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Stay Safe at Home This Holiday Season

You feel safe and secure at home every day, but what makes the holidays a time to be even more diligent in protecting your home and family? Ebenezer Scrooge and The Grinch come to mind, but it's more about taking steps now to ensure your home and family are merry and bright - and safe.

We've polled some of our staff and members to find out what steps they take to protect their homes while decorating, baking, cooking, and celebrating. Here are their tips, along with some of the products they use themselves.

Water the Tree!

One of the loveliest parts of the holiday is a beautifully decorated and lit tree. It is also one of the most dangerous if you have a live tree that dries out. Now there’s a device that can help you prevent your tree from lighting up the wrong way.

Cleverly designed to look like a wrapped gift, Santa’s Tree Helper waters your tree from its 2.5-gallon tank using an automatic watering tube. A water sensor lets you know when it’s time to refill the tank so you don’t need to try and use your hand to check the water level in the tree holder and risk knocking off your grandmother’s heirloom ornament as you maneuver around the branches. It also keeps you from overfilling the tree well and having to mop up and re-wrap your gifts.

Another simple and less expensive device will alert you to low water levels by playing jingle bells when its sensor activates. The Tree Nanny also has a funnel that lets you pour water into the reservoir so you are still able to keep your Gran’s ornament safe.

One last thing about live trees – we’ve all seen pictures of a pretty tree next to a fireplace boasting an impressive blaze, but experts suggest keeping your tree as far away from a heat source as possible. Heat will dry out your tree faster, and strong heat from a fireplace can cause spontaneous combustion even if the lights are off. If you can’t do opposite sides of the room, at least 7 feet apart is recommended.

Holiday Lights

  • Before you put them up, inspect your holiday lights for frayed wires and plug them in to see if they are working correctly. If you don’t have them plugged into a surge protector, run out and get one so you have an added layer of protection.

  • Easier said than done, but don’t overload your electrical outlets. The same applies to extension cords. If you are in doubt, a surge protector is a must.

  • Make sure your lights have cords that have been tested by an independent laboratory, like the Underwriters Laboratory. This way you know your lights are as safe as they make them.

  • Outdoor lights should be hung with clips, never nails or staples.

  • Be sure to turn off your lights before you go to bed or if you plan to be gone for more than a few hours.

Candle Safety

Candles are responsible for an average of 8500 home fires each year. In December, candle fires started by decorations catching light are three times more common than during the rest of the year. In fact, 60% of candle fires start when something combustible (like wrapping paper) is left too close to a candle.

Here’s how you can burn your candles safely this holiday:

  • Use a sturdy candlestick and make sure your candle is secure in its cup. You can use these Candle Snuggers to help. They make great stocking stuffers too.

  • Keep lit candles on a sturdy, clear surface. Wobbly tables, stacks of paper, and clutter make a candle mishap more likely.

  • Don’t wait for candles to burn all the way down. If one is in a glass jar, the low flame can cause it to explode. Candles in metal candlesticks can heat the metal and cause burns to the surface on which it sits as well as any unaware hand that tries to pick it up.

  • Don’t leave candles burning in an unoccupied room. Enough said.

  • Leave 12 inches on every side of the flame, including above it. This reduces the risk that something could blow into the flame and catch fire.

  • Consider fake candles. They have gotten so much more realistic in the past couple of years. These flameless candles are a favorite on TikTok and with Instagram Influencers.

Decorate with Children & Pets In Mind

Many holiday decorations should come with warning labels specifically for children and pets. Here are some of the precautions you should take if you will have either running through your house this holiday.

  • Check any decorations you purchase to see if they were made in China, and then Google them to see if they contain arsenic. In past years, Silver Jingle Bell door hangers and other metal decorations have been found to contain high levels of arsenic, and the paints contain lead.

  • Dollar Tree Decorations – Sadly, many items sold at discount stores that import their products are toxic to children and pets. PVC, a plastic used in many toys and decorations, contains chlorine which needs lead to act as a stabilizer. PVC is the most toxic plastic for children’s health, especially for those with asthma.

  • These plants should be kept away from pets and children:

    • Mistletoe – all parts of the plant are toxic, but the white berries are particularly dangerous.

    • Jerusalem Cherry – the fruit is very toxic.

    • Yew – all parts are toxic.

    • Holly – all parts are toxic, berries in particular.

    • Poinsettias – American and European varieties are toxic and can kill small children and dogs.

  • Lights and ornaments are irresistible to children and pets and can be hazards to them.

    • A 2019 study found that 13 percent of seasonal holiday products sold at major retailers like Walmart and CVS contained lead levels that exceeded a threshold deemed safe for children. Check the lead content on any toys, lights, or decorations you plan to have in the house.

    • Curious kids and pets are also hurt by falling trees and decorations, as well as cut by broken ornaments and ornament hooks. You can put up a small picket fence (like this one, without the pointed tips) around your tree to prevent easy access.

    • Make sure fragile and heirloom ornaments are not placed in child-reachable places on your tree.

  • Make sure the ribbon you use on packages is not so long that it could cause choking if a child or pet gets entangled. If your ribbons are long, make sure they are not left lying around.

Entertain with Children & Pets in Mind

Be food and toy savvy to help protect your kids and pets with these tips:

  • Every year the U.S. PIRG, a group of consumer advocacy-driven organizations, releases their “Trouble In Toyland” report on toy safety, where readers can find the most dangerous toys on the market.

  • Batteries are a common hazard, particularly for young children. “Button” batteries are small and easy to swallow, leading to bad burns and damage to the esophagus and stomach.

    • If a toy you’ve purchased requires button batteries, you may want to superglue the battery door closed. Your child will likely outgrow the toy before you’d need to replace the battery.

  • The food served at parties and for holiday dinners is part of what makes the season so wonderful. Some foods, however, are not good for your pets.

    • Spices and other seasoning agents used in human food are harmful to pets, particularly onion and garlic. Turkey skin can cause choking and is hard for a dog or cat to digest – so leave that for the humans.

    • Chocolate is toxic for dogs and cats, as well as caffeine, most nuts, grapes, raisins, or any candy or food containing xylitol. Keep an eye on children who may want to slip a pet a treat or two.

  • Potpourri can look a lot like candy to a small child, and smell tempting to pets. Keep your holiday potpourri out of reach, preferably in a container with a perforated lid you can keep shut with a little clear tape.

  • Medication can look like candy and can be fatal for children and pets. Make sure all of your medication is put away safely – locked away if you have a particularly curious child explorer around.

Be a Savvy Cook

Cooking fires are the number one cause of insurance damage claims in the United States (173,000 each year) with big spikes occurring on Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day. Food poisoning around the holidays also jumps. Here are some tips to keep your home, family, and guests safe while you prepare your Roast Beast:

  • Never leave a stovetop unattended. Turn off the burner if you plan to leave the kitchen or get out of sight of the pot.

  • Keep children and pets out from under your feet while you are cooking. Create a “no go” zone for kids, and keep pets out of the room. Well-trained pets should stay in their crate or on their dog beds as you work.

  • Foodborne illnesses spike during the holiday season due to allergies, undercooking, using expired ingredients, and improper food storage. Use these tips to prevent a trip to the ER:

    • Check with guests about any food allergies. If you are offering a buffet, list the ingredients on an attractive card in front of each dish.

    • Never leave food that should be refrigerated out. You have a 1-2 hour window between purchase and getting it into the refrigerator before unseen bacteria start to flourish.

    • Buy a meat thermometer to insure your meats are cooked to the correct, healthy temperature.

    • Keep raw foods away from cooked foods. Bacteria can easily shift from one food to another. For example, before using a fork to sprinkle onions on the green bean casserole, ensure it didn’t touch the raw turkey first.

    • Wipe down your countertops often with bacteria-killing wipes that contain bleach.

Keep The Presents Under Wraps

You may have young children from whom you’d like to hide presents, but those pretty packages under the tree are also attractive to would-be burglars. Keep presents out of sight from peeping toms that could be tempted to pull a Grinch and remove them while you are out celebrating or fast asleep. If you want your presents under the tree, try placing the tree in a corner that isn’t as visible to someone outside.

To keep your deliveries safe, you may want to invest in a package box that you keep on your porch or near a door. A survey of some of our employees and members helped us find two boxes that you can direct your delivery service to use. The Cosco box has a slanted roof that will work well in unprotected areas, while the more decorative Step 2 box is perfect for porches and patios.

Wrapping Paper

Wrapping paper is made with a lot of chemicals and inks that can be toxic, particularly if burned. Do not burn your paper in the fireplace or compost it. It is best to recycle it.

Inspect your Fireplace

Before you light up the first fire of the season, have someone check it out to ensure it is safe to operate. Birds nests, debris, and liner issues could turn your glorious blaze into a nightmare – easily prevented with a quick inspection.

Check your HVAC System

If you haven’t already had your system tuned up for the winter, now is a good time to do it. Check that your vents are clear and unblocked, and change out filters if needed.

While you are at it, make sure your smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors have fresh batteries and that their test buttons are working.

Don’t Forget Outdoor Security

If you are looking forward to lots of holiday get-togethers at friends’ homes around town, make sure your outdoor security is set so burglars will think twice about trying to get in while you are out.

  • Turn on motion-activated outdoor lights. One of our IT staff uses and recommends this floodlight camera device that will alert your smartphone of movement around your house and send you a video of what is going on. This way you can contact the police if someone other than Santa is wandering around your yard before you can get home.

  • These motion-activated floodlights (sans camera) are also easy to install and use. They come on when motion is detected, and with a two-second flip of your light switch, they will stay on for as long as you’d like, then be reset for motion activation only. One of our employees has these on her home and says they are nice and bright with bulbs that will last for many years.

  • Program times for outdoor and indoor lights. If you have smart lights you can control with your phone, Google Home, or Amazon Alexa/Echo, you can program them to go on and off at several different times so they don’t appear on an easy-to-decipher schedule. Many ordinary lights can be used with smart plugs so you can simply ask Alexa or Siri to turn on the living room light.

  • Outdoor decorations should be set to come on and go off during evening hours. This outdoor timer is easy to set up and use and can make sure your lights are on before you come home from work. What a cheerful welcome!

Install a Smart Doorbell

If you’ve been on the fence about getting a smart doorbell, now is a perfect time. Imagine you are in the middle of baking and decorating sugar cookies with flour up to your elbows and the doorbell rings. With a smart doorbell, you can punch a button on your phone and know if you need to rinse off or can keep rolling out the dough.

A smart doorbell can also alert you if someone comes onto your property while you are out shopping, and you can communicate with the “visitor” as if you were right there.

The Ring doorbell is the most commonly used by our employees as it pairs with Alexa, Google, and most smartphones. Another popular option is the Blink doorbell by Amazon which pairs with the Alexa App. Both have two-way audio, a camera to record images, and come in hard-wired or battery options. At less than $100, it is one of the best ways you can keep an eye on your home while you are away.

Plan For The Worst, Then Relax

Gather your clan together to run through your evacuation plan in case of a fire or emergency. Go through how to use a fire extinguisher (or have this non-rechargeable fire extinguisher on hand) and/or fire blanket, and remind everyone to make sure cell phones are charged and meet-up places are clear. Once you’ve done that, you can have confidence that everyone is prepared. Then relax and enjoy the holidays.

Everyone here at Mutual Assurance wishes you a joyful holiday season whether you are staying home or

hitting the road. For more tips on protecting your home while you are away, click here.


Sources: Sunrise Specialty, Safewise, AltHealth Works, Healthline, Kin,




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