The $2 Million Christmas Tree

Preventing Home Hazards This Holiday Season

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By Kathy Mabe, Executive Vice President, Allstate Brand Distribution

It would be pretty hard to find a Christmas tree worth $2 million. That’s a lot of gold tinsel and diamond-encrusted ornaments.

But, as one Allstate customer found when an artificial Christmas tree caught fire in the family’s living room, a Christmas tree can cost you $2 million.

Fortunately, no one was hurt. But the fire caused nearly $2.4 million in losses and serves as a sobering reminder that the holiday season – while full of joy – is also a risky time for home safety and security.

However, you can help secure your family’s safety and security this holiday season by understanding the risks and what you can do to mitigate them.

Christmas tree fires are hardly the only holiday hazard. In fact, home fires of all kinds increase 15 percent during the holiday season, with a few notable culprits causing a disproportionate share of the trouble. Candles are the most likely cause of a holiday fire, and the median cost for candle-related insurance claims is almost $50,000. Also, holiday dinners increasingly feature fried turkey, which may be delicious, but is cooked in hot oil that can spatter and start a fire– especially if the turkey is frozen.

On average, there are three times more turkey fryer claims during the holiday season than any other time of the year, with median claims of almost $29,000.
Aside from fire, another ever-present risk is theft, as claims for stolen property increase by seven percent during the holidays.

So why are the holidays such a risky – and potentially costly – time for American households? A recent Allstate poll conducted this fall sheds some light on this question. Overall, our survey finds that a variety of holiday pressures and changes in activities, behaviors and routines can leave households particularly vulnerable to threats like fires and theft.

For example, more than half of our respondents say that they try to do too many things at one time during the holidays, and 60 percent of consumers try new techniques for cooking (turkey frying comes to mind!) and decorating. The survey confirms that more than half (55 percent) of people who drink alcohol say they drink more during the holidays and shake up their daily schedule and routines (56 percent). People also do things that make them particularly vulnerable to theft, including nearly 3 in 4 respondents who say they leave delivered packages outside their home and more than half who travel overnight during the holidays.

Frequent travel and feeling a bit frazzled are perhaps inevitable parts of the holiday season for many people. However, there are practical steps that you can take to ensure run-of-the-mill holiday stress isn’t compounded by a major accident, headache or theft.

Holiday Cooking

No matter how much cooking you expect to do, the days leading up to the holiday season offer a great opportunity to install new batteries in smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors. Now is also the time to ensure family members can locate and operate fire extinguishers and test all fire prevention devices to make sure they function properly. Once you are in the kitchen, be careful and pay attention to the details. For example, the overuse of garbage disposals and the improper or excessive disposal of cooking grease and other waste can leave you with clogged drains and sewer problems.

Holiday Decorating

Before you install any holiday lights, examine them thoroughly and throw away any that are broken. Avoid overloading electrical outlets and be sure that you’re using them appropriately, as only lights and extension cords specified for outdoor use should be used outside. If you’re putting up a Christmas tree, always remember a few key points:

  • When buying a natural tree, make sure it’s fresh. Fresh trees retain more moisture so they are less of a fire hazard;
  • Artificial trees should be labeled as fire resistant; and
  • Keep your tree away from heat sources and decorate trees with flame_resistant materials.

Finally, pay special attention to candles. Never leave them unattended, and always place them out of reach of children. Checking that all candles are extinguished should become part of your normal routine before going to bed each night.

Holiday Security

Some tried and true advice can be very useful in preventing thefts. When shopping, store your purchases out of sight, in the trunk, instead of in the passenger compartment. The same guidance applies when you’re at home. When in plain view, gifts piled around a Christmas tree serve as an invitation to burglars. Close the shades or drapes if you’re going to be away.

The onset of social media has also created new challenges for household holiday safety, as thieves are increasingly going online to discover opportunities to steal. So, don’t advertise shopping trips or gift purchases on social media, and be careful about providing real-time updates on your precise location and the dates of your travel. Even a seemingly harmless update from a holiday party can tip off a thief that you’re not home.

The holidays should provide an opportunity for us to relax and spend time with our loved ones. Even if that seems like a challenge amid all the traveling, shopping, cooking and decorating, there are simple and straightforward steps we can take to ensure a safe and secure holiday season. Now, let’s get out there and spread some [hazard-free] holiday cheer.