Happy family wearing warm socks in front of fireplace

3 Lessons to Keep Your Home Safe for the Holidays

The holiday season might look a little different this year, but most traditions are safely here to stay. Traditions like decorating your home with lights and lawn ornaments, cooking favorite feel-good meals or enjoying classic holiday movies will always, as “The Christmas Song” lyrics say, “make the season bright.” Since many families have put travel on pause, the plan might be to kick things up to make time spent at home more exciting. However, more time at home means it’s very important to take the necessary precautions to ensure your family, home and property are protected.

“The holidays are a time for family and fun, and making lots of great memories,” said Christopher O’Rourke, vice president of property claims at Mercury Insurance. “Decorating the tree and watching lots of holiday movies are some ways many families like to get in the holiday spirit. Whatever your traditions include, be sure to follow general safety guidelines for cooking, decorating, lighting the fireplace and securing your property to keep the joy of the season and keep your loved ones protected.”

O’Rourke offers some insightful lessons to help keep you safe this season.

Lesson 1:
Deck the halls with holiday fire safety.

“Is your house on fire, Clark?”
– Aunt Bethany, “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation”

A well-decorated home shouldn’t mean burning the house down, but holiday fires are a persistent problem throughout the season because there are ample opportunities for sparks to fly, whether electrical or caused by open flames.

Double check that your lights have the seal of safety approval, which is the Underwriters Laboratories (UL) or Good Housekeeping seal. After you’ve inspected all lighting cords and the individual light bulbs, and replaced any broken, frayed or loose wire connections or sockets, you can begin decorating.

If you’re an overzealous decorator who aspires for your lights to be seen from space, practice holiday light safety by avoiding overloading the electric circuits á la Clark Griswold from “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.” Spread the lighting load across several outlets (and be sure not to plug power strips into other power strips) to prevent overheating and other hazards.

The Christmas tree is often the staple of holiday decorations, but it doesn’t come without possible fire dangers. When shopping for your live fir, spruce or pine tree, look for the freshest cut – a dry tree decorated too early in the season increases the risk for it to catch on fire. Add a regular watering schedule to keep your tree hydrated throughout the holidays. Other best Christmas tree fire prevention tips include using a sturdy stand, keeping the tree away from heat sources and using flame-retardant decorations. Having a fire extinguisher nearby isn’t a bad idea, either.

Lesson 2:
Flaunt your holiday spirit not your location or presents.

“Then he slithered and slunk, with a smile most unpleasant, around the whole room, and he took every present!”
– Dr. Seuss, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!”

Few families may be traveling to Paris for the holidays, but even the McCallisters’ quick trip to the grocery store is all the Wet Bandits might have needed to pull off their heist. Drop in visits from unsuspecting police officers are highly unlikely these days, but a slight overshare on your social media channels is a key way burglars can identify when you’ll be out of the house. Thanks to advanced technology, the photos you share across your social channels are geotagged with your exact location when you post. Check your policy coverage to see that your possessions or gifts will be appropriately insured if something is stolen.

Even the Grinch was crafty about breaking into the homes of Whoville. If you’ll be home for the holidays, it’s still important to have security protections in place. Smart home security systems can be customized to ensure your family’s safety if a break-in is attempted while you’re at home. Porch pirates beware! Any additional cameras, door locks and light timers will make it easier to secure package delivery, too.

Lesson 3:
Warm your home with smart heating practices.

“Chestnuts roasting on an open fire…jack frost nipping at your nose.” 
– Nat King Cole, “The Christmas Song”

Stockings hung upon the fireplace with care is a classic decoration for this time of year. However, it’s still important to keep your fireplace free of material that could catch on fire. Depending on where you live, your fireplace may be an important source of heat during the winter. Chimney cleaning should be part of your annual homeowner’s maintenance checklist prior to the winter season. If not cleaned, the buildup of creosote in the chimney can lead to smoke puffing back into the house. Animals may also leave debris or nests in the chimney, which can cause puff backs. Possible cracks may present on the firebox, which are considered a fire hazard. The average price to professionally clean your chimney could range between $130 to $363, which makes it a worthy annual investment to save the time and hassle of doing it yourself. Once the cozy fire is burning, use screens or doors to prevent embers from circulating and entering the rest of your home.

Space heaters or furnaces serve as excellent heat sources for homes, as well, when safely used. Avoid placing flammable materials and substances, such as boxes, gas cans or newspapers, too close to them to prevent unnecessary fires. Don’t let all that heat go to waste – never leave your space heater unattended or allow them to run overnight. Keeping them plugged in directly to the wall outlet instead of an extension cord or power strip will also help prevent a fire.

Mercury Insurance encourages you to play it safe this holiday season and keep your memories merry and bright for years to come. Protecting your home and loved ones this season is as simple as learning what homeowners insurance coverage options are available to you. Contact your insurance agent to review your liability and personal property coverages to check what is and isn’t included in your current policy, and make adjustments to your coverage as needed.