Nothing warms the heart like the soft glow of Christmas lights on a cold December night.
A 2013 survey revealed that 86% of Americans put up holiday decorations every year. Two-thirds use indoor Christmas lights and over half use them outdoors. More than 60% include at least one extension cord.
Sadly, for some families that holiday magic turns into tragedy, as the risk of electric shock and fire also increase when the decorations go up.
According to the National Fire Safety Association, 30% of all home fires and 38% of home fire deaths occur during the winter months of December, January, and February. The Christmas season, which should be a time of joy and laughter, can be particularly dangerous:
- Christmas trees are the source of around 260 home fires per year in the United States. These fires cause an average of 12 deaths, 24 injuries, and $16.4 million in property damage annually.
- Holiday lights and other decorative lights cause another 150 home fires per year, leading to 8 deaths and 16 injuries. Holiday light fires cause about $8.9 million in property damage.
How can you stay safe while you’re decking the halls? Here are a few guidelines to reduce the electrical hazards associated with Christmas decorations:
#1: Plan ahead
Think about the number and locations of available outlets in deciding where to put up the tree and any other decorations that will be plugged in to your home’s electrical system.
That can help you avoid overloading circuits with more voltage than they’re designed to handle.
#2: Inspect your lights
Whether you’ve just purchased a brand new set or you’re getting the old ones out of the attic, check out your Christmas lights before putting them on the tree.
First, check the label for the UL seal. This ensures that your lights meet the appropriate quality standards for safe use in your home.
The wire must be in good condition, with no cracks, pinching, or fraying. Plug in the lights to make sure all of the bulbs are working. Replacing any burned out bulbs will make the whole string work more safely and efficiently.
When putting up lights on the tree or elsewhere around the house, don’t use staples or other sharp objects that could damage the wire and cause electrocution or fire.
#3: Avoid overloading circuits
Don’t be like Ralphie’s dad in A Christmas Story, who blew a fuse by loading too many wires into a single outlet while decorating the tree.
Every outlet in your home is designed to handle a limited amount of electrical current. In general, avoid stringing together more than three strings of incandescent Christmas lights.
If you think you need more lights than that, consider purchasing LED lights for your tree. Although they are more expensive up front, they use less energy and are cooler to the touch. That means they’ll be cheaper and safer to use.
#4: Keep your tree hydrated
A dehydrated Christmas tree will catch fire very easily if it comes into contact with an electrical spark from a string of lights or nearby outlet. If you choose a natural tree, make sure it’s healthy with vibrant green needles that don’t pull off easily. Once you bring it home, keep it hydrated until it’s time to come down.
If you have an artificial tree, check to make sure it is fire resistant.
#5: Be careful with outdoor decorations
If you’re hanging Christmas lights outside, make sure your yard is a safe winter wonderland.
- Because they face more exposure to harsh weather conditions or even curious animals, outdoor decorations must be specifically designed for outdoor use. Check the label.
- Place your outdoor Christmas decorations at least 10 feet from power lines.
- All outdoor outlets should be equipped with GFCIs, which will reduce the risk of damage or injury if the wires come into contact with water.
- Outdoor lights should be securely fastened down to protect them from flailing around in the wind. Unplug or turn them off during wet or snowy weather.
#6: Don’t leave the lights on
If you’re not home, or if you’re sleeping, your Christmas lights should be off.
Leaving your lights on unattended, and especially leaving them on too long, can cause them to overheat, increasing the risk of fire or electric shock.
Do you have questions about correctly installing and using your Christmas lights? Let us know at Complete Electrical.
We want you and your family to enjoy a safe and happy holiday season and a prosperous new year!