MAKE YOUR HOME SAFE FOR THE HOLIDAYS
The holidays are here, which means winter wonderlands, roaring fires, and good cheer. ’Tis also the season for icy driveways and walkways and potential fire hazards, among other possible holiday safety issues. But that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy this time of year. By taking the necessary winter precautions and following some holiday safety guidelines, you can keep your home and family safe while you deck the halls.
CLEAR DRIVEWAYS AND WALKWAYS Concrete driveways and walkways can become treacherous for your family and guests when snow and ice build upon them. It’s an easy fix though; be proactive and you’ll have no problems.
Step 1: Start Shoveling ASAP The longer you leave snow and ice on your driveway and walkway, the harder the snow removal process will be. With heavy snowfall, it pays to go out and start shoveling even as the snow is still falling to clear off as much snow as possible. Make sure you have a good-quality, lightweight snow shovel. Metal shovels are easiest to use and have less chance of breaking. Remove snow from the driveway and all walkways needed for access to and from your house.
Helpful Tip Don’t forget to shovel out around your mailbox, garbage cans, and other areas to which you’ll need access. Shovel snow toward where you’ll be piling it so that you’ll have less distance to toss it as you start to wear down. Chip away any ice that you find under the snow and remove it with the shovel. Push snow out of the way when and where possible. Only pile on as much snow as you can handle on your shovel. Don’t overdo it and don’t bend with your back — use your knees instead. Safety Alert! Shoveling snow and removing ice can be tiring, hard work. Be careful, especially if you are not physically fit. If you have medical or health issues such as a heart condition, you should check with your doctor first before doing this kind of work. Be sure to stay hydrated; as with exercising, drinking plenty of water is a necessity when shoveling. Remember to dress appropriately by wearing layers. As you work, you’ll warm up, and shedding a layer will make work easier and more comfortable. Wear work gloves and snow boots as well. Keep in mind that you’re not in a race. You don’t need to finish the job in one long, cold shoveling session. It’s best to work for 30 to 45 minutes and then go inside to warm up and rest for an hour or so. Then when you’re feeling up to it, head back out.
Step 2: How to Melt the Ice When thinking about holiday safety around your home, snow isn’t necessarily your biggest problem. If the snow melts a bit and then re-freezes or if it sleets before snow falls, you can have a thin layer of ice coating everything. This layer of ice is what causes many serious accidents along walkways and driveways such as slipping and falling. It’s hard to see and thus many people don’t think about it until it’s too late. To keep holiday guests safe this winter, melt the ice before it becomes dangerous.
To remove the ice before or after you’ve shoveled, spread melting compounds across all of your concrete surfaces that are covered in ice. Rock salt (sodium chloride) is the most commonly used “de-icer”. It is effective when temperatures are in the 20s, such as after a snow storm. In areas where there is heavy ice and the air temperature is much, much colder, calcium chloride is most effective. It’s best used in conjunction with a shovel or chisel. Calcium chloride eats away at the ice and melts it, making it easier to break up and shovel away. Both of these compounds must be used sparingly as neither is great for concrete or sewer drains. It is recommended that you keep these off of new concrete or brick walkways altogether. Helpful Tip Don’t forget to let nature help you out when possible. During the day when the sun is back out, let it do some of the work for you by melting away the sheets of solid ice that may have formed. Spread sand on top of the ice. Once the sun’s rays have been battering the ice for a few hours, it will heat the sand and start melting it away. Then it’s a good time to try and break it up and shovel it off. If you’re worried that salt or calcium chloride might damage the material that makes up your driveway or walkway surface, there is a wide range of de-icing chemicals that you can use. Some are biodegradable and environmentally friendly. Liquid alcohol can be used to melt ice as well. Natural de-icing pellets can be used instead of salt or fertilizer (yes, some people use it to melt ice too). The natural pellets melt ice without contaminating water and damaging soil and plant life. Kitty litter and fine gravel can be used as a source of traction on top of an ice-slicked surface. Pay close attention to stairways. In fact, it’s best to preempt icy conditions; consider applying de-icing products or sand (at least) to your steps before the snow. Visit our project gallery for more tips on winter safety, like our article on “Snow Removal from Roofs and Trees”.
HOLIDAY FIRE SAFETY Fire safety is not often top of mind during the holidays, but with roaring fires, festive lighting displays, and sometimes overtaxed electrical outlets, the threat of disaster is always present. You’ve got enough to worry about though to get everything done in time for the holidays; just follow basic safety guidelines and you’ll have nothing extra to worry about.
Step 1: Mind Your Fireplace It goes without saying that a fire in your fireplace is an open flame inside your home and thus needs to be treated with respect. Keep all flammable objects away from your fireplace. This includes Christmas trees, stockings, tinsel, garland, and candles. Natural Christmas trees can be very flammable, especially as their branches and needles begin to dry out. Takedown stockings before you light a fire. Don’t let garland and tinsel hang over the mantel close to the fire. Keep candles on the mantel in a glass. Be sure that you use your fireplace screen to keep sparks and embers from falling or popping out of the fireplace onto your rug or carpet.
Safety Alert! instruct your children on the potential dangers of playing around a fireplace and why they shouldn’t do it. Kids are drawn to the fireplace during this time of year, so they need to be aware of what could happen if they’re not careful. Have your chimney cleaned or swept once a year before you start using it. Chimney fires are a leading cause of house fires. Most can be prevented by routine maintenance and cleaning.
Step 2: Don’t Get Burned by Your Lights The decorative lights you use both indoors and out can be potential fire hazards. Practice holiday safety precautions by using only indoor lighting for your holiday lights inside your home. This may seem like obvious advice, but people often don’t think there’s a difference. There is though. Holiday lights are rated either for indoor use or outdoor use and must be used for their intended settings. Outdoor lights burn brighter and thus create more heat, increasing the chance of a fire when they are placed on an object in your yard such as a tree.
Check your light strings for fraying, breaks, or tearing. Before you hang them, check each bulb and the entire wire for any kind of damage, looking specifically for places where bare wires are exposed. If you see extensive damage, the strand needs to be replaced. Don’t use staples, nails, or other sharp objects to hang your lights whether outdoors or indoors. You risk damaging the wire, which can then potentially cause a fire. Use insulated holders specifically manufactured for hanging holiday lights. Don’t hang indoor lights near your fireplace. Be sure your holiday lights are UL-approved. Those that don’t pose more of a fire hazard than those that are. Check the packaging to see if the UL stamp is present. If it is, the product is safe to use — as long as it’s used properly. Learn more about decorating safely for the holidays with additional articles in our project gallery. That’s it! By taking some simple but necessary safety precautions you can assure that your family and your guests will have a safe and happy holiday.
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