Safely Deck the Halls

The winter holidays are a festive time of glimmering lights, cozy fires, and gatherings with family and friends. But in many parts of the country, it’s also a season of snow and ice on stairways, sidewalks, and roads. Even in warmer climates, winter may bring rain and fog.

Unfortunately, the combination of winter weather, flammable decorations, and festive parties can create dangerous situations that could deflate your holiday spirit. Considering the potential risks and taking appropriate steps to address them in advance might make for a happier and healthier holiday season.

Trees, Ladders, and Lights

You want your home to be welcoming and showcase your style, of course. But you also want it to be safe for your family and guests.

  • Make sure that your walkways and porch have adequate lighting and are clear of ice and snow. Salt icy areas before guests arrive. Repair stairs and handrails if necessary.
  • Verify that you have working smoke alarms with fresh batteries on every level of your home. If you bring a natural Christmas tree into your home, make sure it’s as fresh as possible and keep it well watered throughout the holiday season. Use only nonflammable or flame-retardant decorations and keep them away from all sources of heat or flames, including fireplaces, heating vents, and candles.
  • Place candles away from flammable materials and in a stable position where they will not be knocked over. Never go to bed or leave home with candles still burning. Consider using battery-operated flameless candles.
  • When hanging holiday decorations, use a sturdy ladder and make sure it is on level ground. Have someone act as a spotter and help to stabilize it, and never stand on a higher rung than is recommended by the ladder manufacturer. Stay off the roof — it may be safe for Santa but it’s risky for the rest of us.
  • When installing lights, carefully check the strands to verify that wires and sockets are in good condition, and pay attention to the manufacturers’ instructions. Unplug lights before going to bed or leaving home.

Don’t Let Guests Drink and Drive

If you serve alcohol at a holiday party, take steps to moderate your guests’ drinking and yours, too. Here are some ideas to consider:

  • Serve food, which helps people absorb alcohol, and have plenty of water and nonalcoholic drinks available.
  • Never encourage guests to drink, and politely ask them to stop if they appear to be inebriated. Never serve alcohol to minors.
  • Stop serving alcohol an hour or two before the end of the party to give your guests time to process the alcohol before they drive. Offer to call a transportation service or arrange for another driver if it seems unsafe for a guest to drive. If other transportation is not available, allow an inebriated guest to sleep at your home.

Review Your Insurance Coverage

Check your homeowners or renters policy to make sure you have appropriate coverage for damage to your property and possessions. Also be sure that you have sufficient liability coverage if a guest is somehow injured and decides to sue for damages. If you plan to entertain frequently, an umbrella policy with additional liability coverage may be appropriate, especially if you have significant financial assets to protect. Contact your insurance agent to discuss appropriate protection for your situation.