I was 19 and decorating my first apartment for Christmas and I had my heart set on a real tree. I checked my lease and there wasn’t a rule against live trees inside, so I picked one out and brought it home. My roommate and I threw a holiday party that year and invited our friends to make ornaments for the tree with colorful paper, glitter, and other tools commonly found in the elementary school art room. At the end of that night we plugged in the tree, all festooned with each lovingly prepared ornament, and felt a little closer to adulthood. The next day I made a wreath out of branch trimmings I collected at the tree farm, and when I went outside to hang it up, I saw the fire extinguisher just to the left of our door. “Good” I thought, “in case our tree catches on fire.” I got through the holiday without incident, but I realized how little I knew about potential fire hazards and other dangers that come with holiday celebrations. Helping your tenants understand how to safely decorate for the holidays cuts down the risk of fire and property damages.

Cut a fresh tree, or stick with artificial

Evergreen trees that are commonly used as Christmas trees should be cut fresh and still green when you bring it into your home. A green, fresh-cut tree poses very little fire risk, whereas a dry, dying tree can ignite and will burn quickly. A fresh tree will be completely green with no brown patchy spots, and the needles will be difficult to pull off. If the needles are brittle or snap easily between your fingers, the tree is already dead and shouldn’t be brought inside. The bottom of the trunk should be sticky with resin and the tree shouldn’t shed needles when thumped on the ground. If fresh trees aren’t an option, stick with an artificial tree that is labeled as fire-resistant. If using a fresh tree, cut two inches off the bottom of the trunk and keep it watered to increase water absorption and keep the tree fresh.

Fresh cut trees are a better for holiday decorating.

If using a live tree, make sure it is freshly cut and still green.


Trim your tree non-flam-ab-ly

Ornaments, garlands, and other tree decorations should be made out of non-flammable materials. While it’s tempting to make paper ornaments when you’re a broke college student, hanging highly flammable materials next to hot strands of lights is a bad idea. Make sure loose ends of garlands or other trimmings are tucked safely away from open electrical sockets or extension cords.

All candles must be supervised

Burning candles is a central part to many holiday traditions, but care must be taken when admiring an open flame. Always burn candles in sturdy, clean holders placed on solid, cleared  surfaces out of reach of children and pets. Never leave an open flame unattended and trim wicks to a manageable length before each lighting.

Holiday decorations often call for candles.

Keep all holiday candles in sturdy containers and away from flammable materials.


Make your strand lights behave

Before giving your house and yard a sparkling, festive makeover, check that all strands of lights are safety tested (it will say so on the box) and in good repair from last year’s celebrations. Discard damaged sets or repair them before hanging. Never use more than three strands of lights per extension cord and make sure the connections between each socket are solid. Always turn off and unplug indoor and outdoor lights when you are not home. Keep cords wrapped neatly together and out of the way of children, pets, and foot traffic.

Check holiday lights for shorts or damage before hanging.

Don’t be afraid to ask

Tenants, ask your landlord or property manager if you have any questions about safe holiday decorations. Property managers, consider sending out a pamphlet or email prior to the holidays informing your tenants of best decorating practices for their property. Happy Holidays!

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