Don't Let Poor Home Maintenance Ruin Your 'Christmas Vacation.' Here Are 9 Top Tips

by Lauren Leazenby
house on fire with fire truck in foreground

When something goes wrong with your otherwise functioning home, you might feel a bit like Clark Griswold — with a perfectly relaxing Christmas vacation spoiled by a houseful of annoying relatives and their destructive tendencies. A properly maintained home, on the other hand? Well, it’s like a one-year membership to the Jelly of the Month Club: a gift that keeps on giving.

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Most of the home-destroying hijinks in the classic “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” are, thankfully, just for laughs. And while your holiday guests may not tear your house to pieces like the Griswold family, it can’t hurt to get your home in tip-top shape so it’s ready for anything.

Here are nine lessons this iconic Christmas comedy film could teach you about holiday — and everyday — home maintenance.

A squirrel has a snack while perched on the branch of a pine tree in a forest setting, squirrel, woodland creature, creature, animal, rodent, nature, tree, pine tree, evergreen, evergreen tree, outdoors, furry, woods, forest, branch, tree branch

Avoid Bringing in Critters With the Christmas Tree

Unless you’re cutting down the tree from the neighbor’s yard and bringing it directly into your living room, you probably don’t have to worry about your holiday decorations prompting a squirrel attack. However, even pre-cut trees purchased from a lot can carry some stowaways. Spiders and insects such as aphids, bark beetles and praying mantises can hitch a ride into your home inside or on top of what was once their home. Don’t spray your tree for bugs; that can make an already flammable object even more prone to catching fire. Instead, just treat them as you see them. Most are small enough that you can vacuum them up or remove them with a paper towel.

Water Your Christmas Tree

Lest you want one lit cigar to light up the whole, dry fir tree, you’re going to want to make sure your tree is well-hydrated. Christmas trees cause about 160 home fires per year, according to the National Fire Protection Association. Dried-out trees make the best kindling for a house fire. Well-watered trees will also last longer and lose fewer needles than their dehydrated counterparts.

Use a tree stand with a water reservoir and keep it filled. Miracle-Gro recommends submerging the cut trunk of the tree in at least 2 inches of water. Oh, and keep the pets away from it — it’s not a water bowl, after all!

Emptying household septic tank. Cleaning and unblocking clogged drain.

Handle Sewage Properly

Ideally, you won’t be handling sewage at all this holiday season. But if you have guests staying in a camper parked in your driveway, now’s a good time to be reminded about where their waste can go, and where it can’t. Of course, there’s the famous scene where Cousin Eddie empties this RV’s chemical toilet into a suburban neighborhood storm drain. This violates not just his neighbors’ noses, but also (likely) local laws. See, storm drains are meant to divert relatively clean rainwater and snowmelt back to freshwater sources like rivers and lakes. To empty an RV blackwater tank, you’ll need to find a legal dumping site at a campground, national park or gas station.

Man installing thermal insulation layer under the roof - using mineral wool panels

Insulate Your Attic

On the off chance that you, too, get locked up in your attic for hours, you can make the experience a lot more enjoyable by preemptively installing some insulation. An insulated attic isn’t just a warm sitting space to watch old home movies; it also helps temperature-regulate the rest of your house, saving you money on your energy bills. Insulation prevents heat loss through the attic in the winter, and in the summer, it helps keep the cooled air inside.

Practice Roof Safety

Working from a height is dangerous at any time of year — but the cold, snow and ice are contributing factors to what amounts to thousands of falls during the holiday season, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Clark’s fall from the roof is a good example of movie magic. If the average person fell from that height, they could expect to sustain injuries to the extremities, at the very least.

Stay safe while working at such a height by keeping your wits about you. Have a partner hold the ladder to ensure stability, and wear nonslip shoes.

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christmas 2004 beware the cat. a lot of shoots before getting the right one.

Keep Pets Away From Electrical Cords

For one reason or another, cords of all kinds look like a tasty treat for Fido or Whiskers — as they did for Aunt Bethany’s cat, who met a pretty shocking end after nibbling on a strand of lights. Keep your furry friends clear of electrical cords, string lights and other wiring to avoid electrocution.

Watch Your Electric Bill

The outlet in the wall seems like an infinite electricity receptacle. So when Clark plugs in his — ahem — “250 strands of lights, 100 individual bulbs per strand, for a grand total of 25,000 imported Italian twinkle lights,” he probably wasn’t thinking about how much power it would take to create a display that was practically visible from space. And a great amount of power comes with even greater financial responsibility. DC Refined ran a calculation: While powering this many LEDs would only add about $30 or $40 to your monthly electric bill, Clark’s mess of older incandescents could add well over $3,000 to the bill.

It’s important to keep track of your electric bill, especially if the balance shoots up dramatically and you haven’t installed a holiday light display capable of blinding your neighbors.

Label Your Switches

Unless you, the previous owner or a kind contractor labeled your circuit breaker panel prior to your move-in, all you’ve got is a few rows of mysterious switches. If one appliance in your house isn’t working, it’s pretty easy to face the box and determine which breaker has tripped. But if you’re trying to turn off power to a particular area of your home, you may have a lot of testing and checking to do until you find the right switch.

If you have some time off around the holidays, take a few hours to test each switch and determine where it goes. While you’re at it, you may also want to label any indoor switches that go to outdoor lights or outlets. That way, the big reveal of your light display won’t be ruined because you don’t know which switch is which.

Install a Security System and Smart Locks

We’re not saying that a better security system would’ve stopped Cousin Eddie from invading the home of Clark’s boss and kidnapping him, but with good security monitoring and an arsenal of smart cameras, he might have seen it coming, at least. A good home security system backed by a security monitoring service can help keep your home safe and secure this holiday season. That said, refraining from angering your employees can help safeguard against some number of attacks.

This all may sound like a lot of work, but once you’ve safeguarded your home against a “full-blown, four-alarm holiday emergency,” you and your loved ones will be able to enjoy the “hap-hap-happiest Christmas since” … well, you know.


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