Nothing says Christmas like beautiful twinkling fairy lights. However, with all the sparkling lights, lighted inflatables/rattans and other temporary electrical installations that are part of the decorations, comes the inherent risk of overloading our home’s electrical system to power all of these displays.
Without wishing to be all bah, humbug about the most wonderful time of the year, I’m here to keep you and your homes safe, so keep the following tips in mind to ensure a very merry (and safe) Christmas!
Safety Tip #1: Examine Your Electrical Decorations
Before you start stringing lights on your house or on your Christmas tree, be sure to give your electrical decorations a good “once over” to check for any damage. Watch for broken or damaged sockets, bare wires and loose connections. These are all potentially dangerous and could give you a shock or possibly start a fire.
Check your decorations for a label showing that they have been inspected. And always buy your decorations from reputable retailers – this goes for both shops and online.
Safety Tip #2: Start with a plan and factor in your electrical requirements
Before you start decorating take the time to map out your decorating plan, keeping in mind how many outlets are available and where they are located. Determine what loads are already on the circuits you plan to use.
Match the power requirements of your electrical decorations with the power rating of the extension cords you may be using. Ensure that the cord is rated equal to or higher than the connected load(s).
Take a good look around and always look UP before putting up any outside lights. Watch for any overhead hazards, such as power, telephone, or cable TV lines.
Unplug or shut off decorations while handling and installing them, and unplug or shut off the breaker for electrical decorations before replacing bulbs or fuses.
Safety Tip #3: NEVER overload electrical circuits.
Overloaded electrical outlets and circuits are a common cause of fires. Add up the current requirements of the load you are connecting to the loads already on the particular circuit you are using.
Remember the 80% rule! Only load a 15 Amp circuit to 12 Amps, and a 20 Amp circuit to 16 Amps.
Safety Tip #4: Pay special attention to how many consecutive strings of lights you plug in together in a row.
Wattage loads can add up quickly. This is especially true with older incandescent Christmas lights. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations on how many sets of lights can be plugged in together in a single string.
You may want to replace your incandescent bulbs with LED lamps, which use less energy and run cooler.
Safety Tip #5: Only use extension cords and electrical decorations for outdoor decorating that are approved for outdoor use.
Keep all extension cords and light strings out of snow and water. Make sure spotlights used to illuminate decorations are well ventilated, protected from the elements where necessary, and are rated for outdoor use. Ensure that they cannot come in contact with flammable items. Again, use LED flood lamps if possible.
If possible, use wood or fiberglass ladders when decorating outdoors. Metal ladders conduct electricity so if you must use them, exercise extreme caution.
Safety Tip #6: Protect extension cords from damage.
Do not support light strings in a way that might damage the cord’s insulation. Cords should never be pinched by furniture, forced into small spaces, placed under rugs, located near heat sources or attached by nails or staples.
Never run cords where they could cause a tripping hazard, like doorways or across open spaces.
Holiday Safety Tip #7: Make sure that all of your outdoor circuits are protected by ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs).
If you are using non-GFCI circuits, then purchase cords or devices that provide portable, in-line GFI protection. These can be bought at most home improvement stores or online retailer locations.
Safety Tip #8: Inspect your entire home inside and out before going to bed, or leaving the house.
Turn off all turn off all indoor and outdoor electrical decorations before leaving home or going to sleep.
Look for tripping hazards like toys, wrapping paper, or boxes that could present a tripping hazard in a dark home. Keep combustibles such as wrapped presents and Christmas trees at least three feet from heat sources.
Holiday Safety Tip #9: Live trees require special care.
Dry trees can be a serious fire hazard. Take special care to trim a live tree with non-combustible decorations and low heat producing light strings (such as LEDs).
When purchasing a live tree, the fresher the better. Don’t purchase a tree that is already dry and losing needles. Cut off some of the tree trunk at the base to improve the ability of the tree to absorb water.
Holiday Safety Tip #10: Make certain that artificial trees are labeled fire retardant, or fire resistant.
Don’t use electrical decorations or light strings on artificial trees with metallic leaves or branch coverings. They can facilitate an electrical short circuit should they accidentally come into contact with live wires or broken bulbs.
Keep your tree away from heat sources, such as portable electric heaters or fireplaces.
Safety Tip #11: Replace all of your traditional wick candles with battery operated imitations!
Almost 50% of home decoration fires are caused by real candles according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). They make fake candles so realistic now that you almost have to touch them to confirm they are not a real flame!
If you insist on traditional, never leave a flame unattended. Keep burning candles within sight and away from combustible material such as other decorations, wrapping paper, and curtains or other window coverings. Candles burning on a wood mantle with a cedar wall behind are definitely a hazard (personal experience at a family Christmas gathering on this one!)
Place candles in locations where they cannot be knocked over. Never use lighted candles on a tree. Those days are past us now!
Safety Tip #12: Stay in the kitchen when cooking. Unattended cooking equipment is the leading cause of home cooking fires according to the NFPA.
Once the holiday meal is ready, check that the oven is turned off and other kitchen appliances are unplugged when leaving the kitchen area.
Christmas should be a time of joy, laughter, and quality time with family and friends. Taking the time to follow all applicable safety rules will ensure that your holiday will be a safe one for you and your loved ones.