Twinkling lights, a crackling fireplace, home-cooked meals with your favorite family and friends — there’s a lot to love about the holiday season. There are also precautions to take and necessary maintenance needed to keep you and your home safe, whether you’re playing host or spending some time away.

Careful cooking

The kitchen is the heart of the house. It’s also where home fires are most likely to start, according to the American Red Cross.

There are a few ways you can reduce the risk: Unplug appliances when you aren’t using them and don’t ever put metal in the microwave. Exercise caution when using a deep fryer, and keep a fire extinguisher on hand at all times in case of an emergency. Finally, keep your appliances clean, and don’t hesitate to call in an extra pair of hands if you need assistance getting everything in tip-top shape.

Prioritize decor safety

Peppermint, cinnamon, fresh pine needles — candles brighten up a room in sight and smell, but make sure to place them on a sturdy surface and put them out before bed. Also be aware of the lights you’re hanging: Are they indoor-only? Have they been tested by a regulatory agency? Avoid the risk of fire or electrical shock by inspecting your lights and only using them as directed. If you don’t feel safe climbing a ladder to hang them outside, or if you aren’t sure about the type of lights you need, a professional can help.

Sweep the chimney

Nothing adds ambiance to a room quite like a roaring fire. But before you gather round the hearth, consider an inspection from a professional chimney sweep, especially if it’s been a few years. Unclean chimneys are a major cause of house fires, says the National Fire Protection Agency, so it’s best not to brush off the job.

Clean dryer vents

Is it taking longer for your clothes to dry in every cycle? Does your laundry room seem suddenly, excessively hot? These are symptoms of a clogged dryer vent, which is a serious fire hazard. Familiarize yourself with the other signs of build-up and call in a professional to inspect your vents.

Update fire alarms

You’re likely familiar with the sound your fire alarm makes when the battery is dying: The high-pitched chirping can reverberate throughout your house. But take note: The U.S. Fire Administration advises homeowners that the type of smoke detector you have determines how often you need to replace the batteries, and fire alarms themselves have a shelf life. Test your fire alarms often and replace the batteries at least once a year.


Diana Crandall is a reporter for Angie’s List, a provider of consumer reviews and an online marketplace of services.