How to avoid a Christmas disaster: Tips for preventing fire and burglaries

How to avoid a Christmas disaster: Tips for preventing fire, burglaries and food poisoning: GIF Christmas tree on fire surrounded by panicking snowmen

Christmas is the perfect time to unwind, relax with family and, unfortunately, forget to be careful at home because your mind is on a million things you need to get done.

It’s also the perfect time for burglaries as the days get longer and darker.

According to Swinton Insurance, there’s a 25% increase in break-ins over the holidays.

Whether protecting your pets, your children, your home or your food, we have all the advice you need to get through the holidays, safely and with the minimum of fuss.

Keep the house secure

Dan Reynolds, RLM Locksmiths

How secure is your outdoor festive lighting? Consider how you’re feeding those electric cables into your property.

Are you leaving a window slightly open and insecure? We recommend considering an alternative, such as getting an external plug socket installed.

Enlist a neighbour if you’re away. Get them to close curtains at night time and turn lights on and off, all of which give the impression that someone is home. Most importantly, get them to put the bins away on rubbish day. Bins left in the road is a tell-tale sign that the homeowner is away.

If you’ve moved recently, change your locks. You don’t know who previously had copies of your keys and you might not have been given them all back.

Don’t tempt burglars

Diane Ivory, former Scotland Yard fingerprint expert, forensicminds.co.uk

If going on holiday and your house is empty or not being checked in on, don’t advertise that you’re away.

Be careful on social media. If you’ve bought a brand-new Rolex, don’t advertise the fact. Look at your settings to make sure only those you know and trust can see your posts.

If that’s not the case, be mindful of what you put out there. And if you’re going on holiday and your house is empty or not being checked in on, don’t advertise that you’re away, where you are or how long you’re away for.

When Christmas shopping, be vigilant when taking bags back to your car. You may be seen loading your bags into the car and may well return to find broken windows and bags gone or… no car!

Once home with all your gifts, you need to hide them somewhere that’s not to obvious nor quick to find. Lofts are good. Don’t wrap all the presents and put them under the tree for all to see. This is a burglar’s dream!

Don’t forget your doors and windows. With more people in the house and maybe a hot kitchen from cooking, you’re likely to open doors and window during the day. Make sure you close and lock them when you go leave the room/go to bed/go out.

Stop unwelcome visitors. If you have an alarm box and cameras and your neighbours don’t, burglars may be more likely to go to your neighbour. If the whole street is alarmed up, they might take a chance that you’ve not set it. If they get in and the bells go off, they’ll grab what they can quickly then leave fast. Don’t leave stuff for them to grab.

If you’re going away for Christmas, get a neighbour or trusted friend to collect your mail and put it out of sight. Leave an ironing board up with a pile of clothes. It’ll look like you’ve just popped out. And ask a neighbour if they’d like to leave their car on your drive so your house doesn’t look empty.

Be careful with electricals

Michael Evans, hexoelectricaltesting.co.uk

Don’t use an extension leads and extension plugs. They can overload, which overheats and can cause a fire. It’s always best to plug directly into the socket if
it’s possible.

Be mindful of where you position decorations with a bulb in. If the bulb accidently gets broken the live electrics within it can electrocute someone. Be especially careful with children and pets.

Make sure you check your smoke alarms are working. Wrap presents on an uncluttered surface. It’s only too easy to cut through a laptop wire plugged into the wall.

Hang your Christmas lights at the top of the tree so it’s harder for small children and animals to grab or bite through.

Keep an eye on the gas

Bob Kerr, Gas Safe Register

Have your gas appliances been safety checked and serviced? If you rent your home, ask for a copy of the landlord’s current Gas Safety Record. It’s important that this is done every year.

Regular maintenance can mean a reduction in energy bills as it ensures that the system is working as efficiently as possible. Servicing can also reduce the chance of a potential boiler breakdown, which could leave you without heating.

Know the symptoms of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning and the potential signs of an unsafe gas appliance. Symptoms of CO poisoning are not always obvious, and it can be confused with less serious illnesses such as a cold, flu or even a hangover.

There are six main symptoms: headaches, nausea, dizziness, breathlessness, collapse and loss of consciousness. The warning signs of an unsafe gas appliance are lazy yellow flames instead of crisp blue ones, black sooty marks, or stains on or around the appliance and high levels of condensation in the room.

As well as regular servicing of your gas appliances by a qualified Gas Safe registered engineer, you should also fit an audible carbon monoxide alarm. This will alert you if there is carbon monoxide in your home.

Only use a Gas Safe registered engineer to fit, fix and service your gas appliances.

It’s illegal for someone to do this if they’re not on the Gas Safe Register. You can find and check an engineer at GasSafeRegister.co.uk or call 0800 408 5500.

Avoid water leaks

Craig Foster, leakbot.io

Do you have a dripping tap? It may not seem serious, but it can lead to corrosion, and in the event a leak is found at the base of a tap or underneath a sink where the supply connects to the tap it can cause serious damage.

To check for potential damage, place a paper towel at the spout to check for small drips, check if the tap handle is stiff or difficult to tighten (this maybe a worn-out washer), check the tap base for leaks (the O-ring may need replacing) and check under the sink for leaks to ensure the connection piping is not damaged.

Check your toilet for hidden damage. Place a dry paper towel at the back of the toilet for one minute. If the paper is wet afterwards, you’re likely to have a leak running down the back of the pan which will need attending to. You should also check for any hissing noises from the cistern which could suggest the float valve is not closing as it should.

Do you know where your stop taps and isolation valves are? These valves are often situated under the sink or behind appliances so leaks and damage often goes unnoticed until it’s too late.

First check if there is any limescale present on the stop tap, isolation valves or on the surrounding pipework that could indicate a small leak.

You should also check to see if there is any moisture around the joints of the stop tap or isolation valves to see if they are passing water.

Finally, make sure you check the floor underneath the stop tap/isolation valves to see if there are any signs of water stains. Seek professional help before any issue escalates and potential cost spirals.

Be crime savvy

Toni Frost, ex-police and counter-terrorism officer, esquiressceremonies.com

If you’re going out celebrating then leave lights on or on timers, giving the impression someone is home.

If you are travelling for any length of time then consider a gardener to keep the gardens and leaves at bay and clear any snow if there’s a snow fall. An empty house is a vulnerable one.

Be cautious with text messages from couriers asking for money. Check the Royal Mail website; they offer some great advice – royalmail.com/help/scam-examples
Never leave your gift shopping on show in the car or in your windows for opportunist thieves.

Don’t advertise your purchases by placing your empty branded boxes of gifts by the side of over-full bins after Christmas. Wait until bin day and take them out if possible.

Stay food safe

Jenna Brown, foodsafetymum.co.uk

Get your fridge ready for the big Christmas shop. Ensure your fridge is operating between 1-5ºC and remove any out-of-date foods. Remove any non-perishable items like vegetables and drinks, except milk and fruit juices. Organise your fridge so that raw meats, poultry and fish can stay on the bottom shelf.

Allow enough time for your turkey to defrost. If you don’t defrost it before cooking, your turkey may not cook evenly and harmful bacteria may survive the cooking process. When defrosting in the fridge, allow 10-12 hours per kg to fully defrost an average turkey weighing 6-7kg. Don’t forget to pop your turkey in a
dish when defrosting to catch
any juices.

Keep it clean! Never use the same equipment to prepare ready-to-eat foods after preparing raw meat without thorough cleaning first. If you can, opt for colour-coded equipment. Wash your hands before preparing food and after handling any raw meats and poultry. But don’t wash the turkey. By washing raw poultry, you are more likely to cause food poisoning by inadvertently spreading bacteria around
the kitchen.

Check your turkey is cooked thoroughly. The easiest way to check it is cooked is using a food probe and checking that the thickest part of the meat reaches 75C when the probe is inserted. Alternatively, cut into the thickest part of the meat and make sure that no pink meat is visible, juices run clear and that any stuffing is piping hot throughout.

Know how to handle your leftovers. Make sure you pop any leftovers you want to keep in the fridge within two hours of cooking and use within two to three days.

Food waste at Christmas is significant so don’t forget you can use your cooked meat to make new meals! Top tip – remove the meat from the carcass to speed up the cooling process and take up less room in the fridge.

Protect your pets

Ryan Lord, poochiful.co.uk

Chocolate is your number one enemy at Christmas –at least when it comes to curious pups and gift boxes of sweet treats. Try to avoid decorating the Christmas tree with chocolate coins, which can easily fall off the tree.

Chocolate advent calendars are an easy steal for your dog if left out. Keep them firmly out of reach from your dog. It’s easy to forget about that box of chocolates left unattended on the coffee table. And don’t forget that just because a confectionery gift is wrapped, it doesn’t mean that your dog can’t smell it and get into the parcel, so again, keep it out of paw’s reach!

Mind your tree! Glass baubles can drop and shatter in your dog’s mouth or underfoot. Pine needles can cause tummy upsets if ingested so make sure your dog doesn’t develop a taste for them and hoover any dropped pine needles daily.

Never leave your dog unattended in the room with a Christmas tree. Twinkling lights can be irresistible to your pet and pose a chew or choking hazard.

Be aware of the kitchen danger zone. When you’re cooking that delicious turkey, keep your pets out of the kitchen. Hot liquids can pose a scald danger, especially with a dog under your feet, waiting for any rich pickings you might drop. Install a dog gate on the kitchen door so that you can serve food without the dog gaining access.

And shut the dog away in another room when eating to ensure they aren’t helping themselves to the bin in your absence.

Have a kid-friendly Christmas

Jumaimah Hussain, kiddies-kingdom.com

Ensure lights and decorations are out of reach for small children. One way is to place baby gates or child-safe indoor fencing around the tree.

Or, if you still want the Christmas tree gate to look aesthetically pleasing, wrap large empty boxes as presents and use them as a barrier. If a Christmas tree barrier isn’t for you, simply don’t decorate the lower third of the tree.

Opt for child-friendly Christmas tree decorations. Buy shatterproof ornaments instead of glass as they are designed to bounce rather than break.

Be sure to replace any metal hooks used to hang your ornaments with ribbon or string instead, which is a much safer alternative. Another good trick is to decorate the tree with bells to act as a DIY alarm, so if they do get hold of the tree, you’ll be able to hear it immediately.

Rethink how you decorate. Decorate surfaces that children can’t reach, such as fireplace mantels or bookshelves. For stockings, make sure they are attached firmly to your mantelpiece using 3M Command Hooks to hold them, rather than a metal hanger which when tugged can easily fall and cause potential injuries.

Also, be sure that your tree is secured in its tree stand to avoid it tumbling over if little hands decide to pull on it.

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