Dec. 08, 2021 | Tyler Difley
Four Christmas light safety tips to avoid falls, fires and shocks
As Clark Griswold’s experience in “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” illustrates, installing Christmas lights can be fraught with danger without the right precautions.
Here are four safety tips you should be following to avoid falls, fires and electric shocks when you install your indoor or outdoor holiday lights this year:
1) Examine and test your lights
Plugging in a strand of lights with any empty sockets can cause fire or shocks and broken bulbs can cut you, so make sure you replace all broken or missing bulbs. While you’re at it, swap any lights that have burnt out. Most string lights come with replacement bulbs, but they can also be purchased at hardware stores like Canadian Tire, Lowe’s and Home Depot.
This is also a good time to assess the overall condition of your light strands. Frayed or loose wires and missing insulation are all bad news, so make sure you repair or replace strands as necessary.
2) Limit strand length
The rule of thumb for incandescent lights is to avoid connecting more than three strands together. Each successive strand ups the amount of current travelling through the wires, which can overload your circuits and cause a fire. LED lights are more forgiving, but you should still check the packaging for an idea of how many strands you can safely connect.
3) Plug into a GFCI outlet
Ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) outlets reduce the risk of shocks or fire by immediately shutting off the power if there is too much current flowing through the circuit. GFCI outlets are easy to spot – you should be able to see reset and test buttons between the plugs.
Using a GFCI outlet for your lights is particularly important outside, where exposure to the elements can damage electrical equipment and create the conditions for a short circuit.
4) Use the right equipment for the job
It’s important to use outdoor lights for outdoor applications, as these products have been designed to withstand wild weather and fluctuating temperatures. The same goes for indoor versus outdoor extension cords, so make sure you read the labels carefully. While you’re looking at the label, make sure your lights and extension cords are UL certified, which means the product meets recognized safety and sustainability standards.
If you’re climbing up to your roof to hang outdoor lights, there are a couple more equipment considerations worth noting. Where possible, opt for a wood or fibreglass ladder instead of a metal one, which conducts electricity and can lead to shocks. Also, once you’re up there, make sure you use proper fasteners to hold your lights in place. Do not use staples, tacks or nails, as these can pierce light strands and damage wire insulation, leading to shocks and short circuits.