Ask Val: Tips for Keeping Your Home Safe During the Holidays

This regularly-scheduled sponsored Q&A column is written by Val Sotillo, Northern Virginia-based Realtor and Falls Church resident. Please submit your questions to her via email for response in future columns. Enjoy!

Happy Holidays!

As another holiday season approaches, I want to take just a quick moment to wish you happy, safe and memorable holidays. One of the real joys this holiday season is the opportunity to say thank you for reading this column. May the holiday season end this year on a cheerful note and make way for a fresh and bright New Year.

Here are some tips for keeping your home safe during the holidays:

Keep Your Tree Well Hydrated and Away From Heat Sources

The U.S. sees about 200 Christmas tree fires per year and they tend to be more life-threatening than other home fires when they do occur. Prevention centers around two factors: keeping your tree well-hydrated and away from heat sources. Make sure your tree has fresh, green needles when you buy it, cut off about 2 inches before putting it in the stand and water it daily. Place your tree at least 3 feet away from fireplaces, radiators and other heat sources, making certain not to block doorways


According to the U.S. Fire Administration, December is the deadliest month for electrical fires. Make sure both the lights and any electrical cords you’re using are marked for outdoor use, be sure to inspect the strands to make sure there aren’t any frayed cords or cracked lamps. Always buy lights and electrical decorations bearing the name of an independent testing lab, such as UL, and follow the manufacturer’s instructions for installation and maintenance.

Mixing and matching lights can create a fire hazard, so keep outside lights outdoors and inside lights indoors. Don’t overload indoor outlets and use power strips sparingly before you string lights on the house or the tree. Turn everything off before you go or use light timers on indoor and outside decorations.

This tip saves you steps and helps hold down the electricity bill. And it’s a good idea to review how to use a fire extinguisher and make sure yours is accessible and unexpired.

Test the Alarm

Test your smoke alarms monthly to make sure they work, and be sure to install smoke and carbon monoxide (CO) alarms on every level of your home, especially near sleeping areas.

Have your fireplace inspected and cleaned before the season. Stockings and other combustible decorations, such as pine garlands, can present a serious fire hazard, so be sure to remove them before starting a fire in the fireplace.

Frying a Turkey?

Turkey fryers can easily tip over spilling hot oil across a large area. Use your turkey fryer only outdoors on a sturdy, level surface well away from things that can burn. Make sure to have a “3-foot kid- and pet-free zone” around your turkey fryer to protect against burn injuries. Make sure to follow all U.S. Fire Administration turkey fryer guidelines.

Seasonal Plants and Decorations

Keep potentially poisonous plants — mistletoe, holly berries, Jerusalem cherry and amaryllis — away from children.

Securely anchor your Christmas tree so it doesn’t tip and fall, causing possible injury to kids or pets.

Avoid Mistletoe & Holly. Holly, when ingested, can cause pets to suffer nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Mistletoe can cause gastrointestinal upset and cardiovascular problems.

If You’re Going Away

Notify a trusted neighbor and ask them to keep an eye on your house and report any suspicious activity. You’ll also want this neighbor or a house sitter to keep your walks cleared of snow and to pick up your mail. Make sure your house looks like somebody is home to deter a burglar. Motion sensors, smart lightbulbs and other home automation devices are great ways to do this.

The holidays can be the most wonderful time of the year, as long as you stay safe during them. Be sure to take the precautions you need in order to fully enjoy the season.

Here’s wishing you Happy Holidays!

Val Sotillo is a licensed Realtor in Virginia, Washington D.C., and Maryland with Real Living At Home, 4040 N. Fairfax Drive, Suite #10C Arlington, VA 22203, 703-390-9460.

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