Personal Finance

Keep this holiday home disaster in mind as you deck the halls

Key Points
  • Your home could be more susceptible to fires this holiday season.
  • Watch out for cooking and chimney accidents, as well as decorations like Christmas trees and candles that can catch fire.
  • Double check your insurance coverage to make sure you have adequate protection if a disaster occurs.
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Holiday celebrations could turn into holiday nightmares if you're not careful.

You may be more susceptible to fires in your home this holiday season, according to a recent study from The insurance website found 12.9 million individuals have experienced a house fire during the holidays caused by a cooking accident, 9.7 million have had one caused by candles and 6.5 million have had fires started by their Christmas trees.

The site polled 1,009 U.S. adults in early November.

"Fire is definitely one of the most expensive kinds of insurance claims," frequently causing more damage than wind or storm claims, said Laura Adams, senior insurance analyst at

Christmas tree fires cause about $17.5 million in direct property damage each year, while fires caused by decorations result in about $13.4 million in property damage, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

Precautionary measures

The causes of fires are largely driven by holiday celebrations, Adams said. People tend to cook more during large social gatherings this time of year, which increases the chances they will be distracted. Decorations such as candles and Christmas trees can also lead to accidents.

You should take steps to prevent these fire mishaps:

  • When cooking, be sure to clean any grease on your stove top or in your oven that can ignite easily. Keep the area free of other objects that can catch fire such as oven mitts or containers.
  • Make sure candles are always in sight. Extinguish them if you leave the room.
  • Be sure to water live Christmas trees regularly. Throw the tree out once the needles become dry or fall off.
  • Keep your Christmas tree at least 3 feet from any heat source. Check that the lights you hang on the tree don't have wires that are damaged or frayed.
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Other hazards

Be sure to check your fireplace, particularly if you have a real chimney and do not use it often, Adams said.

Debris can collect in chimneys, such as from birds nesting. That can lead to an emergency situation if that material catches fire and lands in your house or on your roof.

"It's a really good idea to have it checked by a professional," Adams said.

In addition, make sure there are enough smoke detectors in your home and that they are all functioning properly.

Insurance coverage

You should also make sure you have adequate insurance coverage, Adams said. Take inventory of what you own and categorize major items, such as furniture, electronics and art work, to accurately assess their value.

Note if your possessions have changed since you last updated your homeowner's policy. If you have bought expensive furniture or electronics, you might not have enough personal belongings coverage, Adams said. You will also want to update your policy if you have put on an addition or remodeled your home, she said.

If you do not own your home, you need renter's insurance, Adams said. That costs about $188 per year on average.

"You're not paying for the home. You're just paying for your personal property and liability, so it's much, much cheaper," Adams said.

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