Protecting your home during the Holiday season
(Article from the December 2006 issue of InsWeb Insider)
December is simply one of the most dangerous times for homeowners. Celebrations with cooking, candles, Christmas trees, holiday lights and alcohol foster conditions for a plethora of unfortunate events. Even more, burglars are looking to take advantage of easy targets: households that are clearly on vacation, or better yet, decorations that scream "WE HAVE GIFTS INSIDE!" Ensure your joyous holiday memories by recognizing such dangers and preparing accordingly.
December is the deadliest month for home fires. In fact, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Year's Eve are the top three days for home fires. Although unattended cooking and heating are the primary causes, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) reports that candle fires triple during the holiday season.
The NFPA also warns us about Christmas tree fires as they contribute to over 300 home fires and 14 deaths every year. Christmas tree fires are generally caused by malfunctioning tree lights, and by the tree being too close to a heat source (fireplace, heater, candle, etc.) When decorating your tree, you should never use lights with worn chords or loose bulb connections, and always unplug the lights before going to bed or leaving the house.
During the holiday season, many homeowners unknowingly make their absence obvious to burglars - even failing at the simplest steps of locking doors and windows. Take two minutes to review these simple, yet often overlooked home safety practices that will make your home appear to be lived in, whether you are away for only a weekend or for weeks at a time.
Make Your Home Appear to be Lived-in
Install automatic timers to turn lights and radios on and off at appropriate times. Ask a friend or neighbor to pick up your mail and newspaper, or have it forwarded it to the post office. Lower the sound of your telephone and answering machine so they cannot be heard from outside and make sure your voicemail message does not imply that you are away.
Give a Neighbor a Spare Key
Leave a key with a trusted neighbor in case anything happens to your house while you are away, or in case you get locked out. It's usually not a good idea to leave a key hidden outside your house, especially in more urban areas.
Protect Your House Keys
Don't give repairmen a key, and don't give people fixing your car your entire set of keys. Your house keys can be easily duplicated and your address could be obtained from your license plate number.
Change Your Locks
It is usually a good idea to change the locks on your new home when you move in as you never know who might have keys to your house. If your home does not have deadbolt locks on all ground-level doors, consider installing them. If a sliding glass door is easily accessible, it is a good idea to put a strip of wood in the lower tract.
Consider Installing an Alarm
You may also want to install an alarm if the house doesn't already have one. If you move into a new house with an alarm, make sure you get accurate (written) directions on how to operate it.