In the midst of the holiday season, many families embrace the spirit of the season and festively decorate their homes to celebrate. For most Americans, the holiday season would not be the same without colored lights, Christmas trees, or halls decked with boughs of holly.
Holiday décor is part of what makes the season special, but it is important to take safety precautions when prepping the home for the holidays.
Christmas Tree Fires
Christmas trees tend to be the focal point of many homes during the holiday season, but a beautiful tree could start a house fire.
According to the National Fire Protection Assn., Christmas tree fires cause an average of four civilian deaths, 21 civilian injuries and $17.3 million in property damage per year. Though these fires are relatively uncommon, they cause serious damage when they do occur. On average, one out of every 66 reported home structure Christmas tree fires resulted in a death compared to one death per 144 total home structure fires.
Electrical malfunctions are the cause of nearly one-third of Christmas tree fires, and one in every six Christmas tree fires occur because a heat source is too close to the tree. In addition, natural trees are more likely to catch fire than artificial trees, especially if the tree dries out.
Checking the lights, being aware of candles and other heat sources and making sure the tree is getting enough water can help prevent Christmas tree catastrophes during the holidays.
Decorative Lighting Fires
Holiday lights and decorative lighting with line voltage can also become a major fire hazard if proper precautions are not taken. An estimated average of 160 home structure fires are caused by decorative lights annually, with approximately half occurring in December and January. Electrical failures and malfunctions were factors in 69 percent of the fires involving holiday lights.
On average, home fires caused by decorative lights cause approximately 8 deaths, 14 injuries, and $8.5 million in property damages.
Spray-on snow can add a new element to holiday décor, instantly providing a frosty look. However, spray-on snow can contain chemicals, such as methylene chloride and acetone, that if inhaled can cause nausea, lightheadedness and headaches.
Long-term, the chemical exposure could be even more serious, as methylene chloride may be a carcinogen.
If spray-on snow is part of your holiday decorating routine, try using it in a well-ventilated area. If possible, leave the area after using the product until it has dried completely, and keep children and pets away until the fumes have subsided.
Christmas Lights Containing Lead
Fires are not just the only danger of holiday lights. Researchers have found that four out of five holiday lights tested contain lead. Even more staggering is that 28 percent of these lights contained lead at such high levels that they would be illegal to sell in Europe.
Both the bulb bases and wiring insulation have been found to contain lead, which is a known carcinogen and can cause birth defects. However, the casing that contains lead in these lights is typically made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC), which contains phthalates, which are chemicals that can be dangerous to children. These chemicals, though, are also found in common household dust.
The good news is lead-free stabilizers are widely available, and the risk can be minimized if gloves are worn during installation. Hanging holiday lights outdoors may also protect young children from any phthalates caused by the PVC casing.
Candles cause fires year round, but the top three days for home candle fires are Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day.
However, fire is not the only danger that comes with lighting candles. Candles, as well as other scented materials such as air fresheners and potpourri can release phthalates and the carcinogen benzene. As a result, hormone disruptions can be ensued.
Almost 6,000 people are sent to emergency rooms every year due to a fall while decorating for the holidays. Most of these injuries occur as a result of falling from a ladder while hanging decorations, followed by falling off a roof. Other injuries include tripping over a tree skirt or decorations.
Being aware of outdoor and indoor conditions that could cause falls is essential for staying safe while decorating for the holidays.
Choking Hazards and Unexpected Poisoning
Holiday decorations are often shiny and beautiful, but these decorations can also tempt infants, becoming choking hazards. Small items such as ornaments, tinsel and other decorations can be especially hazardous.
Additionally, holiday plants can be poisonous if consumed. Although it is a common misconception that Poinsettias are the most poisonous holiday plant, these plants are not toxic to humans. Mistletoe, however, is toxic. Eating even a small portion of the plant can cause blood pressure changes, upset stomach, blurred vision and, in severe cases, death.
Decking the halls with boughs of holly can also be dangerous if there are small children around. Consuming enough of those tiny red berries could kill a child.
Keeping holiday decorations, as well as holiday candies and nuts, out of reach of small children, or using fake plants instead of real ones, can help in prevent a trip to the hospital during the holidays.