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Holiday Lighting Electrical Safety Tips

Home in Utah with Holiday Lights

As the holiday season shimmers into view, adorning your home with twinkling lights can amplify the festive spirit. However, ensuring that your outdoor electrical decorations are both dazzling and safe is paramount. Here are some essential tips to keep your outdoor holiday light display merry and hazard-free.

1. Use Waterproof and Outdoor Certified Lights

Opt for lights explicitly designed for outdoor use. Led lights are typically safer and draw less power compared to their incandescent counterparts. Look for weatherproof ratings and ensure they are certified for exterior settings. These lights are constructed to withstand moisture and varying weather conditions, reducing the risk of electrical hazards.

2. Use a GFCI Protected Outlet

Your outdoor decorations can come into contact with water, snow, and other debris so it is important that your outdoor outlet have GFCI protection to avoid the danger of electric shock.

A working GFCI outlet (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter) will trip if too much current is being drawn. If your outlet is not functioning correctly, instead of tripping the breaker, it could continue to draw a current which could cause your electrical cord to melt and even lead to a fire.

GFCI outlets are typically rated for a lifespan of 10 – 15 years. If yours is older, you may want to consider replacing them or having an electrical safety inspection performed.

You can test the GFCI outlet yourself by plugging in a device with a visual indicator that it is receiving power, like a lamp that is powered on. While the lamp is plugged into the GFCI outlet and powered on, push the TEST button. The TEST button should stop the flow of electricity and cause your lamp to go out. It will also cause the RESET button to pop out. If the lamp is still on, you’ll know that your GFCI outlet is faulty and needs to be replaced. To restore the power to the GFCI outlet you’ll simply push the “Reset” button on the outlet.  

3. Inspect Your Electrical Cables

Before you hang your holiday lights, make sure that the cables are not damaged, brittle, or have become dried out and stiff due to sun damage or age.  Conduct regular inspections of your outdoor lights and electrical connections throughout the holiday season. Check for any signs of wear, damage, or overheating. Also, make sure your outlets are protected from the elements and cables are not sitting in water puddles or placed inside of gutters. Promptly replace any damaged or faulty components to prevent potential hazards.

4. Use the Right Extension Cords

Avoid using indoor extension cords outdoors as these are not designed to withstand outdoor elements. Also, pay attention to the wattage rating on your extension cord and gauge size. You’ll notice that thicker extension cords have a smaller gauge number and are rated for higher powered devices. A typical outdoor light duty electrical cable may be rated at 16 gauge. But for an extensive holiday display you may need a 12 gauge rated extension cord. Investing in a weatherproof outdoor extension cord can be a worthwhile safety measure.  If you use an under rated extension cord and draw more current than it is rated for, the cord could overheat, melt, and lead to an electrical fire, or electric shock. 

Adhere to the manufacturer’s guidelines regarding the maximum number of light strands that can be connected and consider using an outdoor rated weatherproof power strip with a built-in circuit breaker for additional safety.

5. Avoid Stapling or Nailing Electrical Cables

It may look extra tidy, but all too often stapling or nailing decorative lights leads to damage of the outer vinyl casing which can expose the interior wires. When electrical wires are exposed you risk electrical shocks and sparking a fire. 

Instead, consider using plastic clips to hang your lights.

6. Safe Placement

Be cautious when placing lights near flammable materials, such as dry leaves or fabrics. Ensure that lights are not in direct contact with such materials to prevent fire hazards. 

7. Timely Turn-Offs

Designate specific times for your outdoor lights to be turned on and off. Investing in timers or smart plugs can help automate this process, ensuring lights are not left on overnight or when not needed, conserves energy and reduces fire risks.

Decking your home with dazzling lights is a cherished holiday tradition. By prioritizing safety in your outdoor electrical decorations, you can create a stunning display while safeguarding your home and loved ones from potential risks.

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