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Avoiding Holiday Decorating Disasters

Holiday lights and displays are inherent to the holiday season, and bring holiday cheer to all who pass. But a lot of homeowners aren’t fully aware of the risks that holiday lights and decorations pose, resulting in many never performing safety checks on lights and ornaments. In fact, for the fifth consecutive year, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) anticipates an excess of 12,000 emergency room visits for falls, cuts, shocks and burns related to holiday decorating.

Some of the more common injuries (such as electrical shocks or burns) result from an excess of lights strung end-to-end, low-wattage ornaments burning high-wattage bulbs, or overloaded extension cords. This safety list can help you and your friends/family avoid a holiday decorating disaster this year:


Heed the warning labels on ladders. Following the manufacturers instructions on use will greatly lower your chance of accidental falls, or entanglement in high-current electrical wires.

Trees and Decorations

Buying a live tree? Be sure it’s fresh! We realize that not everyone has time to go cut down a tree themselves, so we want to make sure that you check that your tree is fresh. If it’s green, it’s needles are hard to pull from the branches, and the needles do not break when bent between your fingers, you likely have a fresh tree. Dry needles are more flammable than well hydrated ones!

Place trees away from heat sources. Fireplaces, vents, and radiators not only cause a fire risk when in close proximity to trees (live and artificial), but they can impede the heat distribution to the room or house. Keep in mind that warmer rooms will cause the tree to absorb water faster, so check the water levels in live tree bases daily!

Using an artificial tree? Look for the “Fire Resistant” label! While this doesn’t guarantee that the tree won’t catch fire, it indicates that it’s more resistant to combustion.

Have small children? Avoid small, sharp, heavy, or breakable decorations. Keep decorations that have small or removable parts out of reach, and avoid decorations that resemble food or candy that may entice children into putting it into their mouths.


Keep burning candles in sight. Extinguish candles when you leave the room or house. Do a double check before going to bed to ensure that you didn’t accidentally overlook one.

Burn candles only on a stable, heat-resistant surface. Make sure that they’re out of reach of pets and children, and on surfaces that won’t cause the candle to fall if bumped. Make sure that there are no adjacent drapes, decorations, or furniture that could easily catch on fire.


Use lights that have been tested. Use only lights that have been tested by a nationally recognized testing laboratory such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL), Intertek (ETL) or the Canadian Standards Association (CSA). On lights for sale in stores, UL’s red holographic label indicates that it meets the strict safety requirements for indoor/outdoor use. UL’s green holographic label indicates that the product is approved for indoor use only.

Check each set of lights. Look at both new and old lights for broken bulbs, cracked sockets, loose connections, or frayed/bare/broken wires. Throw out damaged light strings, and don’t use electric lights on metallic trees.

Check outdoor lights for labels. Be sure that the lights you plan to use outdoors have labels citing approval for outdoor use. When in doubt, or no label exists, don’t use it outdoors. When creating your outdoor display, plug the lights into a ground-fault circut interrupter (GFCI)-protected outlet only!


Use “fire salts” with extreme care. Fire salts are used to produce colored flames when using a wood-burning fireplace. These salts contain metals that can induce gastrointestinal irritation and subsequent vomiting if swallowed. Ensure that these substances stay out of reach of children and pets!

Don’t burn wrapping paper in the fireplace. Wrapping paper is highly flammable, and can cause a flash fire, igniting any flammable material around the fireplace or causing severe burns to those in close proximity.

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