Festivity Without Fires: Safety Tips for Holiday Lights

When the holiday season rolls around, some of us have a taste for the extravagant, dressing up the outside of our homes and surrounding foliage with 25,000 twinkling lights, imported from Italy. Others go for the whimsical, displaying a giant inflatable Santa in the yard that lights up at night to greet the neighbors. Perhaps you prefer to keep it simple, placing several traditional candles in the windows. Unfortunately, all of the above are hazardous.

According to the Electrical Safety Foundation International, holiday lights and other decorative lighting cause 150 fires each year. Christmas trees are responsible for another 260 home fires. 

Yet there are less risky options that are just as festive. Innovations in holiday décor make the celebratory lights safer, not to mention less expensive. Here are some helpful tips from Eversource to ensure that your holiday illumination is safe and affordable.

Before you begin hanging the lights:

  • Make sure you're using lights that have been safety tested (check the box) and are appropriate for the way they'll be used.
  • Ensure that lights being placed outside are labeled for outdoor use.
  • Check all of your lights, especially older ones, for broken or cracked sockets, frayed or bare wires, or loose connections. Throw away any damaged sets. Inspect your extension cords as well.
  • Practice meticulous extension cord safety. Never run cords under rugs or coil them tightly around themselves, which can cause them to overheat.
  • Consider a programmable timer to your strings of lights to ensure lights are not accidentally left on. This also helps regulate energy use and reduce cost.
  • Plug outdoor lights and decorations into "GFCI" grounding outlets. Portable GFCI units can be purchased where electric suppliers are sold.
  • Always look up before decorating outdoors. Never raise ladders or extend objects into or near power lines.
  • Use only lights approved by OSHA-certified laboratories, like Underwriters Laboratory (UL).
  • To reduce the risk of fire, don't overload a circuit. Also, use holiday lights with light-emitting diodes (LEDs), which are much cooler to the touch. Plus, they use just one-tenth the energy of traditional mini-lights.
  • Always turn off the lights when you are not home.
  • Use extension cords that are rated to carry the electrical loads connected to them.
  • Use caution not to drive nails, staples or tacks through wiring insulation.