Decorating for the Holidays? How to Keep Your Home’s Exterior Claims-Free

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lawsuit christmas display

In our recent article about social host liability during the Holiday season we asked our readers to create a safe outdoor setting for guests as they arrive and depart from the premises. Today, we’re going to expand upon that concept as we edge towards December, for homeowners who plan on channeling their inner Clark Griswold with all sorts of decorative flare on their property. If this is you, read ahead.

5 Tips for Removing the Risk of Damage and Injury When Decorating the Outside of Your Home for the Holidays

1. Keep All Pathways Shoveled, Salted, and Swept

You can Fa La La La La all you like, but in addition to being jolly it’s also slip and fall season. You need to take full responsibility for the entire area surrounding your home, not just for guests, but for passersby too. This is because your lights and decorations are essentially inviting them to stop and take a gander. Plus, if there are carolers in the community (it’s still a thing) they will consider the seasonal fare as an invitation to come to your front door. You will need to monitor weather on a daily basis. Even if snow is not forecast, low temperatures may result in rain or sleet and a subsequent wet surface that will freeze at night and create a slippery veneer. Salt everything that connects to your property, including the curb (where people step our of their cars), sidewalk, driveway, carport, pathway, stairs, and stoop (as applicable). Should snow or sleet fall, shovel promptly and as often as needed.

2. Make Sure Lights Are Hazard Free 

It may be time to reconsider incandescent Christmas lights, no matter how much you love the classic look. While when outdoors they present little fire risk (unless they come close to dry branches or electrical wires overhead) it’s better to err on the side of caution. Modern LEDs mimic the look and feel of old school incandescents so you need not worry about losing that vintage vibe. However, bulb choice is only one part of the equation, as you need to make sure that sheath around wires have not been cut either along sharp gutter edges or by gnawing rodents – as exposed wires are a definite fire hazard. Also make sure that you’re plugging into a safe and covered outlet, and ensure that you’re not overtaxing the outlet. Buy an outdoor surge protector for added safety.

Also, if you have a lot of outdoor space to work with, be careful when it comes to running lights along the lawn and on to small trees, bushes, a patio, fence, and/or front gate. You may be inadvertently setting up trip wires all over your property. Keep light wires/cables laid at least four feet away from all pathways or any area that a visitor may reasonably walk on.

Lastly, make sure your lights aren’t too numerous and bright. This may sound extreme, but excessively bright lights can obstruct the vision of people driving in front of your property and result in a pedestrian or motor vehicle accident. Remember, if a case can be made, a claim can be made.

3. Make Sure Lawn Decor is Sturdy, Tied-Down, and Logically Laid Out

Make sure lawn decor (reindeer, sleigh, etc.) is also kept at least four feet away from pathways and set up in a manner that does not create an injury-inducing obstacle for visitors. If an item is light, such as the inflatable snowmen and wired sculptures that you find at your local home and garden retailer, be sure to tie it down with additional lawn stakes. Otherwise they may blow away in harsh weather and end up on your neighbors property to cause damage, or on to the road and in the way of an oncoming vehicle. 

4. Leave Shared Spaces Alone

If you share a fence with a neighbor, don’t decorate it. For one, they may not feel the same way about the Holidays as you, but more importantly, decorating may lead to damage. Hanging lights and other adornments on a fence can cause paint damage, scratches, scrapes, and more should extreme weather batter the wares on the fencing surface. The same goes for tree branches which may extend over your side of the fence and into theirs. Also, keep your decorations within the defined constraints of your property. While the lawn and front gate is your domain, the sidewalk out front is a public space. By hanging a wreath (etc.) on a gate that fronts a public sidewalk, you run the risk of it falling down and creating an obstacle that may cause someone to trip, fall, and return to file a claim.

5. Clear It With Your Neighbors First

Develop a rapport with your neighbors when it comes to Holiday decor outdoors. You want to make sure that they relatively share the same enthusiasm as you do for the Holidays. If not, keep the exterior decor within reason. It seems as if every year there is some national/international news story about a neighbor suing another over having “too many” Christmas lights and decorations on their property which draw sightseers who clog the road. It may be an unfortunate concern, but that’s the world we live in and you want to make sure the season is a merry one – and not spent in claims court. 

A lot can happen when adding a significant number of lights and decorations to your property and home exterior. Before running to the store for your Holiday wares, schedule a consultation with Park Insurance to review your homeowners insurance policy and make sure that you’re covered through the Holiday season.

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