Christmas lights offer a great way to brighten up festive activities. From bringing colorful curb appeal to the home to illuminating your Christmas tree, these lights represent an irreplaceable part of the holiday tradition. However, mishandling the lights can create an immediate safety hazard. Accidental falls, electrocution, and even house fires are all risks of putting up Christmas tree lights. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), Christmas tree lights are responsible for an average of 770 house fires each year. Fortunately, you can avoid dangerous scenarios with proper preparation, precaution, and safety practices. A look at the top tips for setting up Christmas lights can help you remain in good cheer all season long.
Handle Lights With Care
When unraveling your stash of Christmas lights this season, it is important to handle them with care. Watch out for cracked or frayed cords along with wires poking through the insulation. Beware of missing or broken bulbs and replace empty bulb sockets as necessary. While the process may seem tedious at first, attempting to plug in damaged lights can cause an electric shock or start an electrical fire. You should also avoid using outdated lights from many seasons ago. While some homeowners may view these lights as family heirlooms, modern lights are safer since they tend to have fused plugs designed to prevent sparks and short-circuiting.
Look for Lights With a UL Safety Certification
If you need to replace old lights, look for light bulbs with the standard UL safety certification. This certification label means that the lights measure up to design and manufacturing guidelines from Underwriters Laboratories (UL). In the industry, Underwriters Laboratories refers to a network of three organizations: UL Research Institutes, UL Standards & Engagement, and UL Solutions. This network is an independent governing body that conducts product testing and provides information on product safety. All UL-certified products also meet the national industry standards of the American National Standards Institute.
Switch to LED Lights
In addition to looking for lights with UL certification, you should also consider switching to LED lights with epoxy lenses. LED lights are cooler to the touch than conventional Christmas lights and also use far less electricity. This helps lower the risk of accidental burns and may help save on your holiday utility bill. And since many fires result from overhead lights on Christmas wreaths or Christmas trees, using LED lights may help prevent decorations from catching on fire. Best of all, LED lights are durable and may last longer than old-fashioned Christmas lighting.
Follow Ladder Safety Guidelines
If you need a ladder to decorate your home exterior, it is imperative to follow safety guidelines. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), each year decorating results in more than 15,000 injuries that require emergency room visits. Out of those 15,000 injuries, nearly 34% result from falling. The last thing you want is for a holiday high to turn into a nightmarish fall that leads to injury or death. Choose a sturdy ladder with non-slip steps, and always work with a spotter on the ground who can alert you to any danger. In addition to sturdiness, the material of the ladder itself matters as well. Metal ladders conduct electricity and can cause electric shocks. For this reason, the Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI) recommends using wooden or fiberglass ladders when working with lights in order to avoid injury or death. To remain on the safe side, you can also hire a professional electric services company to install any lights outdoors.
Use GFCI Outlets for Exterior Decorations
Ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) outlets can help ensure electrical safety in outdoor applications. These outlets automatically shut down circuits if they detect too much electrical current. By acting as a circuit breaker, a GFCI outlet can help prevent electrical fires. It can also help individuals avoid electric shock from systems exposed to inclement outdoor conditions, like rain or snow. GFCI has reset buttons on either the device interface or the home’s electrical panel box. Either way, you can reach out to an electrician or professional home services company to install GFCI outlets and give your family peace of mind.
Follow the Three-Strand Rule
The Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI) advises that homeowners should avoid connecting more than three strings of incandescent lights together. Attempting to plug more than three sets of Christmas lights into a single extension cord can create problems with overheating. If you have any doubts, check the manufacturer label of your lights to determine how many you can string together. You can also consult with an electrician prior to the installation process to avoid any confusion or damage.
Choose the Right Cord
If you need to use an extension cord outside, only select one that has been rated and labeled for outdoor use. Never use indoor cords on the porch or home exterior since these cords cannot withstand cold or wet environments. Even after you select an outdoor-rated extension cord, make sure to avoid letting it sit in puddles of melted snow. Consider using a cord protector to keep the extension cable dry. Talk to an electrician about installing surge protectors to minimize damage in the event of voltage fluctuation.
Do Not Run Christmas Lights Through Windows or Doors
Homeowners who do not have access to outdoor outlets may find it tempting to run Christmas lights or extension cords through cracks in windows or doors. However, this is a major safety hazard. Repeatedly shutting a window or door on a light strand can cause the wires to tear from constant friction and pressure. This increases the likelihood of electric shock or electrical fires. Consider hanging the lights around the window from the inside. Talk to an electrician about safely installing an outdoor outlet.
Prevent Tripping Hazards
In addition to the electrical risks involved, decorating with Christmas lights often involves tripping hazards. Work hard to secure any loose power cords, charging cables, light strands, or extension cords. This is especially important if you have children, pets, or elderly residents. Use anchoring pins, cable covers, or lighting clips to keep cords safely out of walkways and other areas of heavy foot traffic.
Unplug Lights When You Are Not at Home
Experts recommend turning off Christmas lights when you are not at home. This can include unplugging lights during long shopping trips or holiday vacations. Many homeowners turn off outdoor lights during the day and unplug the Christmas tree once they go to bed at night. With the rise of modern technology, there are also ways to control a tree’s lighting schedule. Plug-in timers can automatically turn lights on or off based on your specifications, and these timers come in both indoor and outdoor varieties. In addition, you can also buy Wi-Fi-powered smart power strips. These are programmable via apps that you can download on your tablet or smartphone. Finally, some outdoor LED lights and power supplies contain photosensors that shut off when the sun rises and turn back on when it sets. Any of these devices can help you safely control lighting and avoid overheating.
Be Mindful of Your Christmas Tree
According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), problems with Christmas lights are responsible for 40% of Christmas tree fires. If you are decorating a real tree, make sure to buy it fresh and keep it watered. Once a tree dries out, it becomes a highly flammable fire hazard. To avoid problems, consider using an artificial tree. Most artificial trees are made of fire-resistant materials, and you can reuse artificial trees for a few years. However, you should avoid using electric lights on metallic or aluminum “trees” since these objects conduct electricity and can cause electric shock.
Consider Hiring a Professional Christmas Light Installer
A professional Christmas light installer has the tools and training to mount your decorations properly. If your Christmas tree lighting involves work outside or on the roof, you can contact an electrician to wire everything properly.
Maintain Smoke Alarms
Christmas is the perfect time to upgrade smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors. Contact an electrician to test your existing alarms or replace them with new ones. An electrician can also hardware whole-house smoke detectors directly into your home electrical system. Interconnected alarms can alert the whole family of danger if something goes wrong over the holidays.
Store Christmas Lights Properly for the Next Season
Once the holidays are over, it is important to take your lights down promptly. Review local regulations on how long you can keep up your holiday decorations. Some municipalities fine homeowners who leave holiday decorations up past a certain date. If you need help, reach out to an electrician to safely undo all the wiring. Store indoor and outdoor lights properly in a well-sealed container.
Our Expert Electrical Services
Setting up Christmas lights correctly can help save money on utility bills, lower the risk of electric shock, and reduce the likelihood of electrical fires. Working with an electrician can also ensure that you have taken all necessary precautions. Comfort All-Stars provides electrical services for homes in Tampa and the surrounding areas. We provide indoor and outdoor lighting, surge protection, and electrical panel care. Our electricians can also install whole-home generators so that you are never without power during the holidays. Contact Comfort All-Stars for all your electrical service needs.