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Safe Holiday Decorating

Each year, thousands of people are treated in emergency rooms for injuries related to holiday decorating. In addition, approximately 400 fires occur that are the direct result of dry Christmas trees, resulting in 20 deaths, 70 injuries and an average of more than $15 million in property loss and damage. To help prevent holiday decorating-related injuries in your home, review the following checklist, which focuses on precautions to take with Christmas trees, indoor and outdoor lighting, safe handling of other decorations, and using fireplaces. By following the suggested guidelines, you will hopefully be able to minimize the risks associated with holiday decorating and will be able to keep the season bright.

Christmas Trees

  • When purchasing an artificial tree, make sure that it is labeled as “fire resistant.”  Although this label does not mean the tree won’t catch fire, it does indicate that the tree will be less likely to burn and can be extinguished quickly.
  • When purchasing a live tree, check for freshness. Fresh trees are green; needles are hard to pull off from the branches; and when bent between your fingers, needles do not break. The trunk should be sticky with resin and when tapped on the ground, the tree should not lose many needles.
  • When setting up a tree in your home, cut two inches off the bottom of the tree to allow for water absorption. Place the tree at least three feet away from fireplaces and radiators, our of the way of traffic, and do not block doorways in any way. Because heated rooms dry live trees out rapidly, be sure to keep the stand filled with water every day.
  • After the holidays conclude, promptly remove the tree from your home.


  • Whether indoor or outdoor, only use lights that have been tested and are labeled with the Underwriters Laboratories (UL) mark. This mark indicates that UL engineers have tested samples of the product for possible safety hazards, such as fire and electric shock.
  • If you want to use outdoor lights, check the labeling to ensure they are certified for outdoor use.
  • Whether your lights are new or old, you should check each set for broken or cracked sockets, frayed or bare wires, or loose connections. Test the lights on a nonflammable surface by plugging them in for 10 to 15 minutes to check for melting, smoking or overheating. Any damaged sets should be discarded.
  • Always unplug a light string or electrical decoration before replacing bulbs or fuses.
  • Use no more than three light strings per single extension cord, and don’t run extension cords across sidewalks or driveways.
  • Never use electric lights on a metallic tree. The tree can become charged with electricity from faulty lights and a person touching a branch could be electrocuted.
  • Fasten outdoor lights securely to trees, house walls, or other firm supports to protect the lights from damage. Don’t use metal staples or nails as fasteners for lights. This could damage the protective insulation covering the wires.
  • Turn off all holiday lights when you go to bed or leave the house. If you tend to forget, use a timer.
  • When hanging lights or other decorations outdoors that require the use of a ladder, take extra precaution. Falling off a ladder is the leading cause of home fatalities, according to the National Safety Council. Don’t be afraid to ask for help with larger jobs, or for someone to simply hold the base of the ladder while you are climbing it.


  • Use only non-combustible or flame-resistant materials to decorate a tree. Choose tinsel or artificial icicles of plastic or nonleaded metals.
  • Never use lighted candles on a tree or near other evergreens. Always use non-flammable holders, and place candles where they will not be knocked down.
  • In homes with small children, take special care to avoid decorations that are sharp or breakable, have small removable parts, and/or resemble candy or food.

Fireplace Use

  • Use care with “fire salts,” which produce colored flames when thrown on wood fires. They contain heavy metals that can cause intense irritation to the body. Keep away from children.
  • Do not burn wrapping paper in the fireplace. A flash fire may result as wrappings ignite suddenly and burn intensely.


© 2024 GuideOne Insurance. GuideOne® is the registered trademark of the GuideOne Insurance Company. All rights reserved. This material is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to give specific legal or risk management advice, nor are any suggested checklists or action plans intended to include or address all possible risk management exposures or solutions. You are encouraged to retain your own expert consultants and legal advisors in order to develop a risk management plan specific to your own activities.