This holiday, make a list of safety tips, check it twice


November 27, 1993|By Karol V. Menzie and Randy Johnson

It's the season of inside things. In most parts of the country the frost is long past, but there hasn't been enough snow to start winter sports -- though that could be changing imminently. With more going on indoors, some parts of your house may be getting a workout.

And holidays require extra caution as you decorate, light candles, and run extension cords to Christmas trees. Here are some suggestions to enhance the holiday glow without endangering your house, yourself, or your guests.

*Outdoor lights and lights in outdoor trees and shrubs should be plugged into an outdoor-rated extension cord that's in good condition, with no frayed spots. The extension cord should by plugged into a ground-fault interrupter circuit -- the kind of outlet that has test buttons. It detects the release of ungrounded electricity, for instance if an appliance came in contact with water.

In newer houses, all outside receptacles, bathroom receptacles and receptacles within 6 feet of the kitchen sink are the ground-fault type. There is usually another ground fault wired into the electrical panel. When you haul out those multicolored synchronized flashing lights (the ones your neighbor hasn't got the wit to appreciate), test the receptacle you plan to use by plugging them in and pushing the test button on the nearest ground fault. If the power doesn't go out, try another outlet. If nothing nearby seems to be ground-faulted, you can buy a portable ground-fault indicator that can be plugged into any receptacle.

*When you're running extension cords for tree lights and other decorations, remember the first rule of extension cording: Don't plug any light or appliance into an extension cord that is smaller in diameter than the cord attached to the device. Doing so could cause the cord to overheat and lead to a fire.

When you're placing extension cords, don't run them under rugs, where they could be damaged and you would not know it, or where chewing dogs can test their teeth on the insulation. If you have the same problem every year finding a way to plug in the tree lights, maybe it's time to call an electrician and have a receptacle installed where you need it.

If you're using an extension cord with an auxiliary heating device, check the plugs to make sure they're not getting dangerously hot.

*Watch using lights near flammable materials -- gauzy curtains in windows, or drying greens on mantels. Keep Christmas trees watered so the branches don't become dangerously dry.

*If you're decorating the outside of the house, or installing Santa and his reindeer on the roof ridge, use an appropriate ladder. (It's not expensive to rent a ladder, if you don't have one that's quite tall enough.) Use a ladder that's rated for your weight -- if you weigh 240 pounds, don't use a ladder rated for 220 pounds.

Stake the bottom of the ladder for extra safety, and tie the top to a window. Ladder stabilizers also make working at heights a little safer. Guard against becoming cocky or lazy and reaching out too far; you should get down and move the ladder -- and watch out for overhead electrical wires while you're doing so.

*Before you fire up a fireplace or wood-burning stove, clean it out and inspect it for any damage, like cracks or missing mortar. Chimneys should be cleaned at least once during the winter, and more often if they are used heavily.

Don't operate a wood stove with a continuous, smoldering fire. Open the dampers and let it burn well every day. Cooler fires can contribute to creosote buildup.

It's tempting to store firewood on the porch, where you can hop out in slippers and grab a log or two, but it's tempting to termites, too, who could happily hop from the wood pile to your floor joists without missing a bite. Store firewood off the ground, and well away from the house.

* When you close up a house to keep out cold air, you need to pay more attention to indoor air quality. Use exhaust fans in bathrooms and over the kitchen stove. Confine projects involving solvents, such as paint stripping, to areas with good ventilation, or put them off to a warmer season. If you are rehabbing a house, you might want to consider installing the new generation of heat exchangers, which vent to the outside while warming incoming air.

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