Avoid a holiday disaster this winter

December 21, 2020   By Terri Williams

Avoid a holiday disaster this winter

The holidays are a joyful time, but one major disaster can ruin the mood – and sometimes, result in a trip to the ER or a call to the fire department. We spoke to a few experts about some of the preventative steps you can take to ensure that your holiday season goes off without a hitch.

Joshua Miller is VP of Technical Training at Rainbow International Restoration, and he’s seen houses almost ruined by fire and water damage. “With appliances working overtime during this time of year, it also means there’s an increase in risk for grease to splash onto other kitchen surfaces,” Miller said.

As homeowners are decking the halls (and other spaces) with lights and décor, they may not be paying attention to safety recommendations. Miller explains these are the basic five tips to remember to avoid disaster:

Avoid overheating oil in the kitchen: When cooking your holiday meals, keep an eye on oil heating up in pots and pans. If you notice smoking, take it off the heat immediately to prevent ignition. You should also clean up oil or grease spills in burners, microwaves and ovens.

Don’t overload your home’s electrical outlets:  A home’s electrical circuits can only provide so much electricity to each outlet at one time. If you overload an outlet with phone chargers and Christmas lights, Miller says the outlet to spark and potentially start an electrical fire.

Keep flammable materials away:  Electrical appliances or outlets that come into contact with flammable materials, such as a blanket, the rug or cleaning supplies, may trigger a fire.

Use a maximum of three strands of lights on the tree: Overloading the outlet and tree with lights can lead to fires. Miller says you should use a power strip and unplug the lights before going to bed or leaving the house to avoid a fire disaster.

Keep fire extinguishers around your home: Miller recommends having one in the kitchen, garage, and near bedrooms. Miller says guests should also be aware of where each of these are – in case they run into any kind of disaster.

Black soot

Holiday-scented candles are quite popular this time of year. “Many people don’t know that burning low-quality and unclean candles, manufactured from unwanted materials and chemicals, can lead to black soot deposition,” Miller said. “Research indicates increased black soot is often the result of candle manufacturers adding additional fragrance oils to their products, along with improper wick trimming by consumers.”

According to Miller, many fragrance oils are not suitable for combustion and do not burn cleanly. He says this makes them a health hazard in addition to possibly damaging furnishings and the ventilation system.

Miller provides the following tips to spot and prevent black soot in your home:

  • Dingy gray spots on light-colored upholstery or curtains and black film on plastic items and electronic equipment are signs of dangerous soot.
  • To help eliminate black soot and ensure the indoor air quality of your home is safe, refrain from burning numerous candles at the same time and air out the rooms in your home.
  • Regularly change your AC’s filter every 1-2 months and purchase quality candles recommended by the National Candle Association.
  • Trim the wicks properly (down to a quarter-inch before each burn), don’t burn candles for more than an hour at a time and allow for a cool-down period before re-lighting.

Kitchen mishaps

Holiday meals are delicious, but it’s easy to get distracted while cooking in the kitchen. “Some stovetops are designed to heat up very rapidly and are so efficient, that you may not even realize how hot a burner really is until it’s too late,” warned Bob Tuck, franchise owner of Mr. Appliance of Port Charlotte, Naples, Lee County and Asheville, FL.

These are Tuck’s tips to avoid contact burns:

  • Use oven mitts (not wet towels or other oven mitt substitutes).
  • Replace old or worn oven mitts.
  • Pull out the loaded oven rack to test food instead of reaching in for it.
  • Stir simmering food with wooden kitchen utensils, not metal ones, to prevent burning your hands.
  • Always confirm that you have turned the correct burner on, assuring you don’t create a hot surface elsewhere.
  • Turn the handles on your pans so they are pointing to the rear of the stove.

Dryer fires

To make room for your holiday decorations, you may relocate existing items wherever you can find space. “Gift wrap, boxes, coats, hats, gloves and boots are all part of the holiday joy, but you should keep the laundry area free from clutter to help prevent fires,” advised Jason Kapica, president of Dryer Vent Wizard.

Kapica also warned against keeping cleaning supplies and flammable items away from the dryer area to avoid disaster. “Also, a live Christmas tree is highly flammable and should never be near a dryer,” Kapica explained.

And if you have a live tree, after taking it down, he says you should remove any excess pine needles from your clothes before tossing them into the laundry.

Kapica also explained, “A white Christmas can be beautiful and festive during the holidays, but snow can also block the outside opening to your dryer vent.”

And if the dryer vent cover freezes, he says the results can lead to disaster. “The dryer will work inefficiently, but it could also catch fire or create a buildup of carbon monoxide,” Kapica said. So, be sure to regularly check the vent cover on the home’s exterior to ensure nothing is reducing the airflow.


Terri Williams is a freelance journalist with bylines at The Economist, USA Today, Yahoo, the Houston Chronicle, and U.S. News & World Report. Connect with her on Twitter or LinkedIn.

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