Fact-checked with HomeInsurance.com

During the frenzy and fun of the holidays, it’s easy for homeowners to overlook home safety. Neglecting necessary precautions leads to an increased number of injuries, accidents and property damages during this time of year. The U.S. Fire Administration says that home fires in the winter account for only 8% of the total number of fires in the U.S., but they result in 30% of all fire deaths and 23% of all fire injuries.

While more than 2,600 people are killed in home fires every year, data from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) shows that one-third of all home fires and 38% of home fire deaths occur during December, January and February. A surge of heating, cooking, and using candles and other decorations during the winter holidays causes the increase.

Not only is a fire potentially deadly, but it’s the costliest type of property disaster, primarily if it results in a total home loss. Instead of falling prey to a dangerous fire and resulting financial risks, take the time to identify and correct potential problems before a tragedy can occur. 

Use these seven tips to keep yourself and your property safe this holiday season.

1. Watch out for cooking fires. 

For most people, cooking and eating more during the holidays is an annual tradition. The NFPA says that home fires that involve cooking peak on Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in the U.S.

The NFPA data shows that unattended cooking equipment, such as deep fryers and grills, are a leading cause of fires and injuries. Two out of every five reported home fires start in the kitchen or outdoor cooking areas.

While it’s safer to use deep fryers outside, make sure it’s level on the ground and is at least 30 feet away from your home, outbuildings, trees, or any flammable materials. Keep your eyes on fryers, grills and stoves at all times. Even a small fire on cooking equipment could escalate into a massive disaster quickly.

2. Pay attention to electrical hazards.

According to Electrical Safety Foundation International, problems with home electrical systems are the fourth leading cause of home files, after cooking equipment, heating equipment and intentional fires.

Problems with home electrical systems are the fourth leading cause of home fires, after cooking equipment, heating equipment and intentional fires.

Adding decorations to your home’s interior and exterior during the holidays can lead to unexpected electrical dangers. Using extra lights, appliances and other devices can overload extension cords and wiring in your home or rental property. Extension cord use is responsible for about 3,300 residential fires each year.

When decorating, don’t run electric cords across walkways, out of windows, under furniture and rugs, or in any wet areas. Frayed or cracked cords can quickly spark and cause a fire or shock someone.

3. Be cautious with candles.

Candles make spaces cozy and festive during the holidays, but represent a multitude of potential dangers when not used properly. According to the National Fire Protection Association, the top three days for home fires caused by candles are Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day. Candles cause 45% of home fires related to decorations.

Make sure to never place candles with an open flame near curtains, bathroom towels, kitchen towels or where they could be forgotten. Keep them at least one foot away from walls or flammable items. Make sure candles sit on a sturdy base and can’t easily get knocked over by pets or children. 

Remember to extinguish all candles before leaving your home or going to sleep. If you want to worry less about candles’ potential dangers, consider swapping them out for electric ones.

4. Scrutinize interior decorations.

It’s critical to make sure that no holiday decorations are damaged. Throw out any that show cracks, frays, exposed wires or have loose connections that could start a fire. Hundreds of home fires each year begin from holiday lights and decorations, excluding Christmas trees.

While it may look nice to place decorations near radiators, air conditioning vents, space heaters and other appliances, it’s dangerous. According to the NFPA, space heaters are involved in 79% of fatal home heating fires. 

Make sure all decorations stay at least three feet away from any heat source in your home. And before leaving or going to sleep, always turn off or unplug all decorations. 

5. Use exterior decorations sparingly.

While putting up decorations outside of your home may feel festive, they can quickly overload electrical outlets and cause a home fire. Be sure that you only plug them into circuits protected by ground fault circuit interrupters or GFCIs to be safe.

Only install decorations outside your home or rental that are certified for outdoor use. Be sure to keep them at least 10 feet from power lines and turn them off before leaving or going to sleep.

6. Keep your Christmas tree hydrated.

If you have a live holiday tree, choose one that’s as fresh as possible and remember to water it daily. Keeping a hydrated tree decreases the likelihood that it could catch fire.

Neglected trees can dry out and turn into kindling–a significant fire hazard in your home. It only takes seconds for a dry tree to spark and engulf a room in flames. According to the U.S. Fire Administration, holiday fires due to Christmas trees and other decorations result in twice the injuries and five times the fatalities per fire than an average winter fire.

Keep a natural tree in a sturdy stand away from heat sources and walkways and avoid overloading it with lights. The Insurance Information Institute says that candles cause 8% of Christmas tree fires.

Remove a tree from your home right after the holidays; don’t store an old tree in your garage or carport. Also, make sure any artificial trees you bring into your home are labeled as fire resistant and take similar precautions for installation and storage.

7. Check your smoke alarm.

The holidays are an excellent time to ensure that you have smoke alarms and that they work. Every home should have a tested smoke alarm in each bedroom and on each floor, including a basement. 

Before you put up a tree, decorate or start holiday cooking, do a battery test to make sure that every smoke alarm in your home is working. Checking them and installing new alarms could turn out to be the best gift you give yourself and your family this holiday. 

While having a fire sparked by holiday decorations or electrical issues is covered by a standard home or renters insurance policy, reducing your chances for a tragedy to happen in the first place is wise. Especially considering the fact that having a fire claim typically causes your insurance rate to rise.

Laura Adams

Laura is a frequent media source and has been featured on most major news outlets including ABC, Bloomberg, CBS, FOX, NBC, NPR, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, USA Today, U.S. News, Consumer Reports, Entrepreneur, Forbes, Fortune, Kiplinger’s, Marketplace, Money, MSN, and many other broadcast, print, and online outlets. Laura’s mission is to empower consumers to live richer lives through her writing, podcasting, spokesperson, and advocacy work. Millions of readers and listeners benefit from her practical financial advice. Laura earned an MBA from the University of Florida. She and her husband reside in Vero Beach, Florida. Connect with her and learn more at LauraDAdams.com.