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Holiday Tips for Homeowners

09/24/2018 Jerrica Farland


The holiday season offers cozy candles and festive lights, but it should also be a season of caution and care — to protect your home and the lives of loved ones.

Did you know that nearly half of all home fires happen in December, January and February, according to the Electrical Safety Foundation International? The American Red Cross also reports that during the winter holidays, almost 47,000 fires take place, and more than 500 deaths, 2,200 injuries, and $550 million in property damage.

Read up on expert advice for implementing safety measures around holiday décor, from trees to candles to outdoor lights, along with smart tools to protect your home while traveling:

Tree Tips. Christmas tree fires aren’t common; only around 860 occur per year. Yet tree fires can be among the most serious, often causing injury and death, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

Tree fires are often caused by electrical problems and a heat source too close to a dry tree, the association points out. Inspect lights for broken cords, fraying or other warning signs and discard damaged strings.

While a bit more expensive, LED lights don’t get as hot as traditional lights, which may prevent your tree from drying out so quickly. As well, they use less energy and last longer than traditional lights.

Water a Christmas tree daily, and keep all holiday greenery at least three feet away from heat or flame. If your tree starts to dry out, be sure to dispose of it promptly and properly. Immediately after the holidays, the U.S. Fire Administration say to discard or recycle your tree to reduce fire hazards.

Try this DIY recipe for a fire-retardant Christmas tree, courtesy of the Burn Institute Fire Safety Program. A bonus: the formula boosts your evergreen’s color and natural scent, according to the site. Or look for a flame-retardant artificial tree.

Light Right. Use lights that have the label of a recognized testing lab, and read the directions. Some lights are intended for only outdoor or only indoor use, and other lights have limits for connection (not stringing more than two incandescent lines together, for example), says ESFI.

If you light up the exterior of your home, ensure outdoor décor is plugged into ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs), which can protect from fatal electrical shocks, the foundation suggests. Keep yourself, your equipment and outdoor décor at least 10 feet from power lines.

Up to 50% of home electrical fires can be prevented by using arc-fault circuit interrupters (ACFIs), according to Electrical Safety Foundation International. ACFIs interrupt arcing electricity stemming from deteriorated wires and cords.

Both indoors and out, don’t overload circuits, and switch off holiday lights before heading to bed to dream of latkes or sugarplum cookies.

Candle Care. Tapers, pillars and other candles provide cheerful, beautiful light. But candles start a third of home fires, and the top three days for home candle fires are Christmas Eve, Christmas and New Year’s Day, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

Experts suggest keeping Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and Christmas wicks at least 12 inches away from anything that might burn. Put matches up high in a cabinet, where little hands can’t reach, and blow out candles before leaving a room, says the NFPA, which offers additional tips on general candle safety and religious candle safety.

And of course, if you face serious damage, contact your homeowner’s insurance provider, and follow other tips found on our Property Damage and Payment Assistance page.

Travel Tools. Planning to leave your home for the holidays and travel elsewhere? Break-ins often happen when burglars suspect a home is empty. And when you’re gone, you may miss important information.

You can tell neighbors you’re traveling, and hold the mail. But no matter where you are in the world, a Ring doorbell or other remote doorbell allows you to see who’s knocking – and even answer the door, notes travel blogger extraordinaire Johnny Jet.

“For example, when we first moved into our new place the electric company showed up to turn off the electricity, saying I never paid my bill,” Jet says. “But the bills were going to the wrong address. If I didn’t have Ring we would’ve returned to a dark house, and frozen food gone bad.”

There are water-leak sensors on the market now to watch for drips while you’re away. And Nest thermostats and other smart-home products like Belkin Wemo Switch can ensure you’ve turned off important electronics (such as holiday lights), he says, and monitor and regulate your home’s temperature from afar.

“We also use the Nest to blast the heat while on our way home from the airport,” Jet says, ensuring a comfortable, welcoming environment to return home to.

The views, information, or opinions expressed in this blog do not necessarily represent those of PennyMac Loan Services, LLC and its employees.

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