There's no doubt Clark Griswold skipped this chapter on Christmas light safety, but that doesn't mean you should!
You probably remember the scene from National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation where Clark is trying to get the Christmas lights to work. He strings up the whole house, brings the whole family out in the snow to see it, turns them on—and they all turn off. His wife, Ellen, heads to the basement and is confronted with about 30 different plugs all connected to one another coming from a single outlet powered by a single switch. Soon after she flips the switch, all the lights come glaring on. The neighbors are so blinded that they fall down the stairs, and then the whole town has a blackout.
Or how about the scene where the cat chews on the electric cord and burns an imprint into the recliner, or when Uncle Lewis lights his stogie too close to the Christmas tree and sets it on fire? National Lampoon has no "shortage" of electrical hazards (get it?), but we think Christmas light safety is no laughing matter!
Before You Begin Decorating
No matter whether you've lived in your house for 20 years or this is your first year decorating, Christmas light safety should be a priority. According to a study by the Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI), more than 86% of Americans decorate their homes as part of their winter holiday celebrations. And two-thirds of those who do use electric lights inside, while more than half use them outside.
One recommendation we make this year is looking into replacing your old lights with LED lights. LED Christmas lights only use one-third of the energy of traditional Christmas lights. Not only will you save electricity, but they don't burn as hot as those old lights you've been recycling for a decade, so they're good for your wallet too—cooler lights don't burn out as easily. (Cue the verse from The 12 Pains of Christmas: "When one light goes out, they all go out!"). In fact, LED lights can last up to 20 years.
Our next recommendation is replacing the plugs you have used in the past. More than 60% of the people from ESFI's study reported using at least one extension cord when decorating their homes for the holidays. Christmas light safety comes in big here, because overloading power strips is a significant holiday hazard, and the older your equipment, the greater danger it becomes for winter fires in and around your home. Try to leave at least one outlet available to ensure you don't overload.
Tips for Decorating with Lights
Most Christmas light aficionados will hang lights outside their homes, sometimes on bushes and the home itself. But many people will also put them in their windows, and most will string them around their tree. And, more than 200 house fires per year begin with Christmas trees. A report from the National Fire Protection Association said that, Christmas tree fires resulted in "an annual average of seven civilian fire deaths, 19 civilian fire injuries, and $17.5 million in direct property damage."
If you use a fake Christmas tree, note that hot lights on a plastic tree are an obvious danger. Fake Christmas trees will emit dioxins when burned and create all kinds of other toxic fumes in the process. Of course, real trees aren't excluded from danger. Keep your Christmas tree hydrated so it doesn't dry out. Dry needles pose a fire hazard just like they do in forests. The U.S. Fire Administration says "one of every three home Christmas tree fires are caused by electrical problems, and a heat source too close to the tree caused roughly one in every six."
If you're using lanterns or bulb candles in your windows as decor for the holidays, use a timer. Although most newer products contain LEDs which pose less of a hazard, it's better to know that these lights around your home are off while you sleep.
Although Christmas trees are the primary concern when it comes to home fires, the outdoor lights can cause issues too. Just last year, a home in Texas caught fire when a string of lights sparked and set the deck ablaze.
To avoid fires, select high-quality lights that are designated for the outdoors and that have safety ratings. Choose those that have been tested by the UL (Underwriters Laboratory) or ETL (Edison Testing Laboratories). If you prefer to keep using older sets, check for any damage to the wires that could cause a short. Finally, don't use metal, like nails and staples, to hang your lights; use the insulated hooks and light clips that come with your sets.
For a little extra insurance this holiday season when practicing Christmas light safety, brush up on your homeowners insurance. We write these tips hoping you won't need to use them this holiday season, but it's better to be safe than sorry!
Talk to your local insurance agent to learn more about our home insurance policies and to receive a free home insurance quote and coverage comparison.