Thomas Edison created the first Christmas light display in 1880 at his Menlo Park laboratory. Two years later, his friend and colleague Edward Johnson decorated the first Christmas tree with 80 blinking red, white and blue electric lights. He perched it on a revolving box that turned every ten seconds. Grover Cleveland was the first president to decorate a tree with lights at the White House in 1889.
A family in LaGrangeville, NY, puts Clark Griswold to shame with their holiday light display. At 686,811 lights, they top the residential charts and have earned a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records.
But Christmas lights and decorations aren’t always fun and games. They can pose a serious hazard if you aren’t careful. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) says that last year, 173,000 people were treated in emergency rooms across America for injuries from holiday lights, Christmas trees, ornaments, and other holiday decorations over a ten-year period.
The National Fire Research Laboratory estimates that fire departments responded to an average of 200 fires each year where the Christmas tree had been the first thing to ignite.
“It’s important to make sure you follow common sense as well as tips offered by experts,” says Mark Derksen, owner of Dirk’s Electric in Fountain Hills. “If you want to do more than just a few simple strands of lights, you’ll want to know that your electrical panel can handle the load.”
We’ve rounded up 10 simple things you can do to dramatically reduce your risk for injury or fire when it comes to lighting up your holiday.
- Do not interchange indoor and outdoor lights. Many lights today are labeled as “Indoor/Outdoor”, but there are some that are uniquely designed for indoor usage only. They have not been properly sealed to keep out moisture and should never be used outdoors.
- Use LED instead of incandescent. LED lights are more expensive, but they are safer since they produce less heat. They last 25 times longer and use 75% of the electricity. LED holiday lights improve more each year with options for warmer color tones that aren’t so harsh on the eyes and that resemble incandescents.
- Only 3 light strands per outlet. You can usually find information on the product box that indicates how many strands can be connected end-to-end safely. Follow these guidelines the reduce the risk of fire. If you don’t have the boxes anymore, a good rule of thumb is “3 strands per outlet”. Use a power strip with a built-in circuit breaker rather than plugging directly into an outlet for added protection.
- Secure outdoor light strings. Winter storms and wind can dislodge your lights and cause them to rest on vulnerable areas. Use light clips or hooks to firmly secure them in place.
- Use extension cords wisely. Keep cords dry and use surge protectors. As with light strands, avoid connecting multiple extension cords end-to-end. Read the instructions on the product packaging for more information.
- Get rid of old lights. Toss those heirloom lights and buy newer, safer ones. Discarded lights are sent to Shijiao, China, the Christmas tree light recycling capital of the world where they take in approximately 20 million pounds a year!
- Don’t leave lights on unattended. The easiest way to do this is to connect lights to a timer for the hours when you will be home or remote controls that allow you to switch them on and off with a touch of a button.
- Do not use electric lights on metallic trees. This will cause your metal tree to become electrically charged and create a shocking hazard.
- Use candles with caution. What’s Christmas without the warmth and scent of holiday candles? Be sure to keep them out of the reach of children and pets and keep away from flammables such as curtains and gift wrap. Flameless candles are becoming a popular option and some even come with a remote control!
- Keep your tree from becoming a hazard. Christmas trees are the leading cause of house fires during the holidays. Artificial trees are made with fire-resistant materials, but many people still love to bring a real tree into the house. When choosing a live tree, be sure to buy it fresh and keep it well-watered. Once it’s dry it is no longer safe and should be removed from your home.
The holidays are a magical and happy time of the year. With some forethought and attention to these details, the holidays can also be safer! Happy holidays to you and your family.