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Homework: Residential sprinklers; TV as holiday decor

| Friday, Dec. 6, 2013, 8:57 p.m.
Bold colors and whimsical decorating touches emphasize the playful side of holiday celebrations in this mantel styled by the designer Brian Patrick Flynn for HGTV.com.
Bold colors and whimsical decorating touches emphasize the playful side of holiday celebrations in this mantel styled by the designer Brian Patrick Flynn for HGTV.com.

Christmas tree safety tips

Cut Christmas trees must be watered and kept hydrated to last through the holidays and to prevent them from becoming fire hazards. This includes small tabletop trees.

Many trees are shipped from as far as Oregon. Buying early will give you better selection and a fresher tree. Before buying, run your hands through the needles to check for suppleness. Hold the tree upright and drop it from a few inches. Excessive needle drop is a sign of dryness.

Before installing, you will need to remove some of the lowest branches and trim an inch off the bottom of the trunk. Make a square cut, not an angled one. Tree-lot merchants will do this for you, but it is better to do this at home.

It's OK to leave the tree in a bucket of water for several days until you have time to install and decorate it — but monitor the water level. If you are storing it in an unheated porch or garage, make sure it won't tip or blow over. The tree is thirstiest when first cut and will absorb several quarts of water in its first day or two. Keep a close eye on the water level and don't let it drop below the cut, which will gum up if it dries.

When taking it indoors, make a fresh cut.

Additional tips can be found at the website of the National Christmas Tree Association (www.realchristmastrees.org).

TV as holiday decor

“One of the most searched-for terms on HGTV.com is ‘mantel decorating,'” says Brian Patrick Flynn, a Los Angeles-based interior designer and executive producer of HGTV.com's “Holiday House.”

For homes with a flat-panel TV mounted above the mantel, he has a high-tech idea: Burn images to DVD that coordinate with the accessories you lay out on your mantel, then let the DVD run during holiday entertaining.

For one project, Flynn displayed colorful pop art images (including a reindeer by artist Jonathan Fenske) on the TV, and then put colorful items like candy in apothecary jars and brightly colored ornaments on the mantel “to make it all pop.”

Tradition definitely has its place. But it can coexist with bursts of creativity and playfulness.

“It's OK to bust out the old red and green,” Flynn says. “Just change it up somehow to make it more exciting.”

Sprinklers cut risks

If you really want to keep your home and the people and property in it as safe as possible from fire, consider a residential sprinkler system.

According to the U.S. Fire Administration, a division of FEMA, fire sprinklers inside a home reduce the chance of fire death by 80 percent and cut the likelihood of property damage by 71 percent.

Across the United States, hundreds of municipalities and some states require that new residential construction include fire sprinklers. To find out if your locality mandates sprinklers, contact your state fire marshal's office.

According to the fire administration, the cost of a fire sprinkler system, installed, has dropped from an average $1.61 per square foot in 2008 to $1.35 in 2013. Homeowners who have sprinklers should expect a discount of 5 percent to 15 percent on their home insurance.

— Staff and wire reports

Send Homework items to Features in care of Sue Jones, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, D.L. Clark Building, 503 Martindale St., Pittsburgh, PA 15212; fax 412-320-7966; or email sjones@tribweb.com.

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