The holidays and winter months present their own specific safety considerations in the home. Learn how to protect yourself and your family by minimizing the risk of fires and other hazards.
At the beginning of each winter season, get your chimney inspected and cleaned by a professional before using it. Buildup in the chimney can cause a fire if it is not properly cleaned.
Also, never use the following in your fireplace:
- Flammable liquids.
- Evergreen trimmings or boughs.
- Wrapping paper, cardboard, trash, or debris.
These materials can cause intense flames that can start chimney fires or send sparks into the room. Some of these materials may even cause toxic smoke.
Use a fireplace screen to keep sparks and embers from coming into the room.
Portable Heaters & Space Heaters
Make sure all heaters are in safe working condition. Place space heaters at least three feet away from anything that could catch fire, including paper, clothing, and furniture. (Do not use heaters to dry clothing.)
Small children and pets should not be left alone with heaters. Make sure to turn off heaters when you leave the room or go to sleep.
Cooking fires are the most common type of fires in U.S. households. By paying attention while cooking, you can prevent a kitchen fire.
If you are frying, grilling, or broiling food, stay in the kitchen. Turn off the stove if you have to leave the kitchen, even if only for a short time.
If you are simmering, baking, roasting, or boiling food, you don’t have to stay in the kitchen, but you do need to stay in the home. Check the food regularly and use a timer to remind you that you are cooking.
Keep flammable objects—pot holders, oven mitts, wooden utensils, and paper or plastic bags—away from the stovetop. Wear close-fitting clothing that won’t drape over or touch burners while you are cooking.
Although turkey fryers may produce delicious holiday dinners, they pose significant fire hazards. For safe turkey fryer use tips visit the U.S. Fire Administration’s page on cooking safety.
When choosing decorations for your home avoid materials with the following characteristics:
- Sharp or breakable.
- Flammable or combustible.
- Anything that a child could swallow or inhale or might be tempted to eat.
If you decorate with candles, keep them away from decorations, evergreens, or other combustible materials. Never place candles on trees.
Keep candles in stable holders where they cannot be knocked over. Do not leave children unattended with lighted candles.
Only purchase lights that have been safety tested by an independent lab. This will be stated on the label. Check that extension cords and strings of holiday lights are in good repair, with no fraying, cracking, or bare wires.
Do not connect more than three strands of lights, unless the directions specifically say that is safe. Use an extension cord for lights instead of plugging them straight into the outlet. Make sure to turn off the lights when you go to bed or leave home.
Keep lights out of reach of children who might be tempted to play with them. The bulbs can break, which can cause cuts and electrification or choking hazards.
If you use trees for decorations, make sure they do not block doorways or get in the way of people moving through the room. Do not place trees next to heat sources, such as a fireplace or heat vent.
Never use candles on or near trees.
If you buy an artificial tree, make sure its label says “fire resistant.”
If you purchase a real tree, keeping it fresh will make it less of a fire hazard. If the tree is a conifer (e.g., pines, firs, cedars), “fresh” means the following:
- The tree is green and does not shed needles when tapped on the ground.
- Needles are hard to pull off the branches and do not break when bent.
- Sticky resin is around the trunk.
To keep the tree fresh, cut a few inches off the trunk to expose live wood. Put the tree in a tree stand filled with water. Heated rooms can dry out a tree, so be sure to check the water levels in the stand and fill it as needed.
Following these tips can help make life safer year-round, not just during the holidays.
- Keep candles, matches, and lighters out of the reach of children.
- Install at least one smoke alarm on each level of your home, including near sleeping areas.
- Keep fire extinguishers in the kitchen, laundry room, and garage. An extinguisher with an ABC rating can fight fires caused by paper, wood, cloth, flammable liquids, and electrical short circuits.
- Make a family plan for fire emergencies. Practice your escape plan.
- Use your common sense. Identify potential danger spots in your home and take the proper precautions.
Adapted and excerpted from:
C. Lehtola, “Cool Weather and Holiday Safety Reminders,” Safety News & Notes, Vol 7., No. 11, Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering (11/2006).
“Holiday Decoration Safety Tips (CPSC-611)” (1.35MB pdf), U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission(accessed 11/2011).
“Winter Fire Safety,” U.S. Fire Administration(11/2011).