Friday, December 20, 2013

Mike Holmes: Dreaming of a Safe Christmas

When the weather outside is frightful, a fire inside can be so delightful, as long as the fire stays in the fireplace. Winter weather can increase chances of household fires, and is it any wonder why? Between space heaters, crispy Christmas trees strung with bright electric lights, votive candles that twinkle on window sills, and cozy snuggley fires flickering in the fireplace, disaster is just a careless moment away. When it comes to warding off the cold or decorating with candles, it's important to take some basic safety precautions. The first, and probably the biggest precaution one can take is an annual fireplace and chimney inspections. Let us not forget to use common sense when putting up the Christmas tree -- make sure the tree is far enough away from heat sources such as fireplaces, and decorate them with non-flammable decorations. Last but not least, it's always a good idea to make sure your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are up to snuff. When it comes to safety, there's no excuse for taking short cuts. In this article, Mike Holmes gives some common sense tips on how to keep your holidays safe as well as bright.

From the Montreal Gazette:

Mike Holmes: Dreaming of a safe Christmas

From fireplaces and Christmas trees to lights, fire hazards are everywhere

After a decade, Mike Holmes still cares because he knows the work he, his crew and others do makes a real difference to the people they help.
Photograph by: Alex Schuldt/The Holmes Group, Postmedia News
Winter is the most popular season for household fires. A lot of it has to do with using different heat sources, like fireplaces and space heaters, cooking more, or holiday decorations such as Christmas trees, unsafe lighting and candles. That’s why it’s especially important we make sure our smoke detectors are working and that we minimize the potential for fires around the house.
Fireplaces. Annual fireplace and chimney inspections should be part of your regular home maintenance. Every working chimney’s flue must be inspected and cleaned every year, no exception. Creosote is extremely combustible. It’s basically tiny, unburned flammable particles that build up on the inside of your chimney’s walls. All you need is a tiny spark and you can have total ignition.
Cook it simple. If you have never fried a turkey before, don’t use the holidays as your test run. According to one home insurance company, there are three times more turkey fryer claims over the holidays. A lot of people get inspired to try new recipes around this season, but if it involves equipment you’ve never used and techniques you have never done, save the trial run for when you have more time and fewer things to worry about.
Trees. Whether your Christmas tree is real or not, use flame-resistant materials when decorating, and make sure the tree is at least three feet away from any heat source such as fireplaces, candles, radiators, heat vents and lights. When you go to bed or leave the house, turn off any lights or electronic decorations on the tree.
If you have an artificial tree, it should be fire retardant (check the label). If you have the real thing, watch for dry needles, which pose a fire hazard. Once the needles start to drop it’s the beginning of the end; you’re going to have to get rid of the tree soon. Check with your local community to find a proper Christmas tree recycling program.
Outdoor outlets. If you don’t have outdoor outlets, keep the lights inside. Don’t run them through windows from indoor outlets. And, extension cords — even the ones made for use outdoors — are definitely fire hazards if they’re pinched by something like closed windows. The pinching breaks the wires inside, which then overheat, melting the rubber cord insulation and potentially starting a fire.
For the long run, invest in getting proper, weather-rated, GFCI-protected outdoor outlets installed by a licensed professional.
Extension cords. Extension cords are temporary solutions — at best. I would avoid using them altogether, but if you do use them, make sure they’re compatible with your lights or whatever other device you plan on using it for.
Also, if you’re going to use an extension cord outside, make sure the outside jacket of the cord is rated for exterior use and the wire gauge is rated for what you plan on plugging into the extension cord. I’d go with one that is at least 14-gauge outdoor rated.
Lights. Holiday lights are a big fire hazard. Replace any lights with frayed or damaged cords, and choose LEDs whenever possible. They’re brighter, more energy efficient, don’t overheat as much and cause fewer fuses to burn out than traditional bulbs.
You can safely connect more strings of LED lights together than you can those with traditional bulbs — usually a maximum of five strings of lights as opposed to three. However, always read instructions and warning labels. If the lights are going outside, plug them into a GFCI-protected outlet only, so if moisture gets in it will trip the circuit.
When the holidays are over, take the lights down. Outdoor holiday lights aren’t meant to be outside all year round — two months max. They will wear out faster, plus the cold weather causes the wiring in string lights to become brittle, making them vulnerable to damage. Damaged wiring is a fire risk, so don’t set yourself up for disaster next year.
Too many homeowners put too much pressure on themselves to make the holidays perfect — the perfect gifts, meal, decorations and lighting. Unfortunately, that kind of pressure can also lead to mistakes, short cuts and safety mishaps.
To me, the perfect holiday season is a safe one. The last thing you want is a house fire, and especially one that could have been prevented.
Catch Mike Holmes on Holmes Makes It Right, Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on HGTV. For more information, visit For more information on home renovations, visit

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