Shining a Light on Holiday Decoration Dangers

christmas lights
Posted at 5:30 AM, Dec 15, 2015
and last updated 2016-07-04 11:54:55-04

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTXL) -- The holidays are here! But making your home merry and bright can also add danger. 

Nearly 40-percent of all house fires happen from December through February.  Christmas tree fires, in particular, are five times more deadly than other fires.  Some advice on how to stay safe in this Angie's List report.

When you're decking the halls this holiday season... be careful.

"Like most people, I like to keep my decorations from year to year, but you need to check them before you put ‘em up each year to make sure you don’t have any broken light bulbs or any frayed cords because, if you do, you need to replace those items," said Angie Hicks, founder of Angie's List.

Never put indoor lights outside. Even if you’re using new lights, check for the UL label.

"Depending on what you’re plugging in, non-grounded outlets with a non-grounded plug-in are actually as safe as they can be. They’ve been tested to be used in a certain manner. That’s what the UL code talks about," said electrician Sammie Bracken.

Anything you do have outside should plug into a ground fault circuit interrupter or GFCI outlet, which  help prevent electric shock and potential fires.

"They determine how much load is on the hot wire and how much load is on the neutral wire. If those two things are balanced, it allows it to work. If there’s too much on the black wire and not enough on the white wire, as in when someone is being shocked, there’s an imbalance and it will actually shut off," said Bracken.

Lots of older homes don’t have GFCI outlets, but an electrician can convert them for about $200. A less expensive option is to purchase an adapter that plugs right into your standard outlet.

If you're thinking about new lights this year, LEDs are a good alternative.

"They stay cooler, last longer and use less energy. Also, they work with any extension cord, even the ones you can find at the drug store," said Hicks.

If you're connecting light strands together, limit it to two or three unless they're LED lights. Then you can link several. Be sure to replace your lights every few years if they are showing signs of wear.

It’s also a good idea to have a professional inspect your breaker panel if you have any concerns about overloading a circuit.