home safety

In addition to holiday cheer, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day can also bring unexpected disaster. Fire, theft, and accidents can all too easily disrupt your holidays. However, some advance planning can substantially reduce the impact that these unexpected events can have on you and your family. Here are five steps that you can take to protect your home this holiday season:

Protect Against Theft

Property crime can come in many forms. Vandals can steal or destroy your holiday decorations. Thieves can steal packages right off your porch or steal purchases right out of your car. Criminals can even rummage through your trash after Christmas to determine if there are any valuable gifts inside to steal.

One of the simplest ways to protect against theft is to hide any valuables. If you put gifts under the Christmas tree, move the tree away from windows or close drapes so gifts are not visible. Visible gifts can be an invitation for burglars to try to break into your house. And after everyone opens their gifts, keep packaging inside until recycling day or shred boxes and receipts so that they do not identify the gifts you may have inside the home.

When you go shopping, you can reduce the risk of a smash-and-grab theft by taking valuables, such as purses, wallets, and phones, with you. As you work down your shopping list, place gifts in the trunk, under a seat, or inside the glove box to keep them out of view.

Another risk comes in the form of package theft. In 2018, consumers spent about $517 billion online working with U.S. merchants and much of this virtual shopping occurs during the holiday season. When these goodies are delivered and you’re not home, you run the risk of someone stealing your purchases. Package theft can be addressed in many ways, but they do require you to make some effort. For example:

  • If the package is coming from a friend or relative, ask that the package be sent with signature confirmation so that the delivery company does not leave the package unattended.
  • For online purchases, give the package delivery company specific delivery instructions (such as leaving it in the garage) so that the package can be kept safe until you’re home.
  • Have packages delivered to a P.O. Box or rented mailbox.
  • Track packages online and ask a house sitter to receive delivery of your packages on the expected delivery date.

One solution for protecting your yard decorations, home, and car against theft and vandalism is a closed circuit television (CCTV) system. These systems allow you to monitor your home around the clock. Moreover, these cameras can often capture images of any theft, helping law enforcement recover your property.

Prevent Home Invasions

A home burglary occurs every 13 seconds in the United States. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the number of home burglaries goes up even further around the holidays.

There are three reasons for this:

  1. Opportunity: Residents spend more time away from home during the holidays while shopping, traveling, and visiting friends and families.
  2. Value: Burglars know that the holidays’ influx of gifts increases their potential haul from a break-in.
  3. Desperation: Stress and financial pressure can push people to steal during the holidays.

One way to prevent home invasions is to keep online information about your whereabouts to a minimum. Google, Facebook, Apple, and others all track location data for you. In addition to avoiding posts announcing your whereabouts, you should also check your settings to ensure that your information is not being collected without your knowledge.

Another way to address home invasions is a home automation system. These systems are a relatively new entrant into the U.S. consumer electronics market, which is worth over $300 billion. A home automation system allows you to control your lights, heating, electronics, and even your drapes. These systems can operate these elements to give the outward impression that your home is occupied even when you are away. Think of it like a sophisticated light timer.

Practice Fire Safety

The likelihood of fires is increased by an unfortunate confluence of holiday traditions. A Christmas staple, fresh-cut trees can last between four and five weeks even when watered.

These traditional fresh-cut trees, however, are decorated with electric light strings and surrounded with gifts wrapped in paper. These elements — electricity, tinder, and fuel — combine to create a substantial fire risk.

One way to reduce the risk of fires is to purchase fresh-cut trees later in the season and select a tree that has green needles and a wet stump. Fresher trees are less likely to catch fire.

You should also inspect all light strings for cracked or worn insulation. Broken insulation can lead to sparks and short circuits that can ignite a tree or ornaments.

Finally, make sure all smoke detectors are in working order. In the event that a fire occurs, an alarm can increase your chance of surviving a fire by as much as 50%. Test your home’s smoke detectors and change batteries to make sure they are monitoring for smoke.

Plan for Bad Weather

The holiday season brings bad weather in much of the United States. Planning for bad weather can help you to keep your home and family safe.

For example, if you have a fireplace and chimney, you should have it cleaned to make sure that smoke and toxic gases can escape. Moreover, if the fireplace is gas-operated, you should have the gas lines inspected. If bad weather knocks out your electric service, a safe, working fireplace can keep you warm until power is restored.

Similarly, you should make sure that your vehicle has all-weather tires and keep the fuel tank at least half-full. In the event that you need to evacuate due to severe weather, flooding, or other weather emergencies, you will be able to do so.

Prepare for Emergencies

Emergency planning can be difficult because it requires you to anticipate the unexpected. However, there are some emergency supplies that can be useful in any season, including:

  • Fire extinguishers
  • First aid kits
  • Flashlights and batteries
  • Candles
  • Stored food and water

Keeping your home and family safe during the holiday season can be your greatest gift to yourself. Avoiding unexpected and adverse events like theft, home invasion, fires, bad weather, and other emergencies can save the holidays for your family.