Reviewed by Chuck Roydhouse
Updated September 11, 2023
With the holiday season comes Christmas decorations all over town and all throughout the house. There’s nothing more festive than curling up on your couch next to a freshly trimmed Christmas tree. But Christmas trees can be dangerous if you don’t take the right safety precautions. Don’t let a fire spoil your holiday season! Here’s our guide to Christmas tree safety at home:
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Safety starts before you even head out to the Christmas tree lot.
If you live in a condo or apartment, there is likely a restriction against live Christmas trees. Be sure to check with your strata or management company before going out to choose a tree.
If you’re not allowed to have a live tree, artificial trees are the other option. Even if you’re not restricted by a condo board, you might still prefer an artificial tree to avoid the hassle of buying, maintaining, and disposing of a live one. If do you decide to buy an artificial tree, make sure it’s made of flame-retardant materials and is CSA approved.
If you’re going to buy a live tree, decide where you’re going to place it before you buy it.
Then, take some basic measurements of the area so you have an idea of what size tree you’ll be able to fit safely.
Armed with this knowledge, you’re ready to head out and choose a Christmas tree.
There are plenty of good reasons to buy a live Christmas tree each year. There are also quite a few things that can go wrong if you aren’t careful, particularly in the “unwanted fire” category.
Here’s what you need to know in order to choose a live Christmas tree that’s both beautiful and safe:
Go tree shopping early in the season. The best time to buy a Christmas tree is around the last week of November or the first week of December. By the time December’s first weekend rolls around, everyone is in Christmas tree mode; it’s best to beat the rush.
When you go early, you’ll have more options, and the pre-cut trees will be fresher. If you water it properly (we’ll get to that), a freshly cut tree should last about a month.
At the tree lot, look for a fresh, green tree. Here’s how to tell if a Christmas tree is fresh:
After freshness, size is the most important factor. Choose the right size tree for your space. Here’s where your earlier measurements come in:
Even if it fits within the dimensions of the room, you should also make sure the tree won’t be in anyone’s way. Aside from possibly blocking fire escape routes like windows, a tree that’s blocking walkways is more at risk of being knocked over as people awkwardly step around it.
Once you’ve got the tree home but before you bring it inside, give it a good shake to dislodge loose needles or other debris. You can even give it a quick blast with a leaf blower, if you’ve got one.
Then, before you put it in the tree holder, cut off the bottom 2-5 centimetres of the trunk. A freshly cut trunk allows the tree to absorb water more effectively. Use a tree holder that’s wide and strong enough to keep the tree stable. If your tree is wobbly once it’s set in the holder, it’s not stable enough. Your tree stand should hold at least 3 litres of water.
Fill the holder with water as soon as you set your tree up.
Then, check it every day (set a reminder if you need to). It needs to stay full!
You might even have to refill it multiple times during the first couple of days; trees can absorb a lot of water. A six-foot tree needs about 4 litres of water per day. You can also buy a warning system that sounds an alarm if the water level in your tree stand gets too low.
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Once your tree is in place, whether live or artificial, there are still some safety tips to follow as you decorate it.
Use only CSA-certified lights designed for indoor use. Outdoor lights often give off more heat than indoor sets.
Check your strings of lights before you set them up. Replace or repair any sets that have broken bulbs or wiring that’s frayed or stripped.
Also, don’t use too many lights on your tree.
One rule of thumb is a maximum of three light strands per extension cord. Another rule of thumb is 100 mini lights per vertical foot of tree; that is, if you have a 6-foot tree, you should have no more than 600 mini lights on it — fewer if the lights are larger.
If you have a metal artificial tree, don’t use electric lights; they can charge the tree, creating an electrocution hazard.
If you’re running extension cords for your tree lights, take care about how you place them. Never run cords under a rug or carpet, and make sure they’re not laid where people walk so as to create a tripping hazard.
When you go to bed at night, or when you leave the house, unplug or switch off the lights. Not only do the lights slowly dry out the tree, they burn electricity; it’s best not to have them on when you’re not around to enjoy them.
If you’re using artificial snow spray on your tree, follow the safety directions on the package carefully; make sure the room is well ventilated and there are no open flames.
Remember: all Christmas trees, live or artificial, are fire hazards. Though most artificial trees are fire resistant, that doesn’t mean they won’t catch fire; it just means they should be easier to extinguish and resistant to burning.
You should keep a fire extinguisher handy, just in case.
As well, take this opportunity to check that your smoke detectors are working and replace their batteries if necessary.
Once the holiday season has passed, you should remove the decorations from your tree and dispose of it promptly.
If you’ve done everything right (especially the watering part), a Christmas tree should last 2-4 weeks from the time you bring it home. But, by the time Christmas passes, the tree will probably be too dry to be safe.
Most communities have Christmas tree recycling programs, which collect old trees and turn them into mulch for gardening. Some programs even let you bring in your tree, mulch it for you, and send you home with the remains to use in your own garden.
Regardless of what you do with your tree, do not burn it in any indoor fireplaces. Old, dry evergreen trees burn very quickly and very hot; they can even ignite creosote deposits in your chimney (not something you want to happen).
Finally, make sure you’ve got home insurance in place.
If the worst should happen, you’ll want protection; all basic home insurance policies cover fire loss.
If you have any questions about what types of personal property are covered, or where you would stay if there was an insured loss to your home and who would pay for it, then call your home insurance provider.
Home insurance is about peace of mind, and it is always worth it to take a moment to make sure you and your loved ones will have the coverage you need.
You can place a Christmas tree outdoors, but it’s important to make sure that the tree and any decorations on it are secure against wind and snow. Additionally, make sure any lights you place on the tree are rated for outdoor use.
Fir trees, especially Fraser fir and Douglas fir, are said to be the longest-lasting Christmas trees. If you prefer a pine tree, Scotch pine is the longest lasting of that variety.
To help your tree last longer, start by choosing the freshest, healthiest tree when you buy it. Then, make a fresh cut along the base of the trunk to aid in water absorption. Keep the tree well watered, checking the level every day (and more frequently for the first few days). Finally, set the tree up away from any heat sources.
Want to learn more? Visit our Home and Personal Safety resource centre to find more information about protecting your family and your home. Or, get an online quote in under 5 minutes and find out how affordable personalized home insurance can be.
About the expert: Chuck Roydhouse
Chuck Roydhouse is a retired professional firefighter, owner of Clean Sweep of Anne Arundel County, and President of CSIA (Chimney Safety Institute of America). He has a degree in Fire Science & Safety from Shepherd University and 25 years of experience as a career firefighter. Chuck has been serving the chimney industry for 30 years as a CSIA Master Chimney Sweep.
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