Holiday light, timer and cord safety

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Authored By Ashley Hopkins

It is the time of year when people start decking the halls. It is also the time of year when the number of house fires increases. The National Fire Protection Association reports that the average U.S. fire department responds to approximately 230 more fires during the holiday lights season.

“There are several things to consider when it comes to holiday lights, cords and safety,” said Mike Weaver, EPB facilities management supervisor. “And whether you are planning an indoor or outdoor holiday light display, only use UL-approved lights, cords and timers.”

Here are some tips to keep your home safe this holiday season.

Wattage and amperage specifications
Extension cords, timers and electrical outlets have specifications that you should match to the lights and number of strands that you plan on installing. If you overload a circuit, you risk starting a fire.

“Don’t use more strings of lights than your cords, timers and outlets are rated to handle,” Weaver said. “A safe rule of thumb is to not use more than three strings of lights per extension cord.”

Indoor vs. outdoor
Yes, it does matter if the string of lights that you want to use outdoors is only rated for indoor use. Do not install holiday lights outside unless you see phrases such as “all-weather usage” or words like “outdoors” on the packaging.

With both indoor and outdoor setups, avoid sharp twists and turns in your electric cords, and always check for exposed wiring where the insulation may have been damaged-even with lights straight out of the box. Keep the wires away from pets and people, especially children, to the best of your ability. And never, ever run extension cords under rugs, as this is a major fire hazard.

“If copper wiring is exposed through breaks in the insulation, as can happen with older light strings, throw them away and purchase new lights,” Weaver said.

For outdoor displays, use hardware to secure lights and cords so that wind, rain and snow can’t affect their placement.

“Avoid installing them where they can be deluged by rainwater from roofs or downspouts,” Weaver said. “Periodically check them for damage.”  

Plan
Weaver advises homeowners to plan their holiday light projects before making a purchase or installation. 

“Measure the total distance of lights you plan to use and make sure there are enough electric outlets to plug into, keeping in mind the three-string rule,” he said. “Also, don’t plan to install lights close to or in contact with materials that can easily catch fire, such as paper, cardboard, plastic, cloth or furniture.”

Get LEDs 
Not only do the newer LED lights use up to 90 percent less energy, but they produce much less heat than incandescent bulbs-so they help lower your fire risk. They will most likely carry Energy Star approval and last for many years longer.

“For the energy-conscious, using Energy Star-approved LED lights with a timer(s) will provide the most efficient holiday lighting,” Weaver said.

Utilize directions
We all love the scene in “National Lampoons Christmas Vacation” where Clark Griswold gets on his roof and goes about willy-nilly stapling lights all over his home, but he definitely isn’t following the manufacturer’s installation instructions. But you should, and should do the same with cords and timers as well. It may seem as simple as plugging a cord into an outlet or socket, but it really isn’t. And oversimplifying the process of holiday decorating can lead to dismal consequences.  

John Pless is the public relations coordinator at EPB.

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