Holiday Lights Safety Smarts
When you're decking the outside of the house, heed this expert advice
Every holiday, there’s one house in the neighborhood people make a point of driving by because it’s so cleverly decorated, or just so god awfully decked-out, it’s a must-see. But even if you like to string up just a few sets of lights to celebrate the season, follow this checklist to keep a Griswold-type fiasco from befalling you.
Related: 8 Disaster-Proof Your Holiday Décor
1. Check your lights every year. Look at the wires and sockets. Throw out any sets with fraying cords, broken bulbs, loose connections or cracked sockets, advises John Drengenberg, consumer safety director at UL.
2. Make sure lights and extension cords are suitable for outdoor use. Look for the UL mark with "UL" in red, which means a representative sample of the product has been tested for outdoor safety. If "UL" is green, the product is suitable for indoor use only. Keep wires and extension cords away from low-lying areas where water could pool, advises Drengenberg.
3. Don’t overload extension cords. Look at the label on the cord to check its electrical capacity. Then look at the label on the lights or decorations you want to plug into it. The sum of the power used by the decorations should not exceed the capacity of the cord.
4. Hang lights using plastic hooks. Use plastic hooks available at hardware stores — never metal nails and staples — to secure lights and cords to structures, advises Drengenberg. Don't route cords through doors or windows. Doing so could crush the cord and pose a serious fire hazard.
5. Use ladder smarts. The CPSC estimates there were 15,000 injuries involving holiday decorating seen in ERs nationwide during November and December 2012. Falls accounted for the biggest chunk of them.
Related: 8 Ladder Safety: How Not to Get Hurt
The CPSC offers these tips:
- Place a straight or extension ladder 1 foot away from the surface it rests against for every four feet of ladder height.
- Face the ladder when you climb and grip the rungs, not the side rails.
- Maintain three points of contact on the ladder, whether it’s two hands and one foot or two feet and one hand.
- When climbing, keep your hips between the side rails and don’t lean too far to either side or overreach. Reposition the ladder closer to the work instead.
- Use ladders with slip-resistant feet and wear dry, slip-resistant shoes.
- Get down right away if high winds, rain, snow or other bad weather starts.
6. Take them down after 90 days. At that point, it gets embarrassing to have holiday decorations up anyway. But the better reason is to prevent possible damage to the lights from bad weather and even neighborhood animals. Holiday lights are intended and tested for temporary use. "They are not light fixtures," notes Drengenberg.
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