Thanksgiving is in the books, which means it’s time to make merry from now until the new year. That means stringing up the lights, setting up the tree and filling your home and lawn with all the twinkling decorations that 120 volts can power.
But as with any activity that involves electricity, safety should always come first. As you prepare your home for the holidays, heed these simple safety tips to reduce the risk of electrical shock, fire or injury.
1. Inspect Your Decor
Before putting anything up, get out all of your electrical holiday decorations and carefully inspect each piece. Look for exposed or frayed wires, broken bulbs, scorch marks and melted plastic — anything that might indicate a holiday light safety risk. Throw away and replace faulty decorations rather than try to repair them.
2. Test the Lights
If an old string of lights just doesn’t have any twinkle left in it, you don’t want to find out after you’ve strung it up on your roof. So once your visual inspection is through, give each piece a test run by plugging it in and ensuring it’s ready for the season.
3. Look for Energy-Efficient Lighting
No electrical holiday decorations are built to last forever, and if yours are old and worn, there could even be an energy savings opportunity in upgrading this year. LED Christmas lights use a fraction of the energy of older incandescent lights. LEDs also produce virtually no heat, which makes them safer, especially on natural trees. Decades-old, vintage holiday lights should be used with extreme care, as they may pose a higher electrical fire risk.
4. Check Indoor Vs. Outdoor Ratings
Electrical holiday decorations are rated for indoor use, outdoor use or dual use. Indoor Christmas lights and rain water don’t mix, so it’s especially important that you check the information stamped on each strand of lights if you’re not sure. Extension cords are similarly rated for indoor and outdoor use, and each cord has a maximum amperage. Avoid overloading your extension cords by tallying up the amperages of all the decorations connected to each cord.
5. Water Your Tree
If you opt for a natural indoor tree, top off the water tray each day. A thirsty tree will become dry and more susceptible to accidental fire, creating a major Christmas light safety risk.
6. Plug In Safely
Make sure any exterior outlets you’re using have ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCI) installed. If not, get a licensed electrician to perform this important safety upgrade — it’s a quick and simple job.
7. Take Proper Safety Steps
There are injury risks involved in hanging holiday lights outdoors, so you should always do so during sunny, fair weather. Dress appropriately in non-slip shoes. Use a dry, wooden ladder when necessary, and make sure you have a spotter. Be cautious around overhead power lines.
8. Avoid the Staple Gun
One small misfire of your stapler can easily put a hole in the sheath of a string of lights, creating an instant fire hazard. Use plastic clips instead.
9. Protect Your Plugs
Keep extension cord plugs dry. A trick is to take a resealable bag and cut a hole in both bottom corners. Pass the power cords inside the bag and connect the plugs inside. Roll the bag around the electrical cords into a bundle and secure with vinyl tape. You can also place the bundle on a brick to keep it off the damp ground.
10. Keep Walkways Clear
Extension cords and strings of lights create tripping hazards when they cross walking paths. Plan your light display to avoid running cords across doorways, sidewalks and other high-traffic areas.
11. Avoid Damaging Wires
Heavy duty outdoor extension cords can take a bit of abuse, but you should always be careful with the more delicate wires in string lights. If you run them under area rugs, through doorways or even just around corners, there are opportunities for damage that can lead to safety hazards. Your lighting design should avoid unnecessary damage risks.
12. Store Smart
When the new year is here, take down and store your decorations carefully for next season. Coil and secure strands of lights separately and consider labeling each one if you have lots of them. Keep them undamaged and dry in the offseason by storing them in plastic bins. The time it takes to pack up in January will pay off when it’s time to decorate next winter.
Is it Safe to Leave Lights on All Night?
Although you want your holiday lights to shine as long as possible, it’s safest to turn them off once everyone is finished enjoying them for the evening. You shouldn’t be worried about whether your undamaged, responsibly-installed lights are safe to use, but as a precaution, it’s safest to turn them off before going to bed or leaving the house. If an electrical short occurs, it could spark a dangerous fire. Make it easy by programming your lights with an electronic timer or using smart plugs to control your display from your smartphone.