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Energy news from Omaha Public Power District


Tips to keep your holidays merry, bright and safe

December 5, 2023 | Jodi Baker | energy efficiency, energy savings, tips
Christmas door outside at night. Generate Ai

Once upon a time, decorating a Christmas tree meant balancing candles on branches. But in 1882, holiday lights went electric, with the first string of hand-wired lights placed on a tree. While that practice was a big improvement in term of safety, electricity still poses dangers of its own.

Omaha Public Power District has some guidance to help keep your holidays merry, bright and, most importantly, safe.

Decorating outdoors

“Be sure and stay away from power lines when you’re hanging outdoor lights. That includes any ladders you may be using,” said Arlo Christensen, director of Safety, Training & Health for OPPD. “That includes ladders. Always look up and be aware of your surroundings.”

Falls are typically the highest emergency room-related injuries during the holidays, Christensen said. So, inspect your ladder before climbing on it to put up decorations.

“Set your ladder up so it’s stable and not too steep. Get someone to hold it, if possible,” he advised. “Don’t reach too far. Get down and move your ladder as needed.”

Use only newer lights with thicker wiring that are required to have safety fuses to prevent overheating, Christensen said. Make sure they’re approved by a testing laboratory like UL or ETL/ITSNA.

Check labels on lights you plan to use outside, to make sure they are certified for outdoor use. Do not drive nails, staples or tacks through wiring insulation. And only plug them in to ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) protected receptacles.

“If you have not already, consider making a switch to LEDs for your outdoor and indoor lighting,” Christensen said. “They run cooler to the touch to reduce fire risks, but they also use less electricity, helping to lower your electric bill. They also last longer, saving you money in the long run.”

The US Department of Energy estimates that LED lighting uses at least 75% less energy and lasts up to 25 times longer than incandescent lighting.

Decorating indoors

Christensen has some more guidance when it comes to lighting up your Christmas tree or other indoor areas:

  • Inspect holiday lights each year prior to hanging them, looking for frayed wires, bare spots, gaps in the insulation, broken or cracked sockets, and excessive kinking or wear. Replace any lights that are old or damaged.
  • Unplug cords when you string lights. Do not link more than three light strands, unless the directions indicate it is safe.
  • Connect strings of lights to an extension cord before plugging the cord into the outlet. Make sure extension cords are rated for your intended use.
  • Do not overload electrical outlets.
  • Keep paper and tinsel away from lights.
  • Do not leave lights on unattended. Unplug lights before going to sleep or set timer to automatically shut them off.
  • Check the wires regularly to ensure they are not warm to the touch.
  • Route cords inside your home so they won’t trip anyone.
  • Do NOT place light strings under rugs, furniture or other appliances. If covered, cords can overheat or become frayed and can cause a fire.

Smart technology

One common safety recommendations for holiday lights is to never leave them on unattended. In fact, experts recommend that you turn off your lights when you go to sleep. Now, depending on the complexity and sheer quantity of lights you have set up, that could entail a lot of work. But smart technology can do a lot of that work for you.

If you have your tree or other holiday lighting plugging into a smart outlet or smart plug, you can simply turn the lights on or off from your smartphone. Some LED rope lights (if not most of them by now) are already preprogrammed to be smart rope lights you can control from an app on your phone.

Better yet, you can use smart devices to program when all of your lights should turn on and off each day.

Avoid fire hazards

holiday safety

Finally, the holidays are a prime time for fires in the home. In fact, one of every four Christmas tree fires in homes is caused by electrical problems.

Even though they are not common, Christmas tree fires are more likely to be serious, according to the U.S. Fire Administration.

Beyond the tree itself, the holidays often also involve candles and decorations that are subject to fire hazards. Statistics show the top three days for candle-related fires are Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. Overall, candles start two out of five home decoration structure fires.

The infographic below from the U.S. Fire Administration offers more tips to ensure a fire-free holiday season.

For more information on electricity safety, visit


EE_Holiday Lighting_2019_infographic

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About Jodi Baker

Jodi Baker writes stories and shoots videos for The Wire. Jodi was a television news reporter before she came to work for OPPD as a media specialist in 2013. Jodi earned her degree in broadcasting from the University of Nebraska-Omaha. She's worked for news stations from her hometown of Omaha to sunny San Diego. She’s married with two bright and energetic children (a boy and a girl) and an allergy-ridden little Cairn Terrier. She and her husband enjoy catching up on some grown-up DVR time once the kiddos are asleep.

View all posts by Jodi Baker >

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