Holiday decorations are a hallmark of the winter season. Over 85% of Americans decorate their homes to celebrate each year and almost 50% include the use of outdoor lights and decorations.
While holiday lighting and decorations contribute to the splendor of the season, they can also significantly increase the risk of fires and electrical injuries if not used carefully. Use these best practices to decorate safely.
- Double check lights for frayed wires or cracks, and be sure there is a bulb in each socket. Discard and replace damaged strands. Frayed or cracked electrical cords or broken sockets are leading fire hazards.
- Lights should be approved by Underwriters Laboratory. “UL” will be clearly displayed on the tag, signifying the product has been inspected for potential safety hazards. Red UL marks indicate the lights are safe for indoor/outdoor use, and green UL marks indicate the lights are only safe for indoor use.
- Don’t use outdoor lights indoor – they’re too hot for interior use. For the coolest bulbs and greatest energy efficiency, try LED lights, which come in a wide range of styles and colors. Indoor lights should not touch drapes, furniture or carpeting.
- Do not hammer tacks or nails into the electrical cord when hanging lights. They can cut through the wire insulation and create a fire hazard. Only use UL-approved hangers.
- Use heavy-duty extension cords, and only use cords outdoors if they are designated for outdoor use. Avoid overloading extension cords by using no more than three sets of standard lights per cord.
- If possible, outdoor lights and inflatable decorations should be plugged into circuits protected by ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCI). GFCIs help prevent electric shock by breaking the circuit when differences in the currents of hot and neutral wires occur.
- Use a timer or turn off lights before going to bed, or if you will be away from home.
- Prevent tripping by placing cords and decorations in low-traffic areas where they won’t be walked on. Avoid twisting, kinking or crushing cords.
When they season is over, remember to take down your outdoor decorations in a timely manner. Ninety days is the recommended maximum duration. The longer they stay up, the more likely they are to suffer damage from weather and animals.
It is also important to safely store decorations for next year – tangled lights can lead to damaged cords and broken sockets. After the holidays, coil each string loosely around a stiff piece of cardboard, wrap it in paper or fabric to protect the bulbs, and store in a sturdy container until next year.