Every year, the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission issues safety tips for holiday decorations, especially lighting. Indoor and outdoor lighting add a joyous and festive mood to the holiday season, but when these decorations are used improperly, they can cause fires, injuries and even death.
Here are some basic tips to make your holiday a safe one:
- Indoors or outside, use only lights that have been tested for safety by a recognized testing laboratory, such as UL or ETL. This indicates conformance with safety standards. Use only lights that have plugs containing fuses. Before using lights outdoors, check labels to be sure they have been certified for outdoor use.
- Check each set of lights, new or old, for broken or cracked sockets, frayed or bare wires, or loose connections. Throw out damaged sets. Always replace burned-out bulbs promptly with the same wattage bulbs and making sure it is done while the power is off.
- If using an extension cord, they should be used only on a temporary basis and make sure it is rated for the intended use. Verify that all 3 prongs are present on male cord ends and never modify or break off the third prong to make it useable on a 2-wire outlet. Keep all plugs and connections off the ground, away from puddles and snow.
- Know your circuit’s limits, don’t overload your system. Circuit breakers are designed to limit the amount of current flowing on the wires in your walls, attics and crawlspaces. Even with these protective devices, a circuit that is nearing capacity will generate heat.
- Never use electric lights on a metallic tree. The tree can become charged with electricity from faulty lights, and a person touching a branch could be electrocuted.
- Stay away from power or feeder lines leading from utility poles into homes.
- Fasten outdoor lights and extension cords securely to trees, house walls, or other firm supports to protect the lights from wind damage. Use only insulated staples (not nails or tacks) to hold strings in place. Or, run strings of lights through hooks (available at hardware stores).
- Turn off all holiday lights when you go to bed or leave the house. This can be accomplished by using a timing device. The lights could short out and start a fire.
- Use caution when removing outdoor holiday lights. Make sure the power is disconnected. Never pull or tug on lights – this could cause stress on the connections that could create a fire hazard in the future.
- Outdoor electric lights and decorations should be plugged into circuits protected by ground-fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) to protect against electric shock. Portable outdoor GFCIs can be purchased where electrical supplies are sold. GFCIs can also be installed permanently to household circuits by a qualified electrician.
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