One holiday tradition you may have is decorating your home with elaborate lights and decorations that signal the season. For some, a simple string of lights here and there are enough, but others create elaborate displays that dazzle anyone who passes by. Whatever your preferences might be, it’s important to make sure you’re decorating safely.
Fires sparked by holiday lights can be an unfortunate occurrence and while improvements in holiday lighting products and other decorations have made decorating safer than ever, it is still possible to make a mistake that could lead to serious damage or even injury. If you want to decorate your home safely this holiday season, here are four mistakes you need to avoid.
Stapling Through Wire Shielding
One of the most trusted and common tools used to hang holiday lights is the staple gun. These make hanging lights easy by quickly tacking them up to the eaves of your home or anywhere else they will be hung temporarily. While removing them can be a nuisance, it unquestionably saves a good chunk of time and frustration by hanging them up this way.
However, staple guns are not the ideal tool for hanging lights because staples often have sharp, jagged edges and the force used to push the staple into the mounting surface is often enough to puncture the plastic shielding around the electrical wires that compose your holiday light strands. When you plug in the cable, the current flows through the staple, which creates resistance, gets hot and can ultimately cause damage to your home and even spark a fire. We recommend shielded tack staples that are driven in by a tack hammer or mounting small hooks where you want to hang lights. This allows you to safely dangle the light strands without the risk of puncturing the protective coating on the strand.
Not Using Outdoor-Rated Extension Cords
All extension cords do the same job, but not all extension cords are created equally. Some cords are created using cheaper and lower-quality material and, in most cases, are fine for low-wear and low-risk applications. That generally makes them acceptable and safe for indoor use. However, an indoor cable is not designed to withstand the abuse and wear of outdoor exposure. Outdoor-rated cords may seem expensive and needlessly large, but they are designed that way on purpose. They often have tougher shielding that is resistant to crushing, pinching, penetration or severing - thus preventing potential accidents. They usually have a ground connection to improve safety and likewise, they are often created using element-resistive materials that can resist extended exposure to unfiltered UV light from the sun. While you should never permanently use an extension cord for any application, temporary applications like holiday decorating are fine, as long as you use a cord that is rated for outdoor use.
Pinching Electrical Wires in Doors or Windows
If you don’t have a convenient, easily-accessible electrical outlet, the easiest place to find one is typically right inside your home. That might mean feeding a cord through a door or window. However, there are two problems with this. First, what happens when you try to close that door or window? If you have a proper, tight-fitting seal, the electrical cable could become pinched in the doorframe or window track. This causes damage to the cable, possibly ripping the insulation and creating a dangerous electrical situation. Likewise, pinching a cable could cause it to fold too sharply, resulting in the wire splitting apart and severing and exposing wires with a lot of live current flowing through them. We don’t recommend running cables through doors or windows unless proper relief has been put in place to protect the cable from damage.
As for the second reason why this isn’t safe…
Not Protecting Outlets with a Ground-Fault Interrupter (GFI)
Most indoor outlets that are not located in places where water is commonly found, such as bathrooms, utility rooms or kitchens, are often not protected by a GFI - an important safety device that prevents sudden surges of current from causing serious injury or even death. We strongly recommend that any and all outdoor electrical usage be done with an outlet protected by a GFI, but that may not be possible if you’re feeding a cord indoors through a door or window. This risk is further magnified by a lack of proper grounding, which isn’t that uncommon with a lot of different holiday decorations. For this reason, we strongly recommend getting your power from a properly protected source and running extension cables to wherever they are needed. It may be some extra work, but the safety is well worth the time and extra cost.
Need help keeping your electrical system reliable this holiday season? Request a safety inspection from the team at Valley Heating, Cooling, Electrical and Solar by calling (408) 868-5500 today!