Angie’s List Report: Christmas light safety

Nearly 40 percent of all home fires in the U.S. happen from December through February. Christmas tree fires, in particular, are five times more deadly than other fires. 

So here’s what you need to know to light up safely this year.

When it comes to holiday decorating, we are often more concerned with the final look above all else. 

But safety experts warn that overloading electrical outlets and using worn light strands is an invitation for an electrical problem or even disaster.

“Like most people, I like to keep my decorations from year to year, but you need to check them before you put ‘em up each year to make sure you don’t have any broken light bulbs or any frayed cords,” said Angie Hicks, co-founder of Angie’s List. “Because, if you do, you need to replace those items.”

Even if you’re using new lights, check for the UL label and use them only as approved. 

Don’t place indoor lights outside. 

Also, all outside lights should plug into a ground fault circuit interrupter or GFCI outlet which can be identified by the “test” and “reset” buttons on the face. 

They help prevent electric shock and potential fires.

“They determine how much load is on the hot wire and how much load is on the neutral wire,” said Sammie Bracken, electrician. “If those two things are balanced, it allows it to work. If there’s too much on the black wire and not enough on the white wire, as in when someone is being shocked, there’s an imbalance and it will actually shut off.”

Lots of older homes don’t have GFCI outlets. But an electrician can convert them for about $200. 

A less expensive option is to purchase an adapter that plugs right into your standard outlet.

“If you’re thinking about new lights this year, the L-E-D lights are a good alternative,” Angie said. “They stay cooler, last longer, and use less energy. Also, they work with any extension cord, even the ones you can find at the drugstore.” 

Sammie Bracken said, “Depending on what you’re plugging in, non-grounded outlets with a non-grounded plug-in are actually as safe as they can be. They’ve been tested to be used in a certain manner. That’s what the UL code talks about.”

When it comes to connecting light strands together, experts say you should limit that to two or three unless they are LED lights that can handle multiple links. 

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