Electrical fires are already all too common, but during the Christmas period the risk can increase by up to 50%. Not only do our homes contain more flammable material than usual – wrapped presents, discarded paper and festive decorations – it’s also colder and darker outside, which means heaters and lights are left on for longer.
So how can you make sure you stay safe this Christmas? We look at ways to minimise your risk of electrical fires in the home over the festive season.
"Always turn off and unplug lights when you’re leaving the house and before you go to bed."
Don’t overload power sockets
One common risk is overloaded power sockets. You might be tempted to use multiple extension leads so that you can plug in more appliances – lights, decorations, heaters and chargers – but this can overload and overheat the socket, potentially starting a fire.
Only use one extension lead per wall socket, and never plug multiple extension leads into each other. Visit Electrical Safety First for more information.
Make sure your fairy lights are safe
Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without lights twinkling on the tree and around the home. However, if you’re not careful, they can pose a significant fire risk.
Older sets of traditional, mains-powered lights can be hazardous; if one bulb blows, the others burn hotter which can have catastrophic results if they’re touching combustible material.
Safety standards are being updated all the time – LED lights are currently your best option. They operate at a far lower voltage than traditional bulbs, meaning they stay cool and greatly reduce the risk of electric shock.
Fairy lights safety tips:
- Always purchase lights from a reputable supplier.
- Never cover the transformer with soft furnishing; let air circulate around it freely – it can become very warm.
- Discard any lights – new or old – that are damaged, broken, have loose wires, worn wires or missing globes.
- Never use indoor lights outdoors – they are not weather-protected.
- Always turn off and unplug lights when you’re leaving the house and before you go to bed.
- Make sure the lights and transformer don’t touch anything that will burn easily, such as decorations, wrapped presents or discarded wrapping paper. And also pay attention to lights on aging Christmas trees.
Avoid using electrical accessories bought overseas
Different countries have different voltages which can cause plugs and fuses to blow, even when you use an adaptor or voltage transformer.
If you’re in any doubt, make sure all your electrics show the BSI Kitemark.
Stay warm safely
It’s important to stay safe while heating your home. Don’t leave portable heaters unattended, make sure they aren’t touching flammable material and clear away any discarded wrapping paper or decorations nearby.
Be aware of festive hazards
As well as wrapping paper and decorations, real Christmas trees can be an unexpected hazard. As they age they dry out, especially the needles, and if they catch fire, they can generate a lot of heat and smoke very quickly. So it’s important to make sure they’re not touching warm or hot electrical devices at any time.
Make sure outdoor decorations are safe
If you want to decorate the outside of your house, make sure you buy outdoor-specific items from a reputable supplier, and fit them with an RCD to minimise the risk of electrical faults and provide added protection against electric shocks.
In addition, always follow the manufacturer’s installation instructions, never turn lights on while still in their packaging, and replace broken bulbs immediately to prevent overheating, being sure to turn the power off first.
Make sure you have working smoke alarms
It’s a sobering fact, but according to the Fire Service, you’re twice as likely to die in a house fire if there is no smoke alarm.
Make sure you have at least one working alarm on each floor of your home and check the batteries weekly. Different types of alarm are more suitable for different rooms – visit the Fire Service website for more details.
Invest in a fire extinguisher for electrical fires
If you have a fire extinguisher, check to see what type it is. For electrical fires, you need one carrying the Electrical Fires symbol.
Make sure all responsible members of the household know where the extinguisher is kept, and when and how to use it. And if you do have a fire and you’re in any doubt about what to do, always call 999.
At this time of year, safety is often the last thing on our minds which is why it’s crucial to minimise the risks. And, although we don’t want to imagine the worst, it’s also important to make sure your contents insurance is up to date should anything happen. However, putting a few measures in place to prevent electrical fires should ensure you and your family remain safe throughout the Christmas period.
Thinking of switching home insurance provider? Find out if TSB’s Pick and Protect home insurance can save you some money.