This has been perhaps the least jolly year in a long, long time. And yet (or maybe because of that), people appear determined to bring the holiday cheer by doubling down on Christmas decorations, adorning both the inside and outside of their homes with lights, garlands, inflatables, and more.
But before you pull a Clark “Sparky” Griswold and cause a citywide power outage, there are some safety precautions you should take to stay merry and injury-free.
On average, there are about 200 decorating-related injuries each day during the holiday season, with about half of the incidents involving falls, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. During the 2019 holiday season, there were six deaths associated with decking the halls.
So as you put the finishing touches on your Christmas tree, twinkly light display, and other festive decor, keep in mind these tips that will help prevent personal and property damage.
1. Use a stepladder, not a chair
You might want to grab a chair or other piece of furniture to give you a boost when hanging your decorations, but that may be an accident waiting to happen. Instead, use a stepladder set on level ground. Always face the ladder when climbing it, and never stand on the topmost rung.
“Accidents in the home increase during the holiday season because people are more likely to work on a ladder, both indoors and outdoors,” says Ken Fisk, director of technical service for Window Genie, which offers a seasonal expert holiday lighting and decor service called Your Holiday Lights.
Fisk says it’s safest to stand on the second rung from the top; for an extension ladder, the safe standing level is typically the fourth rung.
“Move the ladder as necessary to prevent the need to overreach. As a general rule, if your belt buckle crosses to either side of the ladder, then you are reaching too far,” he says.
2. Prevent electrical shock
Perfectly placed twinkly lights will make the outside of your house look ultra-festive. But the last thing you want to deal with is electrical shock due to a disruption in the wiring. That’s why Fisk advises against using tacks, nails, or screws to hang strands of lights.
“These are all sharp-edged bits that can easily pierce your electrical wiring, causing all sorts of problems. Use insulated hooks instead,” he says.
3. Avoid hazardous decorations
Fake snow spray can create a winter wonderland in your home. But the spray can contain methylene chloride, which if inhaled, can cause mild symptoms like headache, nausea, drowsiness, and unsteadiness or difficulty walking, according to Diana Pei, senior certified specialist in poison information at the National Capital Poison Center.
Pei says artificial snow can also cause irritation on the skin. In the eyes, it can cause mild pain and redness and should immediately be rinsed with water.
Old-school decorations can be dangerous, too.
“Some older tinsel is lead-based, so be sure to check the label, to make sure yours is lead-free. If using angel hair, made from spun glass, wear gloves to avoid irritation,” says Tom Heneghan, community preparedness education manager for American Red Cross.
4. Mind your electrical cords
Keep electrical cords hidden and out of reach.
“Running electrical cords across floors, hallways, and steps causes a tripping hazard,” says Joel Worthington, president of Mr. Electric. “Plus, we recommend you avoid plugging too many devices into a single outlet.”
Fisk says that when you run extension cords at ground level, take care to elevate all plugs and connectors.
“You can simply mount them on a brick or landscape feature. This keeps snow, water, and salt out of the connections and will keep your decorations running smoothly,” he says.
5. Decorate with kid and pet safety in mind
If you live with small children and/or pets, you’ll need to take extra precautions to keep them safe around your Christmas decorations.
“Holiday decorations and lighting can be dangerous for small children and animals,” says Worthington. “Any light cords or decorations with sharp or small parts should be placed out of their reach. Small lightbulbs can easily be swallowed.”
Also, place only soft, nonchewable ornaments low on the tree, to avoid choking hazards. Provide a barrier between the Christmas tree and sitting and walking areas.
“Fence off the Christmas tree to keep small children and pets away,” says Elaine Beno, an insurance expert and a spokesperson for AAA from Southern California.
“We recommend placing delicate ornaments higher up on the tree, so small children can’t reach for them.”
6. Know which plants are toxic
The official Christmas plant, poinsettia, is a vibrant holiday staple. But its scarlet leaves can be toxic for dogs, cats, or small children if they are ingested or touched, and may cause mild nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or a rash.
However, keep in mind that they would have to chomp through quite a bit of the plant (experts say about 1.25 pounds, or 500 to 600 leaves!) to feel the effects.
The shiny green leaves and bright red holly berries, as well as greenery like mistletoe, can also be toxic, depending upon how much is ingested.
Holly can cause abnormal behavior, vomiting, and diarrhea, while mistletoe can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and moderate stomach and intestinal pain, according to Rhonda Ferree, a horticulture educator with the University of Illinois Extension.
Of course, these risks don’t mean you have to completely eliminate these festive flora from your home. Just keep them out of reach of your pets and children.