The holidays should be a time to relax and spend time with the people you love, but this season of joy can also be a season of hazards for your home. From dangerous decorations to wild winter weather, the last thing you need is for an emergency at home to put you in a Grinchy mood.
“Many winter-related disasters can be prevented if you take a few simple steps to protect your home from freezing temperatures, snow and wind,” said Loretta Worters, vice president of communications for the Insurance Information Institute.
In addition to threats from mother nature, homeowners can also unwittingly put their homes in peril during the holidays by choosing the wrong decorations or getting so swept up in the holiday spirit they neglect the regular home maintenance needed to help their homes transition to the cold winter months.
Keep an eye on candles. December is the No. 1 month for fires caused by candles, Worters said. The cozy glow of candles is a great touch to your holiday decor, but a single unattended candle could spell disaster. Check the space around candles and remove any flammable objects like holiday cards, wrapping paper or dried-out pine needles before lighting them. Keep an eye on your guests to make sure no one bumps into burning candles or accidentally places any flammable items too close to them.
Don’t let the tree dry out. Christmas tree fires cause an average of seven deaths, 19 injuries and $17.5 million in damage in the U.S. each year, according to the National Fire Protection Association. To keep the tree from drying out and becoming kindling, water it daily. The NFPA also recommends you keep your tree at least 3 feet away from heat sources such as fireplaces or heating vents, check Christmas lights for worn cords or loose bulb connections before putting them on the tree, and turn off the tree lights each night before you go to bed.
Trim trees around your home. The Christmas tree isn’t the only tree you should worry about this season. Falling branches are one of the biggest hazards of winter storms. High winds or heavy ice and snow can bring them crashing down on your home, car or people walking on your property. Remove any dead branches before winter hits and trim back branches hanging over walkways, driveways or your home.
Protect your pipes. As the temperatures drop, the odds go up that a burst pipe could put a damper on your celebrations. If you go out of town for the holidays, keep your thermostat set at 65 degrees or warmer to prevent pipes from freezing and bursting. Wrap any exposed water pipes with heating tape to keep them warm. Check your insulation in areas like your attic, and learn how to shut off your home’s water in case a pipe does break because shutting off the water quickly will help reduce the damage.
Check your chimney. If you have a wood-burning fireplace, have your chimney inspected and cleaned before you light that Yule log. If anything became lodged in it during the warmer months, the blockage could cause smoke and carbon monoxide to flow into your home instead of out the chimney. Flammable creosote buildup from past fires can also cause chimney fires, which could spread to the rest of your home. The Chimney Safety Institute of America offers helpful resources on proper chimney maintenance and safety.
Guard your gutters. Clean the autumn leaves out of your home’s gutters before winter hits, and consider installing gutter guards to keep debris out, Worters suggested. Debris in the gutters can block the flow of water from melting snow, which could get backed up and break the gutters if it freezes. “Melting snow can inflict significant damage to property,” Worters said.
Protect your identity. While many of the things that can threaten your home during the holidays are clearly visible, identity theft is a sneaky threat you may not see until it’s too late. And the holidays are filled with opportunities for thieves to get their hands on your personal information. Before guests arrive — even familiar friends and family members — make sure all financial and other identifying documents are hidden and locked away. Password-protect any computers or electronic devices in your home that could give people access to your online accounts.
Block out burglars. The holiday season is also a prime time for burglaries when valuable gifts are stored in plain sight under the tree and people are often out of the house. To avoid becoming a target, don’t let packages sit on your doorstep, set lights to timers if you’re going to be out of the house and break down the boxes from expensive gifts rather than leaving them on the curb for trash pickup. You may also want to consider updating your home’s security. Some insurance companies even offer discounts for security updates to your home like new locks and alarm systems, Worters said.
Update your insurance policies. Most homeowners and renters insurance policies cover damage from fires, burst pipes, winter storms and other holiday hazards, Worters said. Even holiday gifts stolen from your car may be covered. However, that’s only if all of your policies are up-to-date. Check over your existing insurance to make sure any improvements you’ve made to your home are included and check the coverage for personal possessions. If you’ve made any expensive purchases recently, make sure your possessions coverage will be enough to replace them.