With the holidays being upon us, people everywhere are breaking out the ladders and stringing up their lights to decorate their home with festive displays for the holidays. Whether you’re a simple, low-key decorator with just a few decorative bulbs or the envy of your neighborhood with a display that makes your utility company sweat, there’s one thing that’s most likely true: you’re going to be using electricity for your decorating needs.
You more than likely know one serious safety rule about using electricity: don’t use it around water. Water acts as a conduit for electrical current to escape to the ground with minimal resistance. The sudden surge of power can cause severe injury to people or animals in the way or severe damage to your home’s electrical equipment. However, using electricity outside means you’re almost certainly going to be using it where water could be present, so what can you do to keep this risk as low as possible?
The good news is that outdoor electrical equipment has become not only more affordable but safer over the years. What used to be a fairly substantial risk in the past is now more or less an afterthought thanks to incredible developments that have made the use of electricity in outdoor applications safer and easier than ever before. With that being said, however, you still have to take your outdoor decorating seriously and make sure your electrical setups are safe to use.
Here are four best practices for outdoor decorating that you should follow when decorating this holiday season.
Use Outdoor Rated Cords & Equipment
Thanks to an influx of extremely inexpensive cords from China and other major manufacturing nations, it’s not uncommon to find extension cords, power strips, and other electrical equipment for sale for extremely low prices. In fact, you’ve probably seen them around: there are thousands of them for sale on major online retailers like Amazon and you can even find them in big-box stores and home improvement warehouses. The low price may seem appealing, but you need to know what you’re getting: a low-quality device that’s more than likely not built to withstand even moderate use.
In much the same way, no two extension cords are alike. The cheapest extension cords are the indoor-rated ones that usually are shielded by nothing more than a cheap, thin plastic to make them as inexpensive as possible. These cords will not withstand the rigors and hazards of outdoor use, and therefore should never be used outdoors, even in a temporary setup. Always make sure any extension cords you’re going to use for decorating are outdoor-rated, listed by a recognized authority such as UL, NSA, or CE.
Use Fuse-Equipped Devices & GFCIs
Fuses are a tremendous electrical safety advancement, and they’re hardly new. Fuses are essentially a resistor in an electrical circuit that gives out when too much energy flows through the line. If too much voltage or current were to ever flow through a fuse, the fuse itself would burn out and disconnect the circuit, stopping the energy flow. This can prevent everything from fires to injuries. Many companies are beginning to put fuses in outdoor electrical equipment, such as specialized lights, LEDs, and more. Try to use fuse-equipped electrical equipment wherever possible for maximum safety.
GFCIs are sort of like fuses, only instead of blowing out completely they simply switch off until reset. When these devices sense too much current flowing through, they trip and shut off power. However, unlike a fuse that simply needs replacing, all you need to do is simply reset the GFCI and your power will work again. Electrical code already requires GFCI outlets in any location where electricity may be present, so always make sure you’re plugging your outdoor electricity into one of these protected plugs for added safety.
Put Your Lights on an Automatic Timer
Automatic light timers are highly affordable and can take a lot of the stress and headaches out of holiday decorations. Forgetting to turn them on will be a thing of the past, as will forgetting to turn them off. Modern timers can even work alongside light sensors to turn your lights on as soon as the sun goes down. This not only makes sure your lights turn on and off consistently but also keeps your electrical consumption down and prevents the risk that comes from leaving your lights on for an excessive amount of time. Certain decorations are only meant to operate for a certain amount of time each day, so making sure they shut off in time can ensure they continue to last.
Don’t Staple Lights to Your Roof or Eaves
Finally, one of the most popular ways to hang lights on the eaves of your home is with a trusty staple gun, a la Clark Griswold in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Staples are cheap, fast, and easy, but they have a problem: they could be dangerous. Staples often have sharp edges or burrs to them, and the force of the staple being pushed out of the staple gun can push these burrs through the plastic shielding around the wire connecting your lights. All it takes is the smallest amount of contact and that staple begins taking on electrical current the moment you plug your lights in. The staple can become red-hot with the current flowing through it, potentially even sparking a fire.
While it is rare, do yourself a favor and avoid the hassle of using staples to hang your holiday lights. Drilling in screws is one reliable and sustainable way to do it, as is simple stick-in lighting hooks that can be hung up with no tools beyond a ladder.
If you’ve got an electrical problem preventing your holidays from being bright and beautiful, call Carter Services at (310) 872-1898 to schedule a service appointment.