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“Deck the Halls” Safety This Holiday Season


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With the winter holidays just around the corner, are you worried about electric safety at your community? For many Americans, decorating is an essential component of holiday celebrations. Even with the strictest holiday decoration policies, it is difficult, if not impossible, to control how residents decorate their apartments for Christmas, Yule, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and New Year’s parties and festivities.

The best property management strategy during the holidays is to be proactive and educate your residents about what is safe and what is not when it comes to putting together a holiday tree, using open flame candles, hanging lights, etc.

Even those who have experience with decorations are at risk of injury while adorning their homes. As expert electric contractors, every year we encourage property management teams to respect electricity and the danger it poses and teach their residents to do the same.

As you “deck the halls” and make other preparations for the holidays, take a moment to review these electric safety tips to avoid potential hazards.

  • Advise residents who buy live trees to check them for freshness. A fresh tree should be green, its needles are hard to pull from branches and its trunk butt is sticky with resin. When the trunk of the tree is bounced on the ground and a shower of dry needles come down, the tree is too dry and will be a fire hazard at your residents’ apartments, community’s club room or office.
  •  Place trees away from heat sources. Fireplaces, vents and radiators rapidly dry out live trees.
  • Keep trees fresh by watering them daily. Christmas trees are involved in about 300 fires annually, resulting in 10 deaths, 30 injuries and an average of more than $10 million in property loss and damage, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).
  • If residents but an artificial tree, require that it have a “Fire Resistant” label. This label does not mean that the tree will not catch fire, but it does indicate that the tree will resist burning and, if on fire, can be extinguished quickly.
  • Some stores sell decorative holiday trees made from metal. Advise residents that they are not permitted to use electric lights on metallic trees.
  • Some residential communities have fireplaces in public areas and club rooms or have apartments with fireplaces. Do not burn wrapping paper in the fireplace. If you do, a flash fire may result. Wrapping paper can ignite suddenly and burn intensely.
  • Use LED lights instead of incandescent lights. LED lights generate about 1/20 of the heat produces by similar-lumen incandescent bulb wattage.
  • Require that all decorations used by residents have certification labels. Decorations not bearing a label from an independent testing laboratory such as Underwriters Laboratories UL), Canadian Standards Association (CSA) or Intertek (ETL) have not been tested for safety and could be hazardous.
  • Double-check decorations from the previous year to make sure they do not have cracked sockets or frayed, lose or bare wires. Any of these shortcomings may cause a serious electric shock or start a fire.
  • Never connect more than three strings of lights together or an extension cord. It may overload the circuit.
  • When decorating the outside, only use decorations marked for outdoor use. Plug all outdoor lights into ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCI).
  • Make sure that extension cords are properly rated for their intended use – indoor or outdoor – and meet or exceed the power needs of the device being used.
  • Keep all outdoor extension cords, including those on apartment balconies, clear of snow and standing water and well-protected from the elements.
  • Multiple-plug outlets must be plugged directly into mounted electrical receptacles; they cannot be chained together.
  • Never run extension cords through walls, ceilings or under carpets.
  • Always unplug a light string or electrical decoration before replacing light bulbs or fuses.
  • Don’t mount or support lights strings in any way that might damage the cord’s wire insulation. Wire insulation must always be intact.
  • Never nail or staple light strings or extension cords down.
  • Never use lighted candles on a tree or near other evergreens. Always use nonflammable holders and place candles where they will not be knocked down by residents, their guests, children ot pets.
  • Consider using battery-operated candles. Candles start almost half of home decoration fires, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).
  • Keep combustible decorations at least three feet from heat sources. NFPA says a heat source that was too close to the decoration was a factor in half of home fires that began with decorations.
  • Let your residents know that cooking flour dust is highly flammable. During holiday baking, they should avoid creating flour dust clouds around any heat sources in their kitchen and especially around open flames (candles, gas stove burners, cigarettes, etc.).
  • Never try to extinguish a live electrical fire with water. Have a fire blanket or a fire extinguisher on hand.
  • Advise residents and tenants to turn off, unplug and extinguish all decorations before going to sleep or leaving their office or home. Half of home fire deaths occur between the hours of 11:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m., according to NFPA.

Post these holiday safety tips on new boards, online resident portals or the Facebook page of your community. Make sure that residents receive them in your internal communications at least once during the holiday season. The more attention your management team will draw to the topic of electric safety during the holidays, the higher the chance that your property will not suffer from fire or other electric incidents that might cause a lot of headaches and sleepless nights, not to mention property damage.

Property managers should ensure that all their staff members know where the circuit breakers and Automated External Defibrillators (AED) are located and how to operate them. To be on the safe side, conduct an extra fire alarm inspection and hold an additional fire drill in December.

Happy and safe holidays to your community!