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.
“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.
Christensen has some more guidance when it comes to lighting up your Christmas tree or other indoor areas:
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.
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 OPPD.com/safety.
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