Just because many of us will be in lockdown this holiday season doesn't mean the festive spirit is dampened for everyone. From trees and lights to candles and ornaments, many homeowners are still decorating their homes in preparation for a pandemic Christmas even if they can’t gather with family and friends.
While these items are sure to spark some joy at a dark time, they can pose a risk to your home and those inside of it. For instance, Christmas trees and lights can catch fire, and the extra electrical cords these decorations demand can create tripping hazards.
If you’ve already decked the halls, you might want to take a closer look at your home insurance policy and see what coverage you have for things like fires, high-value gifts, and personal liability.
Am I covered if my Christmas decorations cause a fire?
Although home insurance is optional in Canada, homeowners insurance is a savvy investment to ensure your home and personal belongings are protected. If you opt to go without it you’ll have to pay for the damages out-of-pocket in the event of a fire or any other hazard.
According to the National Fire Protection Association, there were 210 Christmas-tree-related home fires every year between 2010 and 2014. Most house fires occur between December 15 and 31, the NFPA says, and Christmas trees account for 29% of those holiday fires. Dried-out Christmas trees, in particular, cause more than 29% of home fires that occur in January.
Generally speaking, if your Christmas tree or any other holiday decorations causes a fire in your home, and you have a standard home insurance policy, you should be covered.
“Fire is an insured peril under a standard home insurance policy and there is no exclusion pertaining to Christmas trees or holiday decorations,” says Elektra Hilton, director of operations at DirectRate.ca.
Every year the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs promotes an initiative known as 12 Days of Holiday Fire Safety to raise awareness on household hazards during the holiday season. On Day 1, the OAFC provides some Christmas tree safety advice to help prevent fire: "Keep your tree away from any ignition source such as the fireplace, heaters or candles."
But even after the holiday season is over, there are still things to consider for your safety and to protect your home. For instance, dried-out Christmas trees are a known fire hazard and shouldn't be left on your property without a proper disposal plan. Check with your local fire department to find the best ways to safely discard it.
The OAFC also addresses light safety in its awareness campaign and recommends that homeowners check all sets of lights before decorating and discard any sets that are damaged.
“Overloaded power bars and outlets can also lead to holiday fires, so this is something homeowners should keep in mind,” adds Hilton.
She reminds homeowners to make sure they have working smoke and carbon monoxide alarms. Plus, depending on your home insurance provider, you could be eligible for a discount if you have a monitored fire alarm system installed in your home.
Fire shouldn’t be your only concern this holiday season
Whether you’re putting up or taking down Christmas decorations, there are other hazards to consider than fire.
“Many people have cords running all over the place,” says Hilton. “This could cause people to trip, which would be a liability loss.”
The good news is, a standard home insurance policy also covers personal liability up to a certain amount, should you be sued for an injury sustained on your property.
Hilton also suggests considering your insurance limits around the holidays. All those expensive gifts under your tree, for instance, may not be covered in the event they’re damaged or stolen.
“Especially as it relates to jewelry or other items of high value,” says Hilton, “they may have specific limits on their policy that they are not aware of and want to check to see if their gift is adequately covered in the event of a fire or other loss.”
Our experts also recommend that homeowners avoid making an unnecessary claim. Once you make a home insurance claim, your premiums will likely increase. If you’ve made frequent claims in the past, it might indicate to the insurance company how risky a customer you might be and you could pay more. So you’ll have to decide if the claim is worth it.