More house fires occur during the holiday season than at any other time of the year. The reason for this has to do with all of the Christmas lights, trees and decorations most people have inside and outside of the home. With the holidays just around the corner, now is a good time to go over some important electrical safety tips. These will help protect your home and your family and greatly reducing the risk of fires.
Carefully Inspect All Christmas Lights, Cords and Power Strips
Christmas lights are undeniably beautiful and add a real holiday feel to the home. However, all of the strings of lights as well as the extension cords and power strips they’re plugged into can also be a major fire hazard. The National Fire Protection Association reports that Christmas lights cause nearly 800 fires every year in the United States. This number doesn’t even include house fires caused by Christmas trees catching fire.
When you drag out all of your lights at the start of the holiday season, it is important that you fully inspect and test them before hanging them up. This means checking every string to make sure that there is no damage and that the insulation around the wires isn’t cracked. If you do see any visible damage, you should just throw the lights away. If the wires in the light strings are exposed, they could cause a short circuit and start a fire.
You also want to check to make sure that none of the bulbs in any of the strings are broken since this can also cause a short circuit. If you find any broken bulbs, you should replace them before plugging the lights in or simply buy a new string.
If you’re using extension cords to plug in your lights, you also want to fully inspect them and toss them in the trash if you see any damage. It is also important to make sure any extension cords you’re using to plug in outdoor lights and decorations are rated for outdoor use. All-purpose cords designed for indoor use aren’t waterproof and could short out and catch fire if exposed to rain or snow.
If you use power strips to plug in the lights on your tree, they also need to be inspected. In this case, you want to check for any burn marks or scorching and make sure that the plastic around the holes where the cords plug isn’t melted. If you see any of these issues, the strip is unsafe to use and should be replaced. Burn marks or melting are a sign that a wire in the strip is damaged or one of the connections is loose. This means the strip is at risk of short circuiting and catching fire.
Make Sure You’re Using the Right Type of Lights for the Situation
As with extension cords, you also want to make sure that any lights you use outside are water resistant and rated for outdoor use. If you’re unsure whether your lights are for outdoor use, you are always best to err on the side of caution. Just use them inside and buy new lights for outside.
Christmas trees account for nearly 200 additional fires a year and around 40% of these fires are caused by the lights around the tree. If you have a real Christmas tree, it is important that you keep it well watered. If the tree starts to dry out, it will be much more likely to catch fire and will also burn much quicker if it does catch fire. Experts also recommend only using LED lights to decorate your tree. The bulbs in traditional lights heat up over time, which is how they cause the tree to catch fire. LED lights produce almost zero heat so they are much safer and much less likely to catch the tree on fire.
Don’t Overload Outlets and Circuits
Damaged or frayed lights and extension cords are a major source of fires. The biggest issue is typically from people plugging in far too many things and overloading their outlets and electrical circuits. Using power strips does allow you to plug more things into one outlet. But you still need to make sure that you aren’t trying to draw more power than the circuit can safely handle.
Exactly how many lights or decorations you can run off of one circuit depends on the type of lights you have. It also depends on whether that circuit powers other things like your porch lights or the lights in the room where your tree is located. Large, incandescent light strings are usually 125 watts, which means you could only safely run 11 strings off of one standard 15-amp circuit. This is only if that circuit doesn’t power anything else.
If you have small, incandescent light strings, you should never connect more than four or five strands together or you would overload the outlet. You should also never have more than six 5-string chains or 30 strings total running off of one circuit. If you had six of the chains plugged into one power strip, you would typically overload the circuit. This is if you plugged anything into any of the other outlets on that circuit or if that circuit also powered your lights.
LED lights use far less energy so you can plug more strings together and also run more of them off of a single circuit. While you should never connect more than four or five strings of incandescent mini-lights together, you are usually safe to plug 20 to 40 LED mini-light strings together. This depends on the length of the strings and how many bulbs each one has. A typical string of LED mini-lights is only around 12 watts, which means you run up to 105 strings of this wattage on the same circuit without overloading it.
It is important to keep in mind that all of these wattages and numbers are just an average. As such, you should always make sure you know exactly how many watts each of your light strings and decorations uses. A 15-amp circuit is rated to handle 1,800 watts, but you’re best to never exceed 80% of its total capacity. This means that you really don’t want to run anything more than around 1,400 watts on a single circuit.
Keep Christmas Lights Unplugged or Turned Off When You’re Not Home
One easy way to prevent the risk of extensive fire damage is to always make sure to leave your lights and decorations unplugged or turned off when you’re not home. You should also always turn the lights off before going to bed. By only using the lights when you’re home and awake, you will at least be able to know if an issue arises so that you can take immediate action.
Install a Separate Circuit for Outdoor Lights and Decorations
You may be the type that likes to go all out with decorating outside your house. So, we would always recommend that you have an electrician install a separate circuit and outdoor outlets for all of your decorations. If you have lots of decorations, you may even need two or three circuits so that you can power everything without risking an overload. Having outlets installed along the roof eaves is convenient and allows you to avoid extension cords. You can also put all of the outlets on a switch so that you can turn all of the lights and decorations on and off from inside.
If you want to ensure that your electrical system and home are safe this holiday season, Huft Home Services is ready to help. We can perform a full electrical safety inspection to make sure all of your outlets and circuits are in good condition. We can also help if you need any electrical repairs, new outdoor circuits installed or any other installation service. For more information on our electrical services or for any heating, AC or plumbing service in the Sacramento, Elk Grove or Yuba City areas, give us a call today.