Decorate with safety in mind

Christmas lights are already popping up all over the Harbor and we’re guessing that this weekend a lot more people will be decorating their homes.


It almost seems like more lights went up earlier than usual this year. Perhaps we’re all in the mood for extra light and cheer after holing away in our homes so long! Besides, holiday activities, celebrations and festivities are so diminished this year because of the coronavirus pandemic, driving around looking at lights may be one of the last vestiges of holiday traditions that is still considered safe.


Speaking of safe, while we all love the cheer of sparkling lights, we want you and your home to be safe. No one wants a tragedy because of frayed lights, overloaded outlets or flammable decorations or a ladder fall. So, here are some tips to keep things bright and light, but not hot!


Decorate safely outdoors

Use only outdoor lights outside your home. Also, use only lights evaluated by a recognized testing laboratory, such as Underwriters' Laboratories (UL).

  • Check each set of lights, new or old, for broken or cracked sockets, frayed or bare wires, or loose connections. Dispose of any set with damage, they’re inexpensive, compared to replacing your home or paying for medical bills!

  • Shut off electrical power when replacing bulbs and keep it off while putting up outdoor lighting.

  • Before putting up lights, check each light set by setting it on a nonflammable surface and plugging it in for 10-15 minutes to see that the lights don't melt or smoke.

  • Use no more than three standard-size sets of lights per single extension cord.

  • Always use extension cords with a three-prong plug that are approved for outdoor use. Never use indoor extension cords outside.

  • Avoid standing in water while handling electrical wiring or using power tools.

  • Use a dry, wooden or fiberglass ladder when hanging holiday lights, to reduce the chance of an electrical shock. Always use a ladder standoff with extension ladders! Also, be sure to stay clear of overhead electrical wires!

  • Waterproof all electrical connections and keep them elevated so that rain water won't drain into the connection and possibly cause a shock or short circuit.

  • For added electric shock protection, plug outdoor electric lights and decorations into circuits protected by ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs). Portable outdoor GFCIs can be purchased where electrical supplies are sold.

  • Fasten outdoor lights securely to trees, walls, or other firm supports to protect the lights from wind damage. To hold in place, use only insulated staples (not nails or tacks) that are hammered in. Using a staple gun increases the chance of electrical shock. Or, run strings of lights through hooks.

  • Never allow bulbs to touch combustible material, such as plastics, pine needles or leaves and grass.

  • Turn off all lights when you go to bed or leave the house. The lights could short out and start a fire.


Trim the tree beautifully and safely

Many of you likely will be searching for the perfect Christmas tree this weekend. Or perhaps you plan to make the traditional search-for-the-perfect-Christmas-tree trek soon.

Aren’t we lucky around here to have lots of beautiful, fresh trees to choose from?

Sadly, the natural Christmas tree, which is found in more than 33 million American homes, tops the list of potential holiday hazards.

Heed the advice for the outside lights and carefully inspect your Christmas tree lights throwing out any that have signs of excessive wear.

Here are some other tips for a safer tree:

  • Use an artificial, laboratory (UL) evaluated, flame retardant tree.

  • If you use a fresh tree, make sure it is very fresh – easy to do around here! Cut the trunk again right before placing it in water and keep it watered.

  • Make sure all lights are evaluated by a testing laboratory such as UL.

  • Do not place tree near a heating source.

  • Unplug tree lights when you leave the house or go to bed.

  • Do not link more than three light strands together unless the directions indicate it is safe. Connect strings of lights to an extension cord before plugging the cord into the outlet.

  • Periodically check the wires – they should not be warm to the touch.

  • Have smoke alarms on every level of your home and in every bedroom, and ensure that they are tested monthly. After about 10 years, smoke alarms need to be replaced.

  • Regularly water the live tree.


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