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It’s the most wonderful time of the year.

The cold weather has arrived and Christmas lights decorate houses from Hammond to Baton Rouge, and your neighbor has those aggravating twinkle lights all over their house.

Decorating for the holidays can be a fun pastime, but, it’s important to remember that many of our favorite decorations carry the risk of fire or electrical injury if not used carefully.

Follow these tips to make sure your holiday season is a safe one:

Be sure to read our recent blog post on how to winterize your home.


Lights and Decoration Electrical Safety

  • When shopping for holiday lighting, electric decorations, and extension cords, make sure that any electrical components you use are UL Certified.
  • If you’re decorating outside, make sure that any lights and decorations that you use are rated for outdoor use.  Using indoor-only products in the weather can result in electric shock, or worse, catch fire. Should you be unsure as to whether your lights are rated for indoor or outdoor use, just look for the color-coded UL mark on the packaging.  A green UL mark denotes indoor use, while a red one indicates that it’s safe to use either indoors or outdoors.
christmas tree and ornaments
  • Make sure that all outdoor lights and decorations are plugged into an outlet with a ground fault.  A ground-fault circuit interrupter(GFCI) protects people from getting shocked. It’s as simple as that. But if you want the full description, the NEC defines it as, “A device intended for the protection of personnel that functions to de-energize a circuit or portion thereof within an established period of time when a current to ground exceeds the values established for a Class A device.”  Basically, a GFCI senses the slightest difference in the amount of electricity between what enters a circuit and what leaves the circuit. A small variation, as little as 5 milliamps, will cause the circuit to trip or shut down electrical services within 1/10th of a second. This prevents people from getting electrocuted.
  • Whether brand-new out of the box or decorations from holidays past, prior to installation, be sure to inspect all lights, electric decorations and extension cords for signs of damage to wire insulation, plugs, and bulbs. If the damage can be repaired (i.e. broken bulbs replaced), do not use the item until the repair has been made. If cords and plugs are damaged, discard and replace the decoration.
  • Always unplug lights before attempting to change bulbs, replace fuses, or making any other repairs.
  • unplugged christmas lights
    • Should you need to replace a bulb in a string of Christmas lights, make sure that the replacement bulb’s wattage rating matches that of the light strand. Using a bulb with too high a wattage can cause the light string to overheat, and create a fire risk.
    • When hanging Christmas lights outdoors, you can reduce your risk of electric shock by using ladders made of non-conductive materials like wood or fiberglass-reinforced plastic.
    • Only use lights and decorations in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions.
    • As you’re decorating, keep in mind that a general rule of thumb is to only connect 3 strands end to end, don’t overload!
    • Don’t overload extension cords.  Prior to plugging them in, calculate the wattage rating of your extension cord, as well as the power requirements of your lights or decorations that will be plugged into the cord.. A wattage rating is the amount of electricity that an extension cord is built to carry, and if the combined power requirements (or “pull”) of your lights and decorations exceed that rating, overheating and fire can occur.
    • As frequently as you can, check the cords by touching to make sure that they’re not getting warm or overheated.  One quick way to do this is to use a handheld infrared thermometer (these can be purchased for a relatively low price at retailers like Harbor Freight).
    • Always turn off your decorations when not in use, or we suggest putting them on a timer of some sorts to make sure that you don’t forget.

    Christmas Tree Safety

    Buying your Christmas Tree

    Did you know that your choice of Christmas tree could affect its flammability factor?

    Now, we’re not trying to be the Grinch here, but consider this:

    Between 2010-2014, U.S. fire departments responded to an average of 210 home fires that started with Christmas trees per year. These fires caused an average of 6 deaths, 16 injuries, and $16.2 million in direct property damage annually.(See NFPA’s report “Home Structure Fires Involving Christmas Trees”, issued in November 2016) Should you opt to go with a live tree, remember that older, dried-out trees ignite and burn much faster than those that are freshly cut and well hydrated.  As a matter of fact, live Christmas Trees are such fire hazards, that the National Fire Protection Association has special provisions for live christmas treeswritten into the code. So, when you’re shopping for a natural (live) Christmas tree, keep the following things in mind:

    • Before purchasing your live tree, make sure that its needles are fresh, green, and firmly attached to the branches. Bend the needles between your fingers – if they break, the tree is too dry. Also check that the tree trunk’s cut surface is sticky to the touch. An easy way to tell if your tree is safe to use is to pick the tree up vertically and tap the trunk against the ground; if needles fall off, move on to another tree.
    • Christmas trees with thicker needles tend to take longer to dry out, so a robust variety like the Noble Fir is a good choice.
    • Should you decide to go with an artificial tree, ensure that it is flame retardant.

    Don’t take our word on it.  Watch this christmas tree burn demonstration from the National Fire Protection Association.

    Setting Up Your Christmas Tree

    The methods you use to  set up and care for your tree has a big effect on how long it will last, how beautiful it will stay, and, ultimately, how safe it will be to have in your home.

    • Before you put your Christmas tree into its stand, cut a couple of inches off the bottom of the trunk to expose fresher wood. This fresher wood will absorb more water and help avoid electrical fires by retaining moisture.  Taking a few minutes to do this will improve your tree’s water intake, and make it harder for your tree to catch fire.
    • When purchasing a tree stand, make sure that it has a capacity of at least one gallon, which is the amount of water that the average 6-foot Christmas tree can consume in a day’s time. As a general rule of thumb, live Christmas trees require one quart of water for every inch of trunk diameter.
    • Water your live Christmas tree daily.
    • Maintain a 3 feet clearance around your tree to candles, fireplaces, space heaters, radiators, heat vents, and other heat sources. (In one-quarter (25%) of the Christmas tree fires, some type of heat source, such as a candle or equipment, was too close to the tree).
    • Because nearly half of all Christmas tree fires involve electrical malfunctions, it’s extremely important to check that light strands and other electrical decorations are in good condition (free from insulation cracks, fraying wires or damaged bulbs and plugs) before decorating your tree with them.

    For more resources on how to safely decorate your home for the holidays, be sure to check out the National Fire Protection Agency’s (NFPA) guide to Winter/Holiday Safety, as well as Holiday Fire Safety suggestions from the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA).

    Your safety matters to us

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