Winter Safety Tips

— Written By N.C. Cooperative Extension


Every year we hear of tragedies during the winter months resulting from individuals not following basic safety guidelines to help prevent serious electrical and fire hazards. Here are tips to keep you safer this holiday season.


  • Avoid using candles when possible. Consider using battery-operated candles in place of traditional candles.
  • Never leave an open flame unattended. Keep burning candles within sight.
  • Extinguish all candles before you go to bed, leave the room or leave the house.
  • Place lighted candles away from combustible material and areas where they might be knocked over.
  • Never use lighted candles on a tree or near other evergreens. Keep candles away from other decorations and wrapping paper.

Christmas Trees

  • When purchasing a live tree, check for freshness to minimize the fire hazard of dry needles. A fresh tree will stay green longer and be less of a fire hazard than a dry tree.
  • Because heated rooms dry out live trees rapidly, be sure to keep the stand filled with water.
  • When purchasing an artificial tree, look for the label “Fire Resistant.” This label indicates that the tree is more resistant to burning.
  • Don’t use electrical ornaments or light strings on artificial trees with metallic leaves or branch coverings.
  • Place your tree at least 3 feet away from all heat sources, including fireplaces and radiators.
  • When trimming a tree, only use non-combustible or flame-resistant materials.

Electric Lights and Decorations

  • Before decorating, determine how many outlets are available and where they are located.
  • Avoid overloading electrical outlets, which can overheat and cause a fire.
  • Carefully inspect each electrical decoration. Cracked or frayed sockets, loose or bare wires, and loose connections may cause a serious shock or start a fire.
  • Use lights approved for safe use by a nationally recognized testing laboratory.
  • Follow the use and care instructions that accompany electrical decorations.
  • Always unplug electrical decorations before replacing bulbs or fuses.
  • Do not mount or support light strings in a way that might damage the cord’s insulation.
  • Never connect more than three strands of incandescent lights together.
  • Turn off all indoor and outdoor electrical decorations before leaving home or going to bed.

Outdoor Decorating

  • Fasten outdoor lights securely to trees, house walls, or other firm supports to protect the lights from wind damage. Use insulated staples, or run the lights through hooks.
  • Make sure all products are marked for outdoor use.
  • Keep all outdoor extension cords and light strings clear of snow and standing water.
  • Make sure spotlights used to highlight decorations are well-ventilated, protected from weather, and a safe distance from flammable items.

GFCIs:  Plug outdoor electric lights and decorations into circuits protected by ground-fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) to prevent electric shock.

  • GFCIs should be used in any indoor or outdoor area where water may come into contact with electrical products, including kitchens, bathrooms, garages, and outdoors.
  • Portable GFCIs provide flexibility in using receptacles that are not GFCI-protected, and are often used outdoors.
  • GFCIs should be tested once a month to confirm that they are working properly. Portable GFCIs should be tested before every use. Simply press the RESET button.

Source:  Electrical Safety Foundation International