Between the twinkling lights and the sparkling ornaments, having a Christmas tree in your home produces a magical feeling. Artificial trees are an easy way to deck the halls all night long, but knowing if you can leave an artificial tree plugged in or not is essential. It's fairly common knowledge that a live tree can become dry and a potential fire hazard, but the configuration of lights winding through branches can spell disaster if the proper precautions aren't taken — even when using an artificial tree.
Fire risks are present when using an artificial tree due to the electrical component of lights built into an artificial tree. Because of this, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) recommends always turning off Christmas tree lights of any kind "before leaving home or going to bed."
The cause of one in every four home Christmas tree fires stems from electrical problems, the NFPA reported. This can definitely become an issue quickly with artificial trees that use electricity to keep the lights on, and become especially dangerous and damaging if you are not home or are asleep when a fire begins.
Richey Austin, a Safety Health Environmental and Quality (SHEQ) professional based in Houston, Texas tells Romper that ensuring your home is properly protected against fire hazards that can occur with any Christmas tree helps save lives. "A fire can double in size every minute, so early detection and extinguishment is critical," Austin says. "That's why you need to verify your smoke detectors are functioning and that you have a working fire extinguisher nearby for emergency use."
When purchasing an artificial tree, there are steps you can take to help prevent a fire from igniting. A representative from artificial tree manufacturer Balsam Hill explained to Romper via email that looking for an artificial tree with certain safety elements can help reduce fire risks, including purchasing a tree that features a flame retardant compound.
"All Balsam Hill trees are fire-resistant. The tree may smolder and melt, but will not burst into flames. Antinomy Trioxide, an inorganic compound, is what is used to make our products flame retardant," Balsam Hill says. "Although Balsam Hill trees are all fire-resistant, we still recommend not to leave your artificial Christmas trees plugged in overnight for the safety of your trees and ornaments while you are asleep or not around."
Despite the flame retardant nature of some artificial trees, Balsam Hill still recommends that consumers take proper precautions to prevent fire damage from spreading throughout the home when you're unable to be monitoring your tree. "Don't forget to turn off the power and close off your holiday-decorated rooms when you leave your home or go to bed," they tell Romper. "This guarantees your trees and ornaments will stay safe even when you're not around."
Above and beyond purchasing a fire-resistant tree and ensuring the lights are not left on in your absence, inspecting your tree's cords and ensuring it is plugged in properly are key to ensuring fire risks are reduced when the tree is plugged in. Austin tells Romper that taking proper precautions when using an artificial tree is key to keeping your family safe this holiday season. "Have it plugged into a protected GFCI (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter) circuit. Do not over use extra extension cords plugged end to end, as it will overheat and cause increased fire risk," Austin says.
The cords of artificial trees are where much of the danger can lie, according to Austin. "Inspect cords for physical damage prior to use after unpacking," he says. "Also be careful of cord placement, and do not create a tripping hazard by placement across walking areas."
Although it is decidedly unsafe to keep your tree — artificial or real — plugged in when you're not home or are asleep, you can still enjoy a beautifully lit tree in your home by keeping these safety tips in mind throughout the holiday season.
Richey Austin, SHEQ Professional practicing in Houston, TX
Balsam Hill, Artificial Christmas tree manufacturer