Deck the Halls But Do It Safely When Working with Electrical Lights

Nov. 15, 2011
In the movie “Deck the Halls,” neighbors, played by Matthew Broderick and Danny DeVito, try to outdo each other in their holiday decorations in an attempt to have their homes “seen” by satellite via Google maps. Eventually, one of their homes is set on fire. While few of us go to such extremes, we still need to keep safety in mind when decorating with lights.

Electrical accidents typically increase during the holiday season. The U.S. Consumer and Product Safety Commission reports that during the 2 months surrounding the holiday season, more than 14,000 people are treated in hospital emergency rooms due to injuries related to holiday decorating. In 2010, the National Fire Protection Association stated that holiday lights were involved in an average of 150 reported home structure fires per year during 2004-2008. Those fires caused an average of eight civilian deaths, 16 civilian injuries, and $8.9 million in direct property damage per year.

Safe Electricity reminds consumers to use only lights that have been safety tested and have the UL label. “Before use, check each light string for broken sockets, frayed cords or faulty plugs,” urges Molly Hall, program director. “Replace damaged strings, and always unplug light strings while replacing bulbs.”

When decorating outside, remember the experience of Shawn Miller from Indiana. He was seriously injured when lights that he tossed into a tree made contact with overhead lines. Shawn lost his left hand and suffered numerous other injuries in the tragic accident. See his story at

“Please take note of your surroundings before decorating outside,” Miller urges, “especially power lines and the service connection to your home. Make sure to keep yourself, ladders and lights far away from them.” Miller urges everyone to follow these precautions:

· Never throw holiday lights or other decorations into trees near power lines.
· Be especially careful when working near power lines attached to your house. Keep ladders, equipment, and yourself at least 10 feet from all power lines.
· Use only lights, cords, animated displays and decorations rated for outdoor use. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions on how to use them.
· Cords should be plugged into outlets equipped with ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs). Use a portable GFCI if your outdoor outlets are not equipped with them.
· Do not staple or nail through light strings or electrical cords, and do not attach cords to utility poles.
· Outdoor holiday lights are for seasonal use, up to 90 days. Bring them inside after the holidays.
· Avoid decorating outside on windy or wet days. Choose to decorate in favorable weather conditions and during daylight hours.

When decorating inside or outside, follow these measures:

· Do not string together more than three standard-size sets of lights.
· Make sure extension cords are in good condition, are UL-approved and rated to carry the electrical load you will connect to them.
· Match plugs with outlets. Do not force a three-pronged plug into a two-pronged outlet or extension cord.
· Always unplug lights – indoors and out – before going to bed or leaving your home.

When decorating with holiday lights indoors, here are some other considerations that are important to keep in mind:

· Keep electric cords away from high-traffic areas, and do not run them through doorways or hide them under rugs or carpets.
· Do not let children or pets play with light strings or electrical decorations.
· Do not overload outlets. Use surge protector strips if multiple outlets are needed.
· Place fresh-cut trees away from heat sources, such as heat registers, fireplaces, radiators and televisions. Frequently water your fresh-cut tree.

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