You already know that holiday decorating carries an element of danger. Climbing onto the roof is rarely a good idea for anyone but a roofer. The same holds true for decking the halls after imbibing a bit too much mulled wine. Using indoor-rated electric lights for outdoors is another well-known danger. Yet there are also some little-known or only occasionally discussed holiday decorating safety tips that nevertheless bear mentioning.
1. Add fire retardant spray to evergreen decorations. The curators of the University of Missouri urge their students and faculty to purchase live trees and evergreen decorations only if they have been sprayed with fire retardants. When visiting Christmas tree lots, find one that offers this service or stocks already-sprayed trees.
2. Keep fire-resistant trees and wreaths away from heat sources. You have come to love the artificial tree for its flame-retardant qualities. Even though you conscientiously purchased the more expensive fake tree with the UL label, Creighton University experts warn that they still catch fire -- just not as easily as real trees or wreaths made of their branches.
3. Metal trees and electrical wiring do not mix. Case Western Reserve University forbids the use of "electrical wiring and lighting on metal trees." While these trees are just now starting to really catch on, be aware that nothing calling for a plug should make contact with them. Failure to abide by this rule may put you in danger of electrocution.
4. Keep a 12-inch circle of non-flammables around lit candles. Hardly anyone uses real candles anymore when decorating for Christmas. Of course, there is nothing more festive than the flicker of a real beeswax candle burning on a live wreath of greens. Nevertheless, the U.S. Fire Administration and FEMA strongly discourage you from doing so. "Never put lit candles on a tree," the experts warn. If you insist on using lit candles, keep them "at least 12 inches from anything that can burn." While this advice will put a damper on your idea of an Old World Christmas, it may protect your home from burning down over the holidays.
5. Use a ground fault circuit interrupter for outdoor lights. The temptation of overloading a circuit is great when adding holiday lights to the mix of all the items already needing electricity. In addition to observing the load, folks from the University of Michigan caution you to "plug all outdoor electric decorations into circuits with ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCI)." This type of technology protects you against electrical shock and possibly also electrocution or electrical burn. If you already have a GFCI ready to go, test it by plugging a lamp into the outlet. Push the test button. Did the lamp go out? Push the reset button. Did the light come back on? Yes! Congratulations, the system works.
6. Keep an eye on the recall news. Occasionally some holiday decorations are recalled. Usually this happens when the items fail to meet UL standards. Keep the packaging of your lights and know the brand name. Keep this kind of information handy when scouring neighborhood yard sales for holiday decorations as well.