When Halloween Lights Help Prevent Winter Holiday Lighting Problems

by Dee Thierry and Matt Woo, P.E., RCDD, LEED AP BD+C

It was lunchtime and Electrical Engineer Matt Woo and Engineering Production Specialist, Charlie Nelson had volunteered to string up the festive orange and Tarantula studded lights in preparation of our Halloween costume party and potluck. We discovered that what was once a full string of orange and a full string of Tarantulas, when paired together, broke down to produce a dark corner. Try as they might through trial and error to find and replace the bad bulb(s), more than a sigh could be heard as the effort seemed to be greater than the reward, especially when Halloween was a single day.

While our party lights were meant to add festivity to our brief lunchtime affair, there are important lessons learned about strand lighting and safety! As we approach the holidays, many are adorning their homes, inside and out, with extra lighting to reflect the cheer of the season. These lights may remain installed for two and sometimes three months, so it’s important that they be installed correctly and safely. Per the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), during November and December 2014, there were 12 estimated fatalities and 145,000 injuries treated in hospital emergency rooms all related to holiday decorating.

Festive Lighting, Done Safely!

Brilliant Christmas tree lights with reflection on glass in background.

Let’s protect home and hearth from mishaps by following a few easy tips:

  • Check each set of lights, new or old, for broken or cracked sockets, frayed or bare wires, or loose connections.
  • Discard damaged sets or repair them before using. If you want to try a repair, Popular Mechanics has a handy how-to guide, including tools needed to attempt a repair.
  • Replace burned-out bulbs promptly. Empty sockets can cause the entire string to overheat. Always use a bulb of the same wattage to replace the old one.
  • Use no more than three standard-size sets of lights per single extension cord. Using more than three can overload extension cords and/or outlets.
  • Never remove safety fuses in light strings or change the size of the fuses.

Additional Considerations

Upgrade to LED

The expense and electrical needs for LED and incandescent lights can be vastly different. They require different power, with LED requiring less power than incandescent to run. Multiple strings of large incandescent lights may likely require two or more dedicated electrical circuits to handle all the lighting loads, whereas many LED lights will likely be able to be fed from a single electrical circuit. If your decorating plans call for a large amount of lights, replacing your old incandescent lights with new energy saving and low maintenance LED lights will save you a ton of money in electricity and help avoid those painful nights trying to trouble-shoot those last few strings of lights that are not working.

Know What’s Connected

It’s very important to know what else is connected to the circuit that your lighting is plugged into. A circuit that is already feeding other lights, receptacles, or equipment may likely become overloaded and trip the electrical circuit fuse or circuit breaker when the lights are connected and turned on.

Prevent Tripping and Tampering

In addition to being a tripping hazard for children and adults, cats may want to chew on string light wires. Be sure to cover exposed wires from the electrical outlet to wherever they lead. You can tape them down or run them through an empty paper towel tube, wrapping paper roll, conduit, or split tubing to offer additional protection. Don’t forget to cover exposed outdoor lighting wires as well. Outdoor lights may also attract squirrels!

Mitigate Fire Hazards

Incandescent stand lights can get hot. Keep curtains or drapes away from hot lights, which can ignite and catch on fire. Avoid using non-electric lighting like candles or gas lanterns near trees, evergreen garlands, or flammable decorations. Never use lighted candles on a tree or near other evergreens. And of course, keep matches, lighters, and candles out of the reach of children!

Taking a few simple steps before starting a lighting project should make the work easier and safer so that you, your family, friends, and neighbors might enjoy a brilliant light display this holiday season.

Christmas holiday lights in Crystal Cove on the edge of Laguna Beach and Newport Beach.Happy Holidays!

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