will be covered in much more detail in the future but first and foremost the chimney is the main point of attention that requires the care of a chimney sweep. This is not a task you want to tackle yourself as missing a specific section of the chimney may spell disaster in terms of potential fires in the future. The next point of attention is to make sure the damper on the chimney opens and closes when operated. The use of proper dry logs and good lighting technique is also a must. Remember, don’t burn anything in your chimney that you wouldn’t normally burn elsewhere in your home. That means wrapping paper or any other colored and/or coated paper. Finally, always take a watch and wait approach with the fire you’ve just lit in case the unexpected happens! If you’re in Montreal don’t forget to register your wood burning fireplace that is being phased out and will soon be banned completely.

Remember, the holidays are a time when you want to enjoy time with your loved ones and not spend time explaining to your insurance company and hoping that you will be covered for the damage at hand. Wishing all my readers a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! See you next time when I’ll be back with more useful information! In the meantime, visit me on Facebook.