The majority of Americans who set up Christmas trees inside their homes choose artificial trees. In addition to saving money in the long run, artificial trees are popular because they spare their owners the inconvenience of having to clean up billions upon billions of pine needles.

Many Christmas celebrants also justify their preference for artificial trees by reasoning they are fireproof. This is incorrect. While artificial trees are indeed less flammable than live ones, they too can catch fire if they are exposed to enough heat.

All of this is to say that every Christmas tree owner must exercise caution if they wish to avoid a house fire. The alternative is not having a Christmas tree at all – something we would never advise doing, because the Grinch does not work at The Hoffman Agency.


Christmas Tree Fires by the Numbers

According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), American fire departments responded to an estimated average of 210 residential structure fires that originated with Christmas trees each year between 2010 and 2014. Christmas tree fires cause an average of six civilian deaths and 16 civilian injuries annually, as well as over $16 million in property damage.

Christmas tree fires are deadlier than other types of fires. Approximately 3% of reported Christmas tree fires result in death. In contrast, only 0.7% of other reported residential fires share the same outcome.

In the grand scheme of things, Christmas tree fires are rare. Even so, the prospect of losing your life or your home to such a horrible, tragic accident is just too grim to excuse carelessness around the holiday season.


What Causes Christmas Tree Fires?

The NFPA doesn’t account for every conceivable cause of Christmas tree fires, but the most common ones are:

  • Electrical distribution and/or lighting equipment – 35%
  • Intentional fires – 23%
  • Heating equipment – 15%
  • Playing with fire – 10%
  • Candles – 8%

Those figures are encouraging, as they mean the majority of Christmas fires are preventable. You can more than halve your risk of a Yuletide disaster if you responsibly manage your home’s electricity, lighting and heating equipment while your tree is up. Let’s review the dos and don’ts of Christmas tree safety so you and your own can enjoy a safer holiday season!


The Dos and Don’ts of Christmas Tree Safety

  1. Cut base of trunk before setting tree up. If you’re a real tree devotee, saw an inch or so off the bottom of your tree’s trunk before setting it up. The pores at the base of a freshly hewn tree clog up with sap, which inhibits the tree’s ability to suck up water. Removing those sap-clogged pores will help your tree stay more moist and fire retardant.
  2. Water tree daily. Watering your tree once a day won’t just help to preserve its verdure. A regularly watered tree can withstand exposure to flames for a surprisingly long amount of time. Conversely, a dried out tree burns faster than newspaper, and can become engulfed in flame in less than 10 seconds.
  3. Use approved tree lights. Only use lights that have been tested and approved by a reputable laboratory: the UL mark (“UL”) is the most widely accepted certification mark in the United States. Before using a string of lights, inspect it for missing bulbs, exposed wires, and damaged, missing or discolored insulation. Replace bulbs that are missing; do not attempt to repair lights otherwise.
  4. Use extension cords responsibly. Do not use visibly damaged extension cords. Do not connect more than three strings of lights to multiple extension cords. Do not use indoor extension cords outdoors. Do not exceed 1,000 watts on a single household breaker – and take care that multiple outlets can share the same breaker!
  5. Place tree in safe location. Do not place your tree near a:
    1. Radiator
    2. Bedroom
    3. Fireplace
    4. Wood stove
    5. Space heater
    6. Flight of stairs

Consider keeping your bedrooms’ doors closed at night. Doing so will help keep out toxic smoke during a fire, which gives you and your family greater opportunity to flee to safety.

  1. Do not place candles in tree. A Christmas tree filled with real, glowing candles is a beautiful sight – but it is also extraordinarily dangerous. Choose electric candles for your tree instead.
  • Keep pets away from tree. Cats are fond of climbing and investigating sparkly things. But a Christmas tree – which is filled with chewable live wires and easy to topple over – is no place for cats. Worse yet, some pine trees’ natural oils are mildly toxic to cats. Dogs aren’t quite as tempted to damage Christmas trees as cats are, but they should still be kept safely away from them.
  • Turn lights off when not in use. If you’re leaving your home or going to bed, unplug or otherwise turn off your tree lights. In addition to saving money on electricity, you’ll reduce the risk of a bulb overheating and starting a fire. Modern LED lights are less likely to start a fire, but they don’t eliminate the risk altogether.
  1. Test smoke alarms monthly. Regularly testing your smoke alarms is the best way to ensure they’ll work when you need them. Remember to also replace their batteries annually (or when they begin to chirp). It is also recommended that you replace your smoke alarms every decade, as their sensors will wear out and become inoperable given enough time.

You Aren’t Protected Without Homeowners Insurance No matter how much caution you exercise, you can never truly eliminate your risk of a house fire. Don’t jeopardize your greatest investment and family’s welfare by failing to plan ahead. If you live in Iowa, then we welcome you to contact The Hoffman Agency today for the best home insurance policy for your budget and unique needs!