The holiday season is rich with traditions. It’s a time when family and friends gather to celebrate their connections and build new memories. This is done in a lot of festive ways, though one of the most common is decorating homes, offices, and landscaping with holiday lights.
While it’s understandable to want to go a little overboard, it’s important to also remember the potential hazards your holiday lights and Christmas tree lights can present to your home, office, or even the trees in your yard. Statistically, fire departments in the United States respond to an average of 160 home fires related to holiday light malfunctions every year. The National Fire Protection Association notes that this includes an average of two deaths, and 14 fire or electrical-related injuries as well as roughly $10 million in property damage.
In these instances, the lighting equipment and electrical distribution issues accounted for around 45 to 50 percent of all home Christmas tree fires. That’s not even counting fires and damage to exterior trees caused by malfunctioning holiday lights.
With such alarming statistics in the air, we decided it was a good idea to put together a little primer highlighting some key dos and don’ts of holiday light safety.
Tip #1 Don’t Leave Your Holiday Lights On Overnight or While Gone From Home
Regardless of whether or not you are using a real or an artificial tree, you should not leave your holiday lights on overnight. The potential for heat buildup in the wires and the potential drying effect on a natural Christmas tree can create an increased risk of fire hazards. Fires that start in this way tend to spread quickly, especially if your Christmas tree is positioned near a window with long flowing curtains.
Tip #2 Turn Off Your Lights When You Leave Home
Just like turning off your holiday lights when you go to bed, you should not leave your holiday lights on when you leave home. Fires that start can spread quickly and your neighbors or home security system or the local fire department might not be able to respond before severe fire damage is caused to the property
Tip #3 Place Your Tree Carefully
It’s best to keep your tree at least 3-feet away from fireplaces, space heaters, and heat vents. Especially if you have a natural Christmas tree that can be prone to drying out near heat sources. This can increase the fire risk exponentially as the holiday season goes on.
Tip #4 Avoid Electric Lights On A Metal Christmas Tree
Metal Christmas trees are a relatively new trend. Though they do come with an increased risk of electrical shock and increased fire hazards when decorated with lights. If you do have a metal Christmas tree, you should decorate it only with ornaments, garland, or tinsel. Avoid that needs to be plugged in!
Tip #5 Avoid Candles & Open Flames
Candles and small oil lanterns might have once been traditional on a Christmas tree, but they are a major fire hazard in the modern age. You should avoid these on artificial trees and especially on natural Christmas trees.
Tip #6 Look For Safety Ratings
When shopping for holiday lights check the package to see if they have been rated for safety by the Underwriters Laboratory (UL), the Canadian Standards Association (CSA), or Intertek (ETL Semko). These are sure signs that an independent body has tested these lights for safe use under normal conditions.
Tip #7 Inspect Older Lights For Fraying & Signs Of Damage
A lot of families save lights from one year to the next. Though things can happen during all those months in storage that can cause fraying and damage to your lights. Make sure to carefully inspect all strands of lights and electrical decorations for signs of fraying in the wires or other damage. If you see a problem, it’s best to throw the lights away and buy new ones.
Tip #8 Never Use Interior Lights On Outdoor Decorations
If you like to also decorate your yard, landscaping, trees, or exterior of your home with lights, make sure to check that there are truly rated for outdoor use. While interior lights might work for a while, chances are very good that cold and wet conditions can damage the interior-grade lights, causing shorts and other potential damage on your exterior or landscaping.
Tip #9 Don’t Use Staples, Nails Or Tacks To Hang Holiday Lights
Sometimes our most creative lighting ideas can be hard to hold in place. Especially on the exterior of our home where the weather is a constant threat to dislodge them. You should never use staples, nails, or tacks to pierce or even inter-braid with the light strands. This can create a potential electrical shock, electrical short, or fire.
Tip #10 Be Smart About How You Use Extension Cords
Extension cords have a specific rating or limit to how much electricity they can deliver. This amount diminishes with distance. Make sure you are never “Daisy Chaining” extension cords together. Before using any extension cord for holiday lights be sure to thoroughly inspect every square inch to make sure it is in good condition. Then make sure to always place them in an area where they won’t be a tripping hazard.
Tip #11 Consider The Potential For Pet Damage
Cats and dogs might be members of the family, but even the most well-behaved pet can get curious enough to accidentally topple a tree or damage a string of lights. Be smart about taking whatever pet safety measures you need to keep your tree and your decorations safe. This might mean forgoing lights in certain locations or taking measures to secure your tree in a way that won’t topple over.
Tip #11 Know How Many Strands Of Lights You Can Safely Connect
The general rule of thumb is that you should only ever string three strands of traditional incandescent shocks and fire. Though, lower energy LED lights with minimal heat output might be able to handle as many as 40-50 LED mini-light strands at one time.
Tip #12 Plug Outdoor Lights Into GFCI Outlets
GFCI (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter) outlets greatly reduce the danger of shocks and damage from weather-related short-circuits caused by faulty plug-in cords and devices. These special outlets have miniature built-in fuses of a sort that are designed to detect dangerous ground faults and immediately turn off the power. Here’s what you need to know about adding an outdoor outlet to power your Christmas lights.