As home inspectors, we’re always thinking about safety. We can’t help it. Ladder injuries and house fires are serious, and unfortunately, more common this time of year. Yet they are avoidable tragedies. With the holiday season in full swing, we’d like to share some common holiday lighting safety tips for hanging those beloved holiday lights.
Some are obvious, although you’d be surprised how many of these are overlooked and introduce unnecessary risk to you and your family.
Holiday lights can be rated for indoor use, outdoor use, or both. Make sure to check your lights so you’re using the right lights for the right environment. Check the wiring insulation for damage before you use them. If the sheathing is frayed, throw them out and buy new ones.
2) Plastic Clips
We grew up seeing the good ole’ staple gun as the main method for hanging lights. One hole in a sheath of lights can create an avoidable fire-hazard. Use plastic clips instead. It may also prevent you from pulling staples out of your finger!
3) Use a Proper Ladder for Holiday Lighting Safety
Make sure to use a wooden or fiberglass ladder when hanging and taking down lights to avoid electrical shocks. Set it up properly (Use the 4:1 Rule) on solid ground, and check the ladder for weight limits and damage before you use it! If it has broken rungs, get a new one. Place it securely, and don’t use it alone or leave it unattended. It doesn’t hurt to have someone hold it for you, either.
LED lights not only use a fraction of the energy of their incandescent counterparts, they produce virtually no heat. This naturally reduces your electrical fire risk, especially on a natural tree. If you can, consider an artificial tree with a “fire-resistant” rating label, but above all, make sure the lights bear the marking of a safety testing laboratory, such as UL ratings.
5) Extension Cord Holiday Lighting Safety
Keeping extension cords off the ground and dry is an often overlooked tip. You can use a cord protector and we’ve also seen extension cords placed on cinder blocks to elevate them off the ground. Just like the light cords themselves, extension cords are also rated for their environment, so make sure to not use indoor rated cords outside. Check the sheathing for damage such as fraying and be careful not to overload them!
Not sure if your outlets are GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupter) protected? They should be – especially outdoors or in the garage. This is an easy, yet important safety upgrade that a licensed electrician can do for you. It will immediately “trip” the circuit if it gets shorted to the ground, and can help prevent electrocution. Make sure you only plug the outdoor lights into a GFCI protected outlet receptacle for this reason.
7) Overloading Outlets
This is common to load up one outlet or extension cord with a ton of lights. Most LED lights will let you know on the label how many strings of lights you can safely string together. If your breaker keeps tripping or the wires (not the bulbs) are getting warm, that’s a dead giveaway you’ve overloaded it. Spread the love to a few different outlet circuits.
An extension cord running across a doorway or sidewalk might not seem like a big deal. However, you always want to avoid trip hazards when possible.
A bonus non-safety tip – when it’s time to wind down the holiday season and pack up all your decorations, make sure to label and store them properly! Your future self will thank you for putting them in plastic bins with labels in a cool, dry space. And try to lay off the eggnog until AFTER your decorating is complete. 😉