Top 12 Holiday Decorating Tips to Make Your Season Merry and Safe

The winter holidays are here! Before you begin your celebrations (if you haven’t already), here are 12 holiday decorating tips you need to know that will keep you and your loved ones safe whether you’re lighting candles or decking the halls.

Tip #1: Give your decorations some space

Almost half of all holiday decoration fires start because a decoration was too close to a heat source. Three out of every five candle fires start because flammable items—furniture, bedding, or decorations—were near the flame. To safeguard your family and your home, keep candles at least a foot away from anything flammable, your trees at least three feet away from any heat source (including candles), and keep your kids, kittens, and other small beings away from all the above.

Tip #2: Safe glowing!

Candle care starts with a long-tipped lighter to prevent any potential burns, which may force you to drop the candle and create a dangerous situation. Also, never leave your lit candles unattended or walk with a lit candle, and since half of home fire deaths occur between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m., extinguish your flames fully before turning in for the night.

a menorah with blue and white candles lit on a table
Be safe around lit candles!

Candles are a staple in all winter holidays, and according to the National Fire Protection Association, December is the peak time for candle fires. To lower your home’s risk, place your menorahs and kinaras on a non-flammable surface or on aluminum foil that’s on a sturdy, flat surface. This prevents candles from tipping over and starting a fire. Make sure to pick a place that is out of reach of curious pets and children!

Tip #3: Peruse before you use

Before even plugging in your electrical decorations, examine them for fraying wires and loose or missing bulbs. Replace broken bulbs, and throw out the entire string if you see any exposed wires. It’s better to lose a string of lights than lose your home to a house fire. Double-check to ensure that your electric decorations have been approved by an independent testing lab, such as UL (Underwriter Laboratories), CSA (Canadian Standards Association), and ETL (Intertek), for safety.

Tip #4: Less is more…

Multi-colored holiday lights lit on the floor
Connect three, no more, or a fire may be in store.

“The Rule of Three” applies to incandescent lights as most strands only allow three to be connected at a time. Connecting more can lead to a fire hazard.

Also, be sure not to overload your electrical outlets and never plug in more than one high-wattage appliance per outlet. Forty-four percent of Christmas tree fires started with electrical distribution or lighting equipment problems, so make sure to turn off your lights and candles before heading to bed.

Tip #5: …and check your cords

Lights aren’t the only fire hazard when it comes to holiday decorating. Most light strands connect to extension cords, which can also be frayed or damaged. This not only increases the risk of home fires but can also give you quite a shock. Keep cords in good working order by not pinching them between furniture, squeezing them in windows or doors, placing them under rugs, or attaching them to walls or siding with nails or staples.

Tip #6: Take your decorating outside (but only for 90 days)

Giving outside lights special love and care is one of the most important holiday decorating tips. Since exterior decorations are exposed to the elements, they can suffer from weather damage and critter attacks, so keeping them up longer than 90 days may drastically increase the wear and tear. (The extended time also might annoy your neighbors.)

Tip #7: Don’t buy Charlie Brown’s tree. Really.

All trees are potential kindle, but you can help to prevent a real or artificial tree from catching fire by following these simple rules:

  • When shopping for a natural tree, see if it’s losing needles excessively. If so, continue the search.
  • Place the tree at least three feet away from your heat sources, including candles.
  • Keep your tree hydrated by adding water to it once it’s in the stand and adding water daily.
  • Use appropriate lighting, and never use candles.
  • Buy flame-resistant or flame-retardant decorations, including your tree (if artificial).
  • When the tree begins to lose its needles excessively, it’s time to kick it to the curb.


Also, don’t block a doorway with your tree, so you have a clear exit in case of a fire.

Tip #8: Take your holiday displays and safety to new heights

More than 160 people per day visit the emergency room with injuries related to holiday decorating, and that number increases during November and December. Keep yourself out of the hospital by placing the ladder on stable ground, never standing on the top rung of the ladder, moving the ladder rather than leading too far, and wearing appropriate clothing (fit pants, tied and clean shoes, etc.)

Tip #9: Baby, don’t be a firework

Though not as popular as the Fourth of July, Dec. 30th – Jan. 3rd draws 10 percent of all firework fires. If you plan to celebrate the new year with fireworks, follow all the federal, state, and local laws regarding firework use. Light your fireworks in clear, open areas, on flat surfaces, and have a fire extinguisher ready, just in case.

Tip #10: Invite your smoke alarms to the party

Man standing on ladder checking smoke detector
Every home needs working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.

Whether you’re frying latkes, cooking chicken and sausage gumbo, or baking cookies, the winter holidays are a prime time for cooking fires (along with many other types of fires).  Keep your holiday guests safe by ensuring your smoke alarms are ready for the party. Their importance cannot be understated.

Test your alarms (even hardwired detectors) to ensure they’re functional, and if you’re using battery-operated detectors, not only test the batteries but also keep an extra set around, just in case it starts to chirp. Of course, this is just a holiday decorating tip. Make sure to keep your smoke alarms functioning properly year-round.

Tip #11: Leave poison off the menu

We’ve written about Thanksgiving cooking safety with tips you should follow when preparing your winter holiday meal. Winter holidays demand an extra level of attention with poisonous materials around the house. Wash your hands after hanging lights (which have lead in the strands) and keep the holly and mistletoe out of reach of children and animals. Head over to the National Capital Poison Center for additional holiday poison safety information.

Tip#12 – Keep up with home maintenance

Home maintenance never takes a holiday. Gain peace of mind and enjoy the holiday season by keeping your home working properly. While cleaning your dryer exhaust vent may not be top of mind in December, you may consider doing this if it’s been a year or more since it’s been cleaned. A dirty dryer exhaust vent can be a fire hazard. Similarly, you may need to get your furnace inspected or cleaned, have your hot water heater flushed, or test your sump pumps. By completing these and other home maintenance tasks as you needed, you can avoid “home surprises” and enjoy a safe and relaxing holiday.

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