If it’s your first time renting a house or apartment, you must be really excited about decorating your home for the holidays. Maybe you’re thinking of throwing a few holiday parties and will want your place to look all spruced up for the occasion.
You have your heart set on a real tree, so you go on to check your lease to see if there are any rules against live trees inside. There’s none, so off you go to pick one up to bring home. You spend the next few days making 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 you plugged in the tree, all festooned with each lovingly prepared ornament as the holiday spirit starts filling the air.
The next day, you make a wreath out of branch trimmings you collected at the tree farm. When you go outside to hang it up, you see the fire extinguisher just to the left of your door. “Good,” you thought, “in case our tree catches fire!”
While many renters like you go through the holidays without incident, realize how little you know about potential fire hazards and other dangers that come with holiday celebrations. Below, we’ve put together a few tips on how to safely decorate for the holidays and cut down the risk of fire and property damages.
Cut a fresh tree or stick with an artificial one
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.
Trimmings should be non-flammable
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 penny pinching, 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 electrical sockets, extension cords, open flames, heaters, or other heat sources.
Stick to non-damaging options
Use temporary decorating methods that won’t cause any permanent damage to the walls, ceilings, or other surfaces. Avoid using nails, screws, or permanent adhesives that may leave marks or cause issues when removing the decorations. Utilize removable adhesive hooks and strips, such as Command hooks, which can be easily attached and removed without damaging the walls or surfaces. These can be used for hanging lights, stockings, wreaths, or other lightweight decorations.
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. Better yet, avoid using real candles— there are many battery-operated or LED alternatives these days that come close to the real thing.
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.
Communicate with your landlord
Carefully review your lease agreement to understand any specific restrictions on decorations, such as size, type, or location. Some landlords may have guidelines in place to protect the property or maintain a certain aesthetic.
Ask your landlord or property manager if you have any questions about safe holiday decorations. If your lease agreement doesn’t mention decorations or is unclear, it’s always a good idea to seek permission from your landlord or property manager. Communicate your plans and ask for any guidelines they might have.