It was supposed to be the most wonderful time of year. One East coast family had a tradition of extending Christmas for their grandchildren, keeping their home decorated with Christmas lights, to keep the holiday cheer well into January. But last year, something went wrong. According to local news sources, an electrical failure with the Christmas tree lights ignited the dried-out tree. And even though the smoke detectors went off in the night, the fire in the great room likely cut off the exits from the adjoining bedrooms. In the end, six family members died.
Sadly, this story isn't an isolated one. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), Christmas trees are a contributing factor in more than 200 house fires each year, frequently resulting in injuries and fatalities—this despite the fact that holiday lights are designed with more safety features and emit less heat than ever before. In the majority of cases, the fires are caused not by the lights themselves, but by improper electrical wiring, either in the home or in the configuration of the lights.
HOLIDAY LIGHT FIRES ARE PREVENTABLE: 6 TIPS FOR A SAFE CHRISTMAS SEASON
Fortunately, there are steps you can take to reduce the risk of lighting hazards so your home and family can stay safe during the holidays. Here are some common sense tips to follow:
1. Don't exceed the maximum wattage when stringing lights together.
For most Christmas lights, the maximum safe wattage is 210 watts. “Daisy-chaining” too many strings of lights to the same outlet can exceed this maximum and create risk of electrical problems. The more lights on a string, the more wattage each string uses.
2. Use only UL-approved extension cords.
Every additional electrical connection you use to light your tree is a potential weak link, so make sure your extension cords are equipped for the task. For additional safety, consider using surge protectors to connect your Christmas lights to the outlets in your home.
3. Follow manufacturers instructions for Christmas lights.
This alone goes a long way toward keeping your home safe.
4. When decorating outdoors, make sure your lights and cords are designated for outdoor use.
“Indoor” lights aren't designed to handle the changing temperature and moisture levels that are common outside.
5.Check your lights and wires frequently. Make sure bulbs and wires aren't warm/hot to the touch, as this suggests a short-circuit that could cause a fire. Replace burned out bulbs when you find them, and cut the power before replacing them.
6.Turn off Christmas lights when no one is home!
WIRING YOUR HOME FOR SAFETY
In many cases, the safety hazard isn't with the holiday lights themselves, but with the internal wiring of the home. Improper wiring or an aging electrical system can put your home at risk with the extra power being drawn by the lights. If you're building a home from new house plans, make sure your home wiring is installed by a licensed electrician and equipped with the latest safety cutoff features. If you're buying an existing home, have the wiring checked by an electrician before you start stringing Christmas lights.
Don't let the holiday season be ruined by lighting and electrical hazards that are so easily prevented. By exercising care, following directions and making sure your electrical system is in proper order, you can keep the holiday spirit alive while keeping your home and family safe.