By Erik J. Martin, CTW Features
More homeowners than ever before are decking their halls with dread and amplifying their exteriors during the Halloween season. Consider that spending for this spooky holiday hit a record high of $10.6 billion in 2022, per the National Retail Foundation, up from $8 billion spent in 2020 – with 75% of these consumers purchasing holiday décor, which increasingly includes animatronics and large outdoor figures such as the 12-foot Home Depot skeleton that’s been all the rage the past three years.
But while Halloween decorating and enthusiasm around October 31 festooning are on the rise, so are the risks associated with such. The US Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that 3,200 Halloween-related injuries occur every year, on average. Many of these injuries are caused by decorations, including carving a pumpkin, using a ladder to hang up décor and electric shocks from faulty wires when employing electric lights.
That’s why it’s crucial to follow safety recommendations when getting your home in the haunting spirit, the experts concur.
“Embracing safety best practices during Halloween is essential. Not only does it safeguard you, your loved ones and your property, but it also allows you to fully immerse yourself in the spirit of the season without the looming specter of accidents or lawsuits,” says Kimberly King, a body safety educator, homeowner and protective mom.
The first rule of thumb for ensuring Halloween decorating safety is to any candles or flames. FEMA reported that, between 2017 and 2019, an average of 9,200 fires were reported over the last three days of October, causing 25 deaths, 100 injuries, and over $100 million in property loss. Instead, use flameless or battery-operated candles. Also, avoid outdoor bonfires and tiki torches.
“Additionally, make sure to install Halloween decorations away from heat sources like light bulbs and electrical sources. And try using nonflammable décor materials whenever possible,” suggests Sharon Cooksey, a consumer fire safety educator in Greensboro, North Carolina.
If you plan to hang up electrical lights in or around your home, inspect each light and strand carefully.
“If you notice any defective or broken lights or wires, do not use them because they can cause a fire. Also, don’t nail or staple extension cords or electrical wires in a way that would damage it and start a fire,” insurance industry expert Michael Orefice, senior vice president of operations for SmartFinancial, says. “In addition, don’t overload extension cords. If you are decorating outside with lights, animatronics or other plug-in electric items, make sure they are meant for outdoor use.”
Avoid connecting more than three light strings or electrical items to one line/extension cord. Always plug outdoor decorations into GFCI-protected outlets. Only use electrical decorations approved by testing labs such as UL, ETF or CSA. And remember to turn off all electrical decorations before leaving home or going to bed.
“When using a ladder, opt for a fiberglass or wooden ladder, as metal conducts electricity. Pick an appropriate ladder height, too – the latter should extend 3 feet past the roof’s edge,” adds Cooksey.
Ensure that any outdoor props or animatronics are well secured in the event of heavy winds or storms (ideally, affix them using heavy-duty lawn stakes and/or anchors and cables).
“Keep your yard clear and well-lit, as well,” advises Orefice. “Clutter in your yard and walkway can create tripping hazards. If you are decorating your yard, make sure pathways are clear and brightly illuminated. Keep your yard clear of any leaves, hoses and rocks. And make sure the bodily injury liability portion of your homeowners insurance policy has sufficient coverage to protect you if someone is injured on your property.”
Lastly, if you have valuable outdoor décor, like giant or expensive animatronic figures, consider investing in a home security surveillance camera(s) so you can discourage thieves or vandals and keep closer tabs on your props.