Beautiful displays of light have been associated with Christmas for almost as long as the holiday has existed. For centuries, candle light had to suffice, but it wasn’t long after Thomas Edison learned to harness electricity that one of his associates used the new technology to illuminate a Christmas tree. In the 1950s, strings of plug-in Christmas lights become common in American households, and shortly thereafter, people began hanging lights outside of their homes.
These displays were pretty to look at, but the relatively crude technology of the time also made them hazardous. We have all heard stories of house fires started by Christmas lights. This often happened because the strings of lights were prone to overheating, or because or the lights would cause a short in the home’s electrical system, leading to a fire.
Thankfully Christmas light technology has improved greatly since those days, as have home electrical systems. But there is still a risk if you’re not careful. Power outlets still get overloaded, electrical shorts still occur, and not all lights are as safe as you think, as Europeans discovered last year.
Decorating your house for the holidays doesn’t have to be worrisome, though. By following a few simple rules, you can ensure that your family has a happy, safe, and well-lit holiday season.
Get New Lights
If you’re still using those Christmas lights you’ve had since the Carter administration, throw them out. The older the lights, the more likely they are to have damaged sections of wiring, and the more prone they are to causing a short. (If you still have the kind of lights that won’t turn on if a single bulb is burnt out, you should throw them away on general principle). Invest in some quality LED lights, which consume only a fraction of the power of older lights. When shopping for holiday lighting, look for the seal of Underwriters Laboratories (UL), an independent, non-profit company that tests electrical products for safety. If you don’t see the UL seal, don’t buy those lights. Also, nearly all modern lights came with fuses that limit the amount of current that passes through them. If your lights don’t have a fuse, throw them out.
Put Your Lights Close to an Outlet
Try not to rely on a mess of extension cords to reach a power outlet, especially outdoors. Along with being unsightly and cumbersome, an extension cord adds one more element that could go wrong – bad wiring, moisture, overheating, and so on. Instead, plug your lights directly into the nearest power point. If there isn’t one handy, you might consider have one added. Gillece Services employs experienced electricians who can quickly install new power outlets that will make lighting up your house that much easier and safer. You’ll be the envy of everyone in Pittsburgh!
Similarly, don’t overload your power outlets with endless power strips and extension cords. A single outlet can only pump out a finite amount of power. Plugging in too many cords is asking for trouble. What is too many? Depending on the amount of power drawn by the bulb, somewhere around 180 bulbs should be your maximum. With LED bulbs you can double this number.
Always use a GFCI
You know that electrical outlet in your bathroom with the red button in the middle? That’s a ground fault circuit interupter, or GFCI. These devices prevent electrical shocks and fires by instantly cutting off the flow of electricity to an outlet when it senses a problem. If your home doesn’t have a GFCI, you should seriously considering getting them installed (All homes built after 1987 must have them in the bathroom, kitchen, and garage). They’re extremely inexpensive, yet one of the greatest innovations in home electrical safety. Home Christmas lights should always be plugged into a GFCI outlet, especially outdoor lights, which are particularly prone to moisture.
Use a Timer
Do you really need your Christmas lights on during a sunny winter afternoon? Or at 4 a.m.? Save yourself some money and reduce the risk of your lights overheating by using a timer to control your lights. (Granted, you could turn them off yourself, but if you’re like most of us, you’ll forget).
Gillece Services can recommend a quality timer that will come in handy year-round.