10 Tips for Safer Holiday Light Displays

Every holiday season, U.S. fire departments respond to an average of 200 home fires that started with lighted trees, according to the National Fire Protection Association. Electrical problems caused one-third of these incidents. Fortunately, these fires are not common, but when they occur they are almost always serious.

To make sure your holiday season remains cheerful, keep the following safety tips in mind while decorating your home:

  1. Use lights that have been tested for safety. Look for “UL” on the tag, which means the lights have been approved by Underwriters Laboratories, a global leader in testing, inspection and certification.
  2. Inspect lights for broken or cracked sockets, frayed wires or loose connections. If you encounter any of these problems, throw it away.
  3. Limit the number of light strands to three per outlet. For added safety, use a power strip with a built-in circuit breaker instead of a wall outlet.
  4. Replace incandescent lights with LED lights. They generate less heat, which makes them a safer choice both indoors and out. Although LED lights are more expensive, they last much longer and use 75 percent less electricity—two additional reasons to make the switch.
  5. Part with your old lights. Hand-me-down lights may be sentimental and less costly, but newer lights are much safer. That’s because they’re equipped with fused plugs that prevent sparks if a short circuit occurs.
  6. Remember that indoor and outdoor lights are not created equal. Indoor lights, which have thinner insulation, are not made to withstand wet winter weather. Read the label carefully to ensure you’re making the right purchase.
  7. Be extension-cord savvy. For exterior decorations, be sure to use extension cords that are UL-rated for outdoor use. Indoors, avoid running extension cords in high-traffic areas where people could trip over them. Do not hide extension cords under rugs or beneath furniture, where they could become frayed or overheat.
  8. Adhere to a lights-out policy when you leave the house or go to sleep. If the lights short and start a fire, you want to be available to take action. Avoid the extra hassle by purchasing an automated light timer or remote control.
  9. Keep in mind that electric lights and metallic trees don’t mix. The tree could become charged with electricity, causing a potential electrocution hazard for anyone who touches it. If you prefer an aluminum tree, opt for a colored spotlight that’s not fastened to the tree.
  10. Make sure outdoor lights are plugged into a ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) outlet. These are designed to protect against electrocution by automatically turning off when a change in electrical flow occurs.

As you brighten up the holidays with indoor and outdoor light displays that everyone will love, keep everyone safe with these tips.