16 Tips to Avoid a Holiday Decorating Disaster This Season

Your holiday wish list almost certainly doesn't include a trip to the hospital. Get our tips to help you trim the tree, light up the house and relax by an open fire, without having to worry about injuries to you, the kids or your pets.

By: Robert DiGiacomo

Photo By: Shutterstock/pryzmat

Tree Buying 101

Before buying a live Christmas tree, conduct a three-part stress test, recommends Stacey Palosky, a spokesperson with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. A fresh tree has needles that resist being pulled off and do not snap when bent, a trunk bottom that's sticky with resin, and strong limbs that will drop just a few needles if shaken.

Christmas Trees Can't Take the Heat

Don't position a live Christmas tree next to fireplaces, heating ducts or radiators, nor place them where they block doorways or high-traffic areas. Remember that artificial trees, even if they have a "Fire Resistant" label, can still go up in flames, too, Palosky says.

Hang Ornaments With Extra Care

Keep child and pet safety in mind by placing unbreakable and non-toxic ornaments on the lowest areas of the Christmas tree, recommends the celebrity holiday decorating team of Dr. Christmas, aka Bob Pranga and Debi Staron. Replace metal hooks with ribbon or string to prevent choking and injury.

Have You Watered Your Tree Lately?

A dry tree will burn faster than one that's been watered, according to John Drengenberg, consumer safety director at Underwriters Lab, an independent safety science company. Check the water level of your tree daily and keep it in a vessel that can hold an adequate water supply. To test to see if your tree is sufficiently hydrated, give a branch a gentle tug and see if any needles break, he says.

Step Up Safely

To hang decorations on your house, deploy a ladder extending a minimum of three feet over the roofline or working area, Palosky says. Ladders should be on level, firm ground, with leg levelers added if you're on an incline. A ladder also should be able to carry both your weight and any objects you're hauling, she adds.

Do Your Lights Pass the UL Test?

Don't use holiday lights unless they have cleared the strict safety tests conducted by Underwriters Lab or another established testing facility, Palosky says. Lights checked by the independent testing company are marked with a holographic UL label. A red label means lights can be used indoors and out, while green means indoor-use only.

Use the Proper Outlet

You want your lights to shine, not sparks to fly! Your source of power should come from a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) outlet. This type of outlet will shut the circuit down if there is overcurrent. If you don't have a GFCI outlet, a qualified electrician can permanently install one outdoors for holiday seasons to come. You can also opt to buy a portable outdoor unit from your local home store for less than $20.

Plug-In Advice

Read labels for lights and other wired decorations to make sure you're conforming to acceptable wattage levels, Drengenberg says. If your decorations are connected by a tangled web of extension cords and power strips, you may be overloading the circuits, he warns.

No Snap, Crackle or Pop

Check all electric lights and decorations to see if they're damaged or worn, Drengenberg advises. "Cracked sockets, frayed or bare wires and loose connections may pose a fire or shock hazard," he says.

Keep Your Blowups From Blowing Away

That cute inflatable snowman greeting neighbors from the front lawn can easily become a dangerous projectile if you don't follow the manufacturer's instructions for securing it, says Ken Katz, a property director for Travelers Insurance. It's best to shut off the fan blowers when it's windy, when you're not going to be home for long periods or at bedtime, he says.

Will Santa Make It Down The Chimney With Ease?

Don't smoke out Santa or your other guests with a dirty chimney. "Have your fireplace and wood stove inspected annually and cleaned if needed," Katz advises.

Don't Get Too Fired Up

Resist the temptation to throw used wrapping paper in the fireplace. "A flash fire may result as wrappings ignite suddenly and burn intensely," Palosky says.

Burning Advice on Candles

Placement is everything with candles — keep them away from curtains, bedding, paper, walls or any other areas with the potential to combust, as candle flames can heat up to 1000 degrees Fahrenheit, Drengenberg says.

Candles Out When No One's Home

Be sure to blow out candles if you're going to leave a room, and warn your children to keep away from them. As a safer alternative, try battery-powered LED candles, Katz suggests.

Avoid Waxy Buildup

Put out a candle with two inches of wax left, or a half-inch in a container, to prevent heat damage to a table or a glass container from breaking, according to Drengenberg. Use a sturdy, non-combustible candleholder that can collect drippings and won't tip over.

Post-Holiday Clean Sweep

After you take down the tree, give the area a thorough sweep to protect children and animals from harm, says the Dr. Christmas duo. "Broken glass, metal hooks, electrical cords and pine needles can all cause injury," they say.

Shop This Look

More from:

Deck the Halls