The holidays are, without a doubt, the busiest time of the year. Between cleaning, cooking, planning and attending parties, and buying and wrapping presents, few spare a thought for the safety of their homes. The following home safety checklist will allow you to spend less time figuring out what else needs to go on your holiday to-do list and more time with your loved ones.

1. Get a Heating System Checkup

Even if you think your heat works fine, try to schedule a routine cool weather checkup, or if you have the time and know-how, conduct one yourself. Change the filter and clean the burners, blower, flame sensor, and pilot or ignitor. Look for things like soot or yellow burner flames (they should be a nice, even blue). If something looks off or isn’t working as it should, or if you don’t know how to clean a part correctly, call a professional. Nobody wants their heater to suddenly give out on the coldest night of the year, especially when it’s because of something easily preventable.

2. Establish Backup Heating and Power Sources

Even the most well-maintained heater can fail on occasion. Winter storms often result in power outages, and most in-home heating systems require electricity to run. There’s no way to guarantee someone will be able to get to you quickly if your power or heat goes out, so prepare for the worst by knowing how you’ll keep your family warm if something goes awry. Generators are the most common backup power source and will keep your heat running for a little while, but if you don’t have a generator, one of the easiest heating solutions is to light a fire. Stock up on firewood if you have the space for it. Even if you don’t have a fireplace, an outdoor fire may be beneficial, particularly if the heat is off for an extended period of time. It’s also a viable cooking option if you can’t use your stove. Alternative indoor heating options include wood-burning or kerosene heaters, but make sure you know how to use them safely. Don’t forget to keep extra blankets and warm clothes on hand, as well.

3. Be Aware of Carbon Monoxide

Because carbon monoxide poisoning is usually a result of unsafe heating methods or unmaintained heating devices, it is most likely to occur during the winter months. If you don’t have a carbon monoxide detector, get one as soon as possible, and make sure it has fresh batteries—you can’t detect the colorless, odorless, and tasteless gas on your own. Carbon monoxide is toxic because it prevents the body from taking in adequate oxygen. If you notice any of the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning—headache, fatigue, weakness, dizziness, or confusion—get the affected person outside to breathe fresh air, and contact a health professional immediately.

4. Prepare Your Pipes

Water expands when it freezes, so cold temperatures can wreak havoc on your plumbing. Outdoor pipes are the most susceptible, but also take precautions to protect the pipes inside. Cover them with pipe insulation or old newspapers, and wrap newspaper-covered pipes with plastic to keep out moisture. On especially cold days, open cabinets around indoor pipes to allow warm air to reach them, and turn all your faucets on just enough to drip. Be sure to drip equal amounts of cold and hot water if a faucet has lines from both. If you’re worried about your pipes freezing overnight, or if you’re leaving home for an extended period of time, shut off your water valve and run all the faucets until no more water comes out. If there is no water in your pipes, they cannot freeze.

5. Get Snow Off Your Roof and Porches

It is important to clear snow off your roof and porches regularly because they can only support so much weight. It is safest to get snow off the roof with long-handled poles or snow rakes, but if you must climb onto your roof, get someone to hold the ladder steady, particularly if there’s snow on the ground. Be careful not to touch any electrical wires, and figure out where the snow is going to fall—and make sure that area is clear—before you push it off. Don’t forget to clean the snow out of your gutters, too.

6. Keep Your Friends Close

Exchange current contact information with your neighbors, friends, and family members. Set up a phone tree for emergency situations, or agree on some sort of periodic check-in schedule. The sooner an emergency is discovered, the sooner someone can send help.

When people think about safety during the holiday season, they tend to focus on traveling safely, but it is just as important to ensure your home is a safe place to be. Following these holiday safety tips will help keep your family safe when you’re home and your loved ones safe when they’re visiting you.

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Sources: American Red Cross; Centers for Disease Control & Prevention; Complete Guide to Wiring; EPA; The Family Handyman; National Safety Council; New York State Division of Homeland Security & Emergency Services: Office of Emergency Management; State of Maine: Maine Prepares.

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