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Flaming Christmas Trees!

Christmas tree fires are rare, however when they do occur they are serious!

Trees can become fire hazards when they dry out.  See the difference between a dry tree catching fire and a tree that was watered regularly.

A demonstration showing how flammable a dry Christmas tree can be as opposed to a tree watered regularly. This test was conducted by the National Fire Protection Association and Underwriters Laboratories.


The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) tracks fires and their causes in the United States. Here are some statistics copied  from the its website:

  • “Between 2009-2013, U.S. fire departments responded to an average of 210 home fires that started with Christmas trees per year. These fires caused an average of 7 deaths, 19 injuries, and $17.5 million in direct property damage annually.
  • On average, one of every 31 reported home fires that began with a Christmas tree resulted in a death, compared to an average of one death per 144 total reported home fires.”*

5 strategies for preventing Christmas tree fires!

Start with a freshly cut tree!

  • Pick a tree with a strong green colour and noticeable fragrance.
  • Very few needles should fall when the butt of the tree is tapped on the ground.
  • Needles should bend, not break.
  • The branches should be hard to break.
  • The stump should be sticky with resin.

Keep the tree from drying out!

The moisture content of each tree can play a dominant role in determining the fire hazard each tree represents.” **

  • Fresh cut the bottom 2 to 5 cm of trunk right before you put the tree in its stand.  The fresh cut will assist the tree to drink more water.
  • Water the tree!  The tree stand should holds 2-4 litres of water. A two-metre tall tree will drink about two litres every day. Check and top-up the water every day.  I check twice a day.  If water drops below the base of the trunk, the stem may reseal itself. requiring a new fresh cut
  • Use a preservative in the water. If you are concerned about small children or pets drinking the water, use a small amount of sugar instead.
  • Heat dries out the tree. Keep the tree away from all heat sources: heating vents or registers, fireplaces, candles and cigarettes.
  • Do not leave the tree up for longer than 10 to 14 days.  Even the freshest tree starts to dry out in two weeks.  NFPA statistics have found that almost  40% of Christmas tree fires occur in January.

Use safe extension cords!

Electrical distribution or lighting equipment was involved in 38% of home Christmas tree fires.” *

  • Try to position the tree so you do not have to use long extension cords.
  • Do not overload wall outlets.
  • Inspect all cords before using. Make sure they are CSA certified. Look for loose connections or frayed or exposed wire. Discard any defective cords.
  • Insert plugs fully into outlets. Poor contact may cause overheating or shock.
  • Do not coil or bunch an extension cord which is in use and do not run it under carpets or rugs.

Use safe lights!

  • Use Canadian Standards Association (CSA) certified light strings/sets.
  • Use the proper lights for the environment.  Some outdoor light strings/sets burn too hot indoors.
  • Inspect light strings/set before use. Check for cracked bulbs and for frayed, broken or exposed wires, and discard if faulty.
  • Turn off the lights before going to bed or leaving the house.

Choose safe decorations!

  • Choose decorations that are flame-retardant, non-combustible and non-conductive.
  • Avoid using angel hair (glass wool) together with spray-on snowflakes. This combination is highly combustible.
  • Do not use metallic ornaments on the tree. If they make contact with defective wiring they could become a shock hazard.

Then enjoy!

Happy Holidays from Home Risky Home!


* Source: NFPA’s “Home Structure Fires Involving Christmas Trees” report, November 2015**
** Source: National Institute of Standards and Technology “Fire on the Web” page accessed December 2015



9 Kitchen Fire/Burn Prevention Tips!

9 Kitchen Fire/Burn Prevention Tips!

One Christmas long ago, when I was about 19-20 years old, I helped prepare the family feast.  We always invited guests to join us for dinner at Christmas.  We enjoyed cocktails in the living-room while the large turkey roasted in the oven.  The longer the turkey took to cook, the more we drank.  That year the bird was taking too long to cook, so I turned up the heat in the oven.   Too high in fact –  I could hear the fat in the drippings splattering.  I went to take the turkey out of the oven with tea towels for pot holders.  The pan was too hot! I dropped it on the opened oven door and fat splattered onto my bare foot.  My father recovered the bird and I left the scene to tend to the large second degree burn on my foot. My accident could have been prevented if I had practiced safe cooking techniques.

When it comes to burns and fires, the kitchen is the most dangerous room in the house. Kitchen fires are a big concern this time of year, fortunately most can be prevented with these tips.

  1. Never leave grilling, frying or broiling food unattended. Forty per cent (40%) of cooking-fire related deaths occur because the cooking was unattended. If you have to leave the kitchen unattended while the food is cooking –  turn the burner off.
  2. If you are frying – heat the oil slowly to the required temperature.  If the oil smokes, it is too hot!  Turn the heat off or carefully move the pan off the element. Keep a lid handy to smother any fire.
  3. If you are simmering, baking, roasting, or boiling food, check it regularly, remain in the home while food is cooking, and use a timer to remind you that you are cooking.
  4. Keep cooking areas clean – wipe appliances and surfaces after cooking to prevent grease build-up.
  5. Keep cooking surfaces clutter free. Do not store combustible objects near the stove.  Curtains, potholders, dishtowels and food packaging can easily catch fire.
  6. Always turn pot handles inwards to prevent the pots from getting knocked.
  7. Dress appropriately for cooking. Wear sturdy shoes to protect your feet.  Don’t wear loose clothing that can dangle over heating elements.  Use pot holders or oven mitts to handle dishes and pots with hot food.
  8. Be on alert! If you are sleepy, are taking drowsy medication or have consumed alcohol take a pass on cooking and either let someone else cook or order your food in.
  9. Keep children at least one meter away from the stove.

The strategy for putting out grease and oil fires is to smother them and turn off the heat source.

  • A fire in a pot may be extinguished by  sliding a lid onto the pot and turning off the heating element. Do not try to carry the pot outside – jarring the lid may restart the fire.  Make sure the pot is cool before removing the lid.
  • Shallow grease fires may be smothered with baking soda.
  • A fire in the oven or microwave  may be extinguished by keeping the door closed and turning the appliance off.  Wait for the burning food to cool before opening the door.
  • Never pour water on oil or grease fires!  Water will cause the fire to spread instead of putting it out.


I hope that you enjoy cooking during this festive season!



Two Gases That You Should Know About

What you can’t see can hurt you!  There are two gases that can be very hazardous in your home – natural gas and carbon monoxide.

Natural Gas

I use natural gas for my furnace and hot water heater.  My supplier, Enbridge, sent a flyer with this month’s invoice (the information is also on its website) – “Smell Gas? Act Fast!

Natural gas can be explosive when mixed with air in certain concentrations.  You really don’t want to trigger an explosion!

Natural gas and propane gas have been spiked with a substance (mercaptan) that has a distinctive rotten egg smell.  If you smell it in your home, you need to go outside and call the 24 hour emergency number for your gas company.  (For Enbridge customers in Toronto, it is 1-866-763-5427.)  Leaving the windows and doors open on you way out can help keep the concentrations low.  Your gas company will come and turn of the gas and make sure that it is safe for you to go back into your home.

Here are the actions that you must not  do when you smell natural gas in your home:

  • DO NOT use a phone or any electronics in the house.
  • DO NOT turn on or off any lights or appliance (sparks can happen in the switches).
  • DO NOT smoke or use a lighter or matches.
  • DO NOT start a vehicle or motor.

If you have leaking natural gas that is burning, call 911.  Don’t try to put it out yourself.

Carbon Monoxide (CO)

Carbon monoxide is call the “Silent Killer” because it has no smell, no taste and no colour.  It is the leading cause of accidental poisonings in Ontario.  High exposure to carbon monoxide can lead to unconsciousness and even death.

Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning:

  • at low exposures include mild headaches, shortness of breath and nausea.
  • at higher exposures include headaches,nausea, burning eyes, confusion and drowsiness.

The symptoms tend to disappear when a person gets fresh air.  The treatment for low exposure is fresh air, however for high exposure pure oxygen is needed.

The Ontario Technical Standards and Safety Authority (TSSA) has a website dedicated to Carbon Monoxide.  Did you know – in Ontario over 80% of carbon monoxide poisonings occur in the home?

Carbon monoxide is a product of incomplete combustion, which means it is created when you burn something inefficiently – which in the home probably means anytime you are burning something and includes natural gas, propane, wood, oil and kerosene.

To protect yourself, your family and guests you need to:

  • Install carbon monoxide detectors (alarm) on each level of your home and test monthly.  The alarm on the detector will allow you to vacate your home before levels put you at risk.
  • Have your fuel burning appliances (oil or gas furnaces, gas-fireplaces, gas-hot water heaters, gas-stoves, etc.) inspected annually.
  • Not use outdoor fuel-burning appliances (such as generators, outdoor space heaters or barbecues) indoors.

Have you ever had close encounters with either of these gases?  

Please share your stories in the comments section.

Do dogs make your home safer?

Do dogs make your home safer?

Introducing Belle! She is part of my safe home plan!

After years of telling my son that he can’t have a dog in the city because it isn’t fair to the dog and a dog is too much work, my son brings  home Bruce from college and leaves him with me for a year. After graduation, with much protest on my part, my son took Bruce back to British Columbia.  I mourned Bruce’s departure for a few days and then quickly found Belle!

I live in the city and I think that dogs make our homes safer and here is why:

They are an Effective Doorbell

They let you know one way or another when someone, friend or foe, enters your home.  My dog, may pee on the floor in excitement if a man enters, but she lets out a bark first.  If I don’t respond to her bark, she comes to get me to show me what is happening.

They Sleep with/near  your Most Valuable Treasure

Samsung Download Dec 2013 105

My dog sleeps with my daughter.  I’ve heard of stories of children being kid-napped in the middle of the night while the parents are sleeping. I don’t think that I would be able to sleep through the kerfuffle that would happen if someone tried to enter my daughters room.

Also, a few years ago, my  friends’ teenager tried to sneak out of the house in the middle of the night to go to a party.  It did not work – their dog ratted on her.  Dogs like to keep the pack together.

They Introduce you to your Neighbours

I lived in the same house for 16 years and only new my neighbours four doors down and three doors up on my side of the street and two neighbours across the street.  After a month of twice daily walks with Bruce, I met all the neighbours on my block and more!

You learn to say “hi” to other dog owners as the dogs sniff each others’ butts.  Some neighbours don’t like dogs, so they will come tell you about it – especially if your dog got out and trampled their garden or chased their cat.  Other neighbours love dogs and will meet you when they visit your dog.  All-in-all, it is the dog that gets you outside and gets the conversation going.  Knowing your neighbours is a huge part of having a safe home.

I am not the only person to feel safer with a dog in her life.  Here is another blog I found on the same topic: Ways a Dog Makes Your Home Safe.

Please tell me about the dogs in your neighbourhood.  Do you feel safer or less safe with them there?

Check Your Outlets for Proper Wiring

Check Your Outlets for Proper Wiring

Beware of faulty wiring!

I bought an old house twenty years ago.  It was built in 1918, during a time when houses were wired using the “knob and tube” wiring system.  My home inspector looked at my panel and saw only new wires leading into the panel.  He observed that three pronged outlets were available throughout the house.  Based on these observations, he concluded that my house had been rewired correctly.

Boy, was he wrong!  The only outlets that were wired properly, were in my basement!

Outlet tester

Outlet tester

If I had known then, what I know now, I would have fired him and reported him to the home inspector society.  His report had disclaimers saying that he cannot see through the wall, so the report is based only what he could see.   That is fair.   However- it does not take much to find out whether or not your outlets are wired properly.  This inexpensive little gizmo on the right does it all.  All you have to do is plug it in, see which lights go on and read the sticker.

Incorrectly wired outlets can go undetected for a long time because many loads/appliances aren’t sensitive to polarity – which means they operate quite well with the neutral and hot reversed. Some loads are indifferent to AC polarity – they may be table lamps or electronic loads that convert AC to DC.  The prongs on the plugs for these loads are the same width, see the cell phone charger plug in the picture.

Three types of plugs.

Three types of plugs.

There are other loads/appliances that are not sensitive to polarity to operate, however they require the polarity load to be correct for safety reasons.  For example your older toaster will be able operate under reverse polarity, however if you stick your knife in to clear an object while your toaster is off, you are in for a nasty shock! The wiring in the toaster will be live even with your taster off.  (By the way – you should always unplug any appliance that you are trying to fix.) For a load where the polarity matters, one of the prongs on the plug is wider than the other so that it is restricted to connecting the correct way. See the white plug in the picture. Unfortunately your protection from shock is lost if your outlet is wired backwards.

There are other loads/appliances that require a clean ground meaning a connection with no load current or voltage. These are wired with the three-prong plug where the cylindrical  prong is the ground.  The ground wire attaches to the appliance casing rather than the electronics in the appliance. This system was developed to protect you from shock in the case that a short develops inside the appliance.

So what do you do if you find faulty wiring?  I recommend that you start by tagging each outlet that you find is faulty.  I like masking tape.  Then you can asses the size of your problem, call your electrician with your list and take interim precautionary measures until your wiring fixed.

  • Do not use three-prong plugs in outlets that are not properly grounded.  (I would tape over the ground hole as an extra visual reminder.)
  • Do not use outlets where the polarity is reversed for any loads where the load needs proper polarity to be safe (one prong in the plug is wider than the other).
  • Do not use any outlet where the ground is hot!

Remember – having properly wired outlets is for your safety and the safety of everyone that lives or visits your home!

2 Tips for Maintaining your Gas Forced-air Furnace

2 Tips for Maintaining your Gas Forced-air Furnace

Last week I saw the weather forecast predict that the temperature was going to drop to 0 degrees Celsius.  So I turned on my furnace to make sure that it was working.  Thankfully, all was good.  Today, I put together two important tips for maintaining your home gas furnace.

Tip #1 – Have a licensed technician perform the annual check-up 

I have a furnace protection plan with Enercare that includes an annual service.  Prescreened qualified licensed technicians can be found through the Heating,Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Institute of Canada (HRAI) contractor locator website.

“The Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Institute of Canada (HRAI) requires its contractor members to carry relevant trade, fuel safety and applicable licenses as well as worker’s compensation and liability insurance. You may be surprised to learn that many contractors simply don’t bother with licensing or insurance. They may pass on lower costs to you up front, but you could end up paying much more over time, not only financially, but in terms of your family’s comfort, health, safety and peace of mind.” (from HRAI website)

The annual service should check and repair if necessary each of the following:

  • carbon monoxide (CO) levels
  • condition of the chimney and flue
  • condition of air filters
  • operation thermostat and safety controls
  • pilot light
  • motor and fan
  • bower operation
  • condition of the fan belt
  • burners
  • condition gas piping

Tip #2 – Change the air filters regularly

Changing your furnace filter is a do-it-yourself activity, don’t wait until your annual service! The main purpose of a furnace filter is to protect the blower fan from all the dust in the return air. A build up of dust on the fan blades, lowers the efficiency and shortens the life of the blower and motor.  More expensive filters also help improve indoor air quality by removing allergens and other particles.

The type of air filter I purchased suggests it lasts up to three months.  I have a dog that sheds and I have been renovating, so I actually need to change my furnace air filter every 2 months.

New air filter beside a used air filter

New air filter beside a used air filter

If you have never replaced your furnace filter before, the first step is to find its location.  My furnace filter is located in a discrete location where the return air duct meets the furnace.  If I did not know where to look, I never would have found it. Apparently for some models it is inside the furnace unit.

Once you have located your furnace filter, check and record its size. Furnace air filters come in a wide range of sizes so you will want this information when  go shopping.  There is also a wide range of types and prices of filters; ones that last up to one month, up to three months and cleanable versions. I picked the filter that removes pollen and pet dander because I have allergies and a dog.  I see on the package that there are now filters that can control odors and others that can filter bacteria and viruses.

Replacing the filter is as easy as one-two-three.

  1. Remove cover and filter.
  2. Replace filter – make sure that the arrow on the filter is in the same direction as the airflow (which should be pointing to the furnace since it is a return air line).
  3. Replace cover and date so that you will know when it is time to replace it again.
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Note: Arrow Pointing to Furnace

Note: Arrow Pointing to Furnace

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