‘Tis the season to decorate our offices and homes inside and out with tinsel, faux snow, lights and seasonal décor. With all the holiday decorating we need to remember holiday light safety. Lights themselves don’t cause fire, it’s an electrical short from the plug or wire that can spark. If something that can catch fire easily is near that short that sparks, that’s what starts those catastrophic holiday fires.
Are you are simply decorating a tree with a strand of lights? Or, maybe planning an “fun, old-fashioned, family Christmas,” complete with 25,000 twinkling lights like the Griswolds? No matter the number of lights, you should be thinking holiday light safety. I want to provide some holiday light safety tips for a blissful holiday season filled with lights and tinsel.
Holiday Light Safety Tips
Examine Lights Before Hanging
Make sure the cords of your light strands are free from cracks, frays and tears as well as no loose bulb connections. If the wire protective jacket is cracked or torn or the bulb connection is loose the wires inside are open to the elements. This can result in a short and spark leading to a fire. So, take the extra few minutes to look your strands over, it could prevent a house fire! In addition to checking the wiring you’ll want to look at the bulbs. Missing, or broken bulbs can lead to shocks, fires or cuts.
Consider recycling old or broken strands so they don’t go to a landfill. Around the holidays you can search for “Holiday Light Recycling” and a list of drop off sites will come up. Most cities will have an option for year round recycling too.
LED vs. Incandescent Bulbs
Did you know LED lights are about 75% more efficient than the conventional incandescent light bulb? Yep, that’s right. In addition, they last up to 25% longer (energy.gov). This will not only save you money on your electricity bill but will result in buying less strands of lights, less often! Though there is undoubtedly a higher cost upfront with LED Christmas lights, you’ll see a better return on your investment as the strings bulbs last much longer and are more resilient to rough handling.
Another comparison, incandescent lights use heat to make their light where as LEDs do not. So, it only makes sense that the Incandescent bulbs get hot as well. These hot bulbs can be dangerous sitting on dry needles or when touched by small kids and pets. The longer the strand of lights is illuminated the hotter the bulb gets. This can result in burns or the bulb igniting a fire if it’s next to something flammable such as a dry tree needle, tinsel, garlands, etc. LED bulbs remain cool to the touch no matter how long they have been on. Thus, eliminating the risk of burns and fire.
Use Verified and Appropriate Outlets for the Elements
Whether you’re putting holiday lights inside on a tree or stringing them up on the house outside, it’s important to use the right connection and the right strands for where they will be going. Compare what cord and outlet to use and when in our extension cords and ground-fault circuit interrupters article.
It’s probably a no brainer, but when hanging lights outdoors, make sure you are using lights specifically labeled for outdoor use. You’ll want to make sure you are using strands that have been tested, rated and approved by Underwriters Laboratory (UL) or Intertek (ETL Semko). Furthermore, you’ll also want to make sure you’re using a GFCI outlet with all outdoor lights. This outlet is designed to cut the power immediately if water comes in contact with the electricity.
According to the CPSC ladder falls during the holiday season accounts for 34% of all emergency room visits. Instead of doing it yourself ask a spouse, neighbor or friend to be an extra set of hands. Having two extra feet and hands on the ground will allow you to string the lights at heights without having to reach and stretch just to make it that extra inch. They can assist in grabbing the next set of lights and they can keep hold of the ladder to ensure you don’t fall. Since we’re talking ladders, if you can stick to a wood or fiberglass ladder to avoid electrical shocks. A metal ladder would intensify an electrical shock resulting in a possibly life altering electrocution.
Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate
Watering your tree will ensure you have a green healthy tree that lasts you all season. When the tree lacks proper hydration the needles begin to dry out causing a mess on your floor and increases the chances of a house fire. Faulty wire jackets (cracked, frayed or torn) and a dry tree can lead to a devastating Christmas house fire. According to the CPSC from 2009 through 2011, fire departments nationwide responded to an average of 200 fires in which the Christmas tree was the first item ignited. These incidents resulted in 10 deaths, 20 injuries and $16 million in property loss.
You’ll want to make sure you find a healthy tree when you’re out on the tree hunt. Fresh, healthy needles will be green and hard to pull from the branches. When needles fall off easily they are drying out and it might not be the healthiest tree to bring home.
A Few Don’ts
Use staples, tacks or nails
Just because Clark Griswold used staples to hang his 25,000 lights doesn’t’ mean you should! Thinking about it… Clark did a few things we shouldn’t do. Using staples, tacks or nails can damage the jackets and wiring on your light strands. Furthermore, using metal fasteners like these creates a circuit which generates heat that could set your home on fire. Additionally, if metal components come in contact with a live string of holiday lights and then the current touches the metal components of your home, such as your gutters or downspouts, it creates an electrocution hazard. Always use insulated holders or plastic roof clips designed especially for hanging outside lights.
Mix Different Types of Lights
Don’t connect strands with LED and Incandescent bulbs together. Incandescent bulbs require a larger power current than LED bulbs do. When they are connected together the Incandescent bulbs will overload and fry the LED bulbs. If you are using different strands with different bulb types you’ll want to plug each type of bulb into separate outlet. Due to the power current difference plugging them all into the same outlet could lead to frying your electrical wiring in the outlet.
Keep ‘Em Dry!
Don’t let your cords sit on the ground where they sit in puddles, damp soil, snow or ice. This can cause water to get into the cord socket creating a water and electricity partnership. And, this is NOT a partnership we want! This will create an electrical short causing a spark and possibly a fire. Hoist them up or protect them with an outdoor rates cord protector jacket.