Christmas lights can brighten your holidays, but they can also cause electric shock and fire if used improperly.
"Home electrical safety is a year-round concern, but special care should be taken during the holiday season," says Joseph A. Ticheli, manager of the South Louisiana Electric Cooperative Association, an electric utility that serves 16,000 customers in parts of Terrebonne, Lafourche and surrounding parishes. "Of all the injuries from holiday decorations treated in hospital emergency rooms last year, most were associated with Christmas lights."
SLECA offers these safety tips:
1. Make sure your lights have the Underwriters Laboratories (UL) or Good Housekeeping seal on them; they have been approved for safety.
2. Before installing, inspect all cords and lights closely. Repair or replace any frayed or bare wires, loose connections and cracked or broken sockets. Make sure every socket on your strings of lights has a bulb in it, whether it lights up or not. A piece of metal or a twig from your tree could complete the circuit and create sparks that could result in a fire. Empty sockets are also inviting to children's fingers. And don't string lights while they are plugged in.
3. If, after the lights are plugged in, a fuse or breaker shuts down the current in one or more sections of your home, you have overloaded that circuit. If this happens, remove some of the load from the circuit or plug the lights into a circuit that they will not overload.
4. Use flame-retardant decorations, and keep paper decorations and tinsel away from hot lights. Keep a portable fire extinguisher close to the tree. Never put lights on an aluminum tree because aluminum conducts electricity.
5. Use a sturdy stand when you set up your Christmas tree. If a decorated tree, loaded with bulbs, falls onto a hard floor, the bulbs could break and the exposed filament could ignite the tree. Keep your live Christmas tree in water so it can absorb moisture. Never place your tree near heat sources, including heating vents.
6. If you decorate your yard or house's exterior, use only lights and cords labeled for outdoors. When attaching lights to the outside of your house, avoid using staple guns. Use insulated staples instead and hammer them into place.
7. Use a dry wooden ladder when installing outdoor decorations. Dry wood won't conduct an electric current. Unplug all decorative lights, both inside and outside, when leaving home or going to bed.