Holiday Fire Safety Tips

blogThe holiday season is supposed to be a time of joy and happiness, spent with friends family and loved ones.  But this wondrous time of year isn’t free from danger. According to the American Red Cross, almost 47,000 fires occur during the winter holidays, taking over 500 lives, injuring thousands of people, and resulting in hundreds of millions of dollars in property damage. Fortunately, many holiday fire risks can be minimized with a little care and planning. Here’s how to avoid some common causes of holiday fires.

Be safe with Christmas trees

Place trees (and fir wreaths and garlands) three feet away from heat sources like fireplaces, radiators baseboards and any other heat source, never use lit candles to decorate a tree. (Use battery-operated ones to achieve that effect.) Check that artificial trees, as well as decorations, are made of flame-resistant or flame-retardant materials.

If decorating a live tree, choose one that is freshly cut, with intact needles, and water it daily to prevent it from becoming dry. Once it does begin to dry out and drop needles, it’s time to discard your tree. Although Christmas tree fires are not common, the explosiveness of dry trees makes them very dangerous if they do occur.

Use a tree stand that can’t tip over and be sure to unplug tree lights overnight and whenever you leave the house.

Give candles their distance

The (USFA) reports that 56% of candle fires happen because something flammable is left too close to a burning candle. Always keep candles at least 1 to 2 feet away from anything else that could catch fire like ornaments or curtains. (Give other sources of heat, like portable heaters, even more space.)

If placing candles in windows, choose battery-powered lights. Don’t leave candles burning when you’re asleep or away from home; in fact, you should extinguish flames whenever you leave the room. Whenever you burn candles, place them in sturdy holders that can’t tip over, and situate them where they are unlikely to be accidentally knocked over.

Place menorahs, kinaras, and decorative candles on a non-flammable surface like a granite countertop; if you must use a wood surface, lay aluminum foil or another flame-resistant material down first.

Inspect your lights

If buying new light strings, check the label for proof that the product has been tested at a reputable independent laboratory. You might also want to consider LED lights; they’re safer than their incandescent counterparts. Also check labels before stringing lights indoors or outdoors to make sure you’ve selected the right type. With any string of lights, be sure that the cord is not frayed or damaged, and that all bulbs are working and tightly connected.

Don’t string together more than three strands of lights or 50 bulbs, and connect your lights to a surge protector before plugging into the wall. Turn off and unplug lights when you’re asleep or away from home. When stringing lights outdoors, don’t nail or staple them, as this can damage the wires. Always make sure to follow the instructions from the manufacturer.

Beware of cooking fires

Always keep a close eye on what you’re cooking, and be vigilant about removing potentially flammable items like oven mitts, wooden utensils, or food packaging from your stove-top. Never leave the house while the oven is on. When deep-frying always protect your skin from hot oil, and remember that grease fires should be extinguished with baking soda, not water. Also, consider that outdoor cooking carries its own risks, especially if you’re using a large deep fryer for your Christmas turkey. Make sure to use your deep-fryer a safe distance from the house, and don’t over-fill it with oil.

Keep an eye on boxes and gift wrap

Leaving boxes, wrapping paper, tissue paper, and embellishments lying around means that there’s even more flammable material in your home that could come in contact with a candle or heater. So, clean up the aftermath of present exchanges in a timely manner. And don’t attempt to dispose of gift wrap or trim by sticking it in the fireplace – it can be made from materials that release dangerous fumes when burned.

Tend to lit fireplaces

If you don’t use your chimney often, have it inspected ahead of time to ensure it’s in safe working order. Burn only dry and seasoned wood, and use a screen to keep sparks from escaping into the room. Never leave a burning fire unattended, and don’t hang Christmas stockings or garlands on a fireplace that will be used. Keep anything flammable, from gifts to slippers to throw rugs far (that is, at least three feet) away from the fireplace.

Don’t underestimate the heat of smoldering embers, long after a fire has burned out, its ashes can remain dangerously hot. Leave embers in the fireplace (damper open) until they’re cool to the touch, then place them in a metal container and leave it outdoors, away from your house, for at least 24 hours. Dump embers on a non-flammable surface like gravel, rather than on leaves or in the woods, just in case they’re still holding on to any heat.

Use electronics responsibly

During this busy season, you’re more likely to use appliances and electronics while distracted by other activities going on around the house. You can reduce the risk of a home fire during the holidays by following the same rules that you normally would at other times of the year. Also, be aware of heaters and don’t leave them unattended. And do not string multiple extension cords together, run cords under carpets, or overload your electrical outlets with more than they can handle.

Don’t neglect matches and lighters

These simplest of fire-starting tools might seem insignificant compared to large candles or wood-burning stoves, but they can be deadly, especially when handled by curious children. The USFA warns that the number of deaths that results when children play with fire doubles in the month of December. Make sure to keep matches and lighters safely out of reach.

In addition to the steps above, you can reduce the chance of a holiday fire by making sure you’ve installed smoke alarms that are in working order throughout your home. Pay especially close attention to children and pets when they’re in the kitchen or around electronics, holiday decorations, and open flames.

 

From all of us here at DRS have a safe, happy and healthy holiday season!

Protect Your Home from Winter Weather

A man with a shovel removing snow from a roof . Near Kiev,Ukraine

 

North East PA’s freezing temperatures, ice, snow and wind can cause severe damage to your home and property. If you live in an area that experiences harsh winters.

Here are some areas to evaluate to help protect your home:

Build Up of Ice and Snow on Your Roof

  • Ice dams occur when heat from a house escapes the attic and warms the roof. Snow on the roof melts and then refreezes, causing a ridge of ice to form and trap water on the roof. This water can leak into the home, causing major damage. Safeguard your roof by:
  • Thoroughly clean gutters in the spring and late fall. Clogged gutters may allow ice to form and back up under the roofline.
  • Make sure proper attic insulation is in place, keeping your house warm, but your attic cool – reducing snow melt on the roof.
  • Ensure continuous ventilation of attic air, which should be only 5 to 10 degrees warmer than the outside.
  • Heavy ice and snow build-up on your roof can cause seepage or even a collapse. If snow accumulation is significant, hire a professional to “shovel” the roof.

Plumbing Inside and Outside Your Home

  • Plumbing located within exterior walls or unheated crawl spaces is most vulnerable to freezing or bursting. Protect your pipes by:
  • All interior pipes should be insulated or have wall insulation around them, especially in vulnerable areas such as attics, crawl spaces and along outside walls.
  • Use weather -resistant insulation to protect exterior pipes.
  • Cabinet doors under sinks should be kept open during a heavy freeze to allow heat to circulate around pipes.
  • Hire a professional to winterize the outdoor sprinkler system and remove all residual water, which can freeze and cause pipes to burst.
  • Disconnect exterior hoses from their faucets and install frost-free hoses and hose bibs.
  • Properly insulate unfinished areas such as basements and garages, where pipes may be exposed.
  • Keep your thermostat set at a minimum of 55 degrees in the winter.
  • Install a low temperature alarm if you are away often. It will activate your alarm system if the home temperature falls below a pre-set level.
  • If you suspect a frozen pipe, shut off the water main source and call a plumber.

Fireplaces, Furnaces and Heating Systems

  • Improper use or poor maintenance of heating systems can cause fire, puff-backs and smoke damage. Wood burning fireplaces and stoves are among the worst culprits when it comes to winter house fires. Follow these fire preventive measures:
  • Clean chimneys and flues on fireplaces and stoves annually.
  • Use a fire screen to control flying embers and burn only seasoned hardwood to reduce the potential for creosote buildup. Place ashes in a metal container and remove from the house immediately. Never put ashes in or near the trash.
  • Service furnaces and boilers at least once a year.
  • Check for scorch marks from baseboard heaters on interior walls.
  • Keep portable space heaters at least 3 feet away from flammable objects, such as window treatments, furniture and bedding. Do not use extension cords to power the unit.
  • Keep backup generators outdoors – away from open windows, doors and vents. And never use an outside grill inside the house either.
  • Change smoke and carbon monoxide alarm batteries every six months. Replace detectors after 10 years.

Emergency Access

  • Severe weather could impact access to your home in the event of a fire, medical or other emergency. Take these measures before a winter storm to ensure fast and easy access:
  • Your house number should be clearly marked in a conspicuous area at the front of the home.
  • Contract a snow removal service that guarantees removing the snow from your driveway after every 6 inches of accumulation.
  • A large maker should be placed near a fire hydrant. Clear away surrounding snow.
  • Secondary, Seasonal Homes and Unoccupied Homes
  • Secondary/seasonal homes or homes that are unoccupied during much of the winter require special consideration:
  • Hire a property manager or caretaker to check on the home at least once a week for mechanical failures and signs of damage. An inspection should include running the water in every sink, flushing toilets, and opening cabinet doors under sinks to avoid freezing pipes.

If the home is not professionally winterized, set the thermostat at 55 degrees or higher. Unheated seasonal structures with plumbing should be winterized.