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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



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.

’tis the Season for Ladder Safety!

’tis the Season for Ladder Safety!

Use ladders safely with these tips!

The leaves have fallen and your eaves troughs are full!  Whether you need to clean your eaves troughs or hang your Christmas lights – you likely need a ladder.

Ladder Safety Trainingg Certificate

Ladder Safety Training Certificate

In the United States, there are  roughly 160,000 ladder accidents per year. Most of the injuries are breaks and bruises, however 300 are serious or fatal. If I find the numbers for Canada I will post them.  My message is – it is important to practices ladder safety, accidents are happening!  I went to the American Ladder Institute’s website for a free on-line Ladder Safety Training refresher.  I even got a certificate!  Here are the main tips I garnered from the course.

Choose the right ladder

Make sure that you use the right ladder for the job.

  • Assess your work environment to assess the risks and choose the best ladder for the job.
  • Choose the proper ladder length so that it can be set up properly and that you can use it properly.
  • Ladders are rated for maximum load –  choose one that it will support your weight, plus the weight of your clothing, tools and equipment.
  • Do not use aluminum (or metal) ladders if you are using power tools or near sources of electricity!
  • Do not use a ladder that is damaged.
  • If you don’t own the right ladder, borrow or rent the right ladder. The Toronto Tool Library keeps has a selection of ladders that member may borrow.  Don’t use the wrong ladder for the job.

Proper Set-up

A step ladder is already at the 4:1 ratio. The 4:1 ratio can be determined by standing toes at the base and arms straight ahead to touch the rungs.

A step ladder is already at the 1:4 ratio. The 1:4 ratio can be determined by standing toes at the base and arms straight ahead to touch the rungs. It does not matter how tall you are!

Proper setup is critical for your safety!

  • Check overhead for wires or obstructions.
  • Be aware of environmental conditions.  Rain and snow can cause slippery conditions. High winds can reduce the stability of the ladder.
  • Place your ladder on a stable flat surface, never place a ladder on top of another object.
  • Use the 1:4 ratio (one foot horizontal for every four feet of height) for setting up, a simple way to measure this ratio is to stand with your toes at the bottom and your arms straight out should hold a rung.
  • If you are climbing onto another surface (for example onto your roof), make sure the ladder extends 3 feet past that surface.
  • Secure tall ladders by lashing or fastening it to prevent movement, or have someone hold the ladder for you.
  • When using an A-frame step ladder, make sure that the brace is locked in place.
  • When using an extension ladder, make sure that the overlap is at or longer than the minimum i(3 feet for a 16-32 foot ladder) and that rung locks are engaged.

Proper Procedures

Use the ladder safely by following these rules:

  • Only one person is allowed on a ladder at a time.
  • Always face the ladder when you are climbing or descending.
  • Do not climb higher than the second rung from the top on a step ladder or the third rung from the top on straight or extension ladders.
  • Maintain a three-point contact with the ladder – hold with two hands when you take a step, stand with two feet when you reach with one hand.
  • Keep your waste between the rungs, do not over-reach sideways.
  • Wear proper footwear – non-slip and closed toe.
  • Carry supplies on your belt, use a winch to bring your supple or have someone hand them to you.
  • Guard your ladder so no-one bumps into it, never work in front of closed doors without  locking or having the doors guarded.

Don’t let accidents happen to you! Practice Ladder Safety!

Do you have ladder tips or stories to share? If so, please add them to the comments section.  We learn from each other.

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