Homeowner Helpers: Holiday safety around the house

Decorations, yummy food, gifts: it’s the season of unwinding and celebrating, but holiday safety around the house has to be part of our plans. Here are some tips on keeping family, pets and your home safe while having fun over the holidays.

Light up your life (carefully)

  • Use only holiday lights that have been certified by the CSA, ULC or C-UL, and make sure you use indoor lights indoors and outdoor lights outside. Check for recalls of unsafe lights at the Healthy Canadians Recalls and Safety Alerts Database.
  • Check all the bulbs before stringing the lights and replace broken or burned-out ones as recommended by the manufacturer (if you’re uncertain about which bulbs to use, try the internet using the product number).
  • If the lights have frayed or there are exposed wires, loose connections or broken sockets, replace the entire string; it’s not worth taking a risk for the sake of a few dollars.
  • Don’t plug too many lights into an outlet or string too many lights together because it can cause a fire. Here’s how to calculate what’s safe.
  • For outdoor lights, always use Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCI) outlets.
  • Turn off all holiday lights before leaving home or going to bed.

Making connections

  • If you have to use extension cords, check them for wear and tear, correct gauge and indoor/outdoor use (this American guide to extension cords will help you pick the right one).
  • Do not plug an extension cord into a power bar or string extension cords together.
  • Never run an extension cord under a carpet or through a doorway; they can heat up or be damaged, potentially igniting a fire or causing a shock.
  • An extension cord is a temporary solution; do not leave unused extension cords plugged into wall outlets.

O Christmas tree

  • While Christmas tree fires are not common, when they occur they are serious, according to the National Fire Protection Association.
  • The same organization reports that electrical distribution or lighting equipment was involved in almost half of home Christmas tree fires between 2014 and 2018.
  • If you purchase a real tree, keep it well watered by checking the water level daily (fresh trees can absorb a lot of water). Remember to cut a few inches off the bottom of the tree when you bring it indoors; that helps the tree absorb water better and reduces the fire hazard.
  • If buying an artificial tree, look for one labelled “fire resistant.” This doesn’t mean the tree can’t catch fire, but it will resist burning, and if a fire should start, you will be able to put it out more quickly.
  • Whether you put up a real or artificial tree, keep it away from fireplaces, radiators and other heat sources.
  • Keep ornaments from touching the tree lights, which could melt the materials.
  • Never use lit candles on or near your Christmas tree. For that matter, be ultra-careful with candles anywhere in your home and consider using artificial ones instead, which can look remarkably life-like.

For more information on Christmas trees, see our guides to selecting and caring for real trees.

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire

  • A wood-burning fireplace is hard to beat for seasonal ambience, but make sure your fireplace and chimney are cleaned and inspected annually by a WETT-certified (Wood Energy Technology Transfer) professional.
  • Make sure your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are operating properly, your fireplace has a screen or glass cover, and that you have a fire extinguisher within easy reach.
  • Don’t toss Christmas wrapping paper into the fireplace; it can cause a flash fire.
  • Use well-dried hardwood and never leave a burning fire unattended.

Children and pet alert

  • For reasons known only to themselves, children sometimes put holiday decorations and ornaments in their mouths; this is a choking and poison risk, so try to keep little ones away from those dangers.
  • Dispose of plastic bags, wrap staples and materials immediately if there are little ones around — all these things present potential suffocation or choking hazards.
  • Watch out for batteries, especially the small, round ones, which can seriously burn throats and stomachs if swallowed.
  • If you have pets, keep them well away from chocolate, including unsweetened cocoa and baking chocolate, which can be toxic to dogs. The same goes for poinsettia plants, which are poisonous to dogs and cats.
  • Never give turkey, chicken bones or other bones to dogs because they can splinter. And remember that grapes and raisins are potentially fatal for dogs.

Sources:,, others


Originally posted December 2020



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