Christmas season brings good times and cheer, but it can also bring a lot of hazards and risks if some basic electrical safety guidelines are not followed. Did you know that between 2011 and 2015 U.S. fire departments on average responded to 260 house fires per year that were started by Christmas trees? Or that an additional average of 150 fires per year were started by holiday lighting? Or even that on average 15,000 people per year are injured and require an emergency room visit in the U.S. from hanging Christmas lights? Following some simple recommendations can keep your household safe this holiday season.
Christmas tree fires, although relatively rare are extremely hazardous. Of all sources of house fires, Christmas trees are among the most dangerous, fast, and deadly. It takes less than 30 seconds for a tree to engulf a room in flames. “They make turpentine out of pine trees,” notes Tom Olshanski, spokesman for the United States Fire Administration. “A Christmas tree is almost explosive when it goes.” Although some of these fires are caused by open flames such as nearby candles, many are caused by faulty wiring or overloaded circuits. The first thing to check is the condition of any extension cords and the wires on your string of lights. Look for any signs of wear and tear, discolouration, missing insulation, or exposed metal of the wires. Check the cord ends for anything unusual such as bent, missing, or blackened prongs. Ensure that you are not overloading any circuits; avoid this by not plugging extension cords into other extension cords, and power bars into other power bars. The load can quickly add up and cause heating and failure of the components. When choosing extension cords and power bars try to select ones with a ground (3 prong) and look for a larger wire gauge such as #14 or #12 (contrary to reason and logic the smaller the number the bigger the wire). Lastly make sure that all ends are plugged firmly into their sockets with none of the prongs showing.
When hanging Christmas lights outdoors you should follow the same recommendations as above for wiring but also remember that it is extremely important that these are plugged into functioning GFCI (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter) receptacles on the exterior of your house. These will prevent damage and injury when water enters the circuit. Always test your GFCI receptacles by pushing the test button on the front of the receptacle.
You should also adhere to some basic ladder safety tips when installing your lights. Inspect your ladder for damage, always make sure your ladder is on stable ground, use a 4 to 1 ratio for extension ladders (for every 4 feet up your ladder base is one foot out, so roughly a 15 degree angle), secure your ladder at the top if possible, use another person to hold and help stabilize your ladder, and don’t over-reach! Move your ladder to where you need to be, and always keep your belt buckle between the ladder rungs!
Don’t let this magical time of year end in loss or tragedy. Please follow safe electrical practices to keep Christmas merry. If you have any questions regarding electrical safety or want some not-so-shocking advice contact your friendly neighborhood electrician at Highwood Contracting.