Be prepared for increased risk to your properties over the holiday season.
By BreAnn Stephenson.
Holiday lights and decorations can open up a new, glittering world of liability issues as well as increasing the risk of physical damage. Welcoming friends and relatives could lead to a slip on the steps if the ice melt isn’t put down. Before all the lights are strung and the fireplaces are stocked with wood for “roasting chestnuts on an open fire,” be sure you or your property manager have a clear discussion with your tenants about what is and is not permissible when “decking the halls” so they can entertain safely. The following four “lessons and carols” can help you avoid some serious seasonal pitfalls:
Holiday Pitfall #1: O Christmas Tree, How Lovely Are Thy Branches
The US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) reports that Christmas trees are the cause of 300 fires annually, leading to 30 injuries, 10 deaths and 19 Million dollars in property damage. Selecting the right type of greenery can help prevent a fire.
- A fresh tree is green with needles that are hard to pull from branches and won’t break when bent between your fingers.
- When tapped on the ground, the tree should not lose many needles.
- Have a designated waterer for Christmas trees, but dispose of the tree if it gets dry.
- Place the tree away from fireplaces, vents and radiators. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) recommends three feet or more.
- When using an artificial tree, make sure it is fire retardant.
Holiday Pitfall #2: The Lights are Turned Way Down Low, So Let it Snow
- Keep candles away from flammable materials like drapes and never use them on a tree.
- Use battery operated candles instead of live flames whenever possible.
- Never leave candles burning unattended.
- Check light strings for signs of exposed wires or other signs of deterioration.
- Avoid linking too many strings of lights together. Keep it to no more than 3 for “mini-string” sets and 50 lights if using a string with screw-in bulbs.
Holiday Pitfall #3: In the Dark Streets Shineth the Everlasting Light
- Use the appropriate height ladder. You should never stand on the top step or rung to reach what you’re decorating.
- Lights should bear safety markings from Underwriters Laboratory.
- Check each set of lights for damage and replace any broken bulbs. If the wires are frayed, do not use that set.
- Hang lights using the appropriate clips. Puncturing the wires can create an electrocution or fire hazard.
- In your rental units, follow all local code guidelines about exterior lights and specify what length of time lights may be left on the house.
Holiday Pitfall #4: Everybody Knows a Turkey and Some Mistletoe Help to Make the Season Bright
- Make sure all smoke alarms are working, by testing them monthly.
- If you are preparing food, stay with the food.
- Make sure you have a three-foot zone around any cooking appliance – no kids and no pets allowed.
- Keep potholders and other flammable items away from open flames.
- A fire extinguisher should be kept in the kitchen. Make sure to follow the manufacturer’s guidelines for maintenance and instruct tenants how to use it.
Grinch Alert! Exclusions to Insurance Coverage: Aluminum Wiring
One of the worst hidden holiday hazards is that of overheated circuits. If a tenant plugs too many items into an outlet or uses extension cords to string thousands of lights through the house, you may have a bigger problem than you think. While fire is a standard coverage in nearly every property insurance policy, many policies exclude fire damage that occurs when aluminum wiring is in use in the circuitry. Be sure you know if you have aluminum wiring in your property and whether your insurer will cover related incidents.
How can you tell if you have aluminum wiring?
♦ Aluminum wiring was widely used in the mid-1960’s through mid-1970’s. If your property was built or remodeled during that time period, you probably have aluminum wiring.
♦ Your electrical system will be labeled. Cables with aluminum conductors will have “Al” or “Aluminum” marked on one side of the cable jacket every few feet along its length. You may also find markings that read “CU-clad” or “Copper-clad” which means the cable uses copper-coated aluminum wire.
If you have aluminum wiring, how do you remedy the problem?
According to the CPSC, the best solution is to replace all aluminum wire with copper wire. Some may find this method cost-prohibitive depending upon the size of the home, so another fix may include “pigtailing” the aluminum wire to copper wire at every connection or splice, including wall outlets, switches, junction boxes and panel boxes. This method is officially called the COPALUM method and only electricians who are trained by the manufacturer to use the tool properly are authorized to install COPALUM connectors.
The CPSC warns you should never use common hand-crimped or twist-on connectors to repair aluminum wiring. These types of repairs are prone to even more failures than the original aluminum wire connectors! No matter the method, all modifications or repairs should be done by a licensed and insured technician in accordance with local regulations, and should always be inspected.
Keep the Season Bright
By taking the time to prepare your property for additional foot traffic during the holidays and helping your tenants stay safe in their home, you can help everyone have a peaceful holiday season. We wish you wonderful times with loved ones this season!