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Your Home Could Be at Risk This Holiday Season: Here’s How to Keep it Safe

Home decorated with Christmas lights and decorations
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We typically view the holiday season as a merry time of family, friends and laughter, where nothing can go wrong. But as wonderful as the days surrounding Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, New Year’s and other winter holidays can be, they bring with them increased risk to our homes, cars, family, pets and health.

To safeguard the people and things you love most — and to protect your finances during an already expensive time of the year — be proactive in risk prevention. Christmas lights, sugar cookies and Frank Sinatra may be on your mind, but leave time to consider home security systems, oven safety and healthy eating, as well.

Here are a few ways to protect your property, family and health this holiday season.

Protecting Your Home: Burglaries

The holidays pose several threats to your home and the safety of those living inside. Perhaps the largest threat is a home invasion.

I spoke with Officer Brandon in Northern California about burglaries during the holidays. “Burglaries usually come down to a house that is the easiest to get into while drawing the least amount of attention,” Brandon said. For example, the holiday season leaves an above normal number of houses unoccupied. The rise in number of unoccupied houses provides burglars with more opportunities.”

In short, criminals know that houses are much more likely to be vacant while families travel during the holiday season. However, a report from the US Department of Justice suggests that nearly three in 10 home invasions happen while someone is home, meaning your home isn’t necessarily safe just because you’re hosting Christmas dinner.

So what can you do? Officer Brandon gave me a few tips to deter burglars from targeting your home: “Having your property distinctly divided from public areas can help, such as a 6-foot fence or even plants around your property line. Motion sensor lights also deter people from entering.”

Officer Brandon also recommended using lights on the inside of your home. “Having your interior lights on timers gives the appearance that someone is home. Putting lights on timers in different rooms set at different times creates the illusion that someone is in the house moving about.”

And of course, Officer Brandon highly recommends a security system. “But if you can’t afford one or aren’t allowed to install one in your residence, the sign from the alarm company or a window sticker is a good second option. Burglars will pick the house that poses the least risk to them: A house with a fence that has to be climbed, is well lit and has a security system poses a higher risk of being caught.”

Protecting Your Home: Fires

The holiday season also brings an increased risk of fire, with nearly a third of all house fires occurring in December, January and February.

“Around the holidays is when temperatures drop and residents start using their fireplaces and furnaces,” explained Sean O’Neill, a firefighter from Dayton, Ohio. For fireplaces, O’Neill recommends hiring a chimney sweep prior to the first use each winter to remove built-up creosote and nested birds. O’Neill also advises hiring a service person to inspect your furnace before running your heat each winter.

But it’s not just heating mechanisms that pose a fire hazard near the holidays; other common sources of accidental fires include dry Christmas trees, strung holiday lights, candles and kitchen mishaps.

O’Neill offered a few tips:

  • For the kitchen: “Keep kitchen grease contained, keep the burners clear of flammable items and use timers and appropriate cooking temperatures.
  • For lighting: “Be careful with how much you plug into outlets. Only use surge protectors or extension cords that have a fuse in the system. Do not plug additional extension cords or surge protectors into ones already in use; this is called ‘daisy chaining’ and is dangerous.”

Protecting Your Car: Maintenance

The holidays also see an increase in travel during what can be the most hazardous road conditions in some parts of the country. For example, Christmas and New Year’s together see a nearly 25% increase in the number of drivers traveling more than 50 miles to a destination.

Before long-distance travel or regular commuting in the snow, take your car in to a trusted mechanic to test out your tires, brakes, heater, lights, battery and other important components. Replace your windshield wiper blades to ensure visibility, and consider snow tires depending on your location.

Protecting Your Family: Kids and Pets

It’s not just your property that is at risk around the holidays. As a parent (or pet parent), you can also be proactive in providing a safe environment to your children and pets.

SafeKids.org provides a number of safety tips for parents with small children around the holidays, especially if you are hosting the holiday and are unaccustomed to having little ones around. For starters, don’t use small decorations that could pose a choking hazard, and keep lights and candles out of reach. You should also consider age-appropriate gifts for tiny children, keep kids out of the kitchen when baking and make sure everyone is bundled up warmly if going out to play in the snow.

For pets, it is also important to keep ornaments, lights and other decorations out of reach, especially if you have a dog or cat with a destructive side. Do not feed your animal holiday leftovers or alcohol, and remember to keep your four-legged friend feeling safe in large gatherings or during New Year’s fireworks, according to the ASPCA.

Protecting Your Health: Food and Drink

The holidays are a time of indulgence where we tend to overeat and maybe drink too much spiked eggnog. It is important during the holidays to balance fun with safety.

AmericanAddictionCenters.org warns of the dangers of binge eating and provides a helpful infographic comparing the average calorie consumption during a holiday dinner to the consumption the average American should shoot for (3,670 on average vs. 1,135 ideal).

Excessive alcohol consumption can also be a problem — not just for your liver but also for our roadways. With traditional taxis and the advent of apps like Uber and Lyft, however, there is never an excuse for drunk driving.

Keep the holiday season merry and bright this year by focusing on how you can keep things safe. Being proactive is the best way to ensure a safe holiday for you and yours.

Timothy Moore is an editor and a freelance writer living in Nashville with his partner and their two dogs. They wish you and your family a happy holiday season.

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