Angie’s List: How to Safely Show Your Home’s Holiday Spirit

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The holidays are here and you want to show your seasonal spirit, but be careful if you plan to light up your house. Nearly 40 percent of all home fires in the U.S. occur from December through February. Christmas tree fires, in particular, are five times more deadly than other fires.

When it comes to holiday decorating, we’re often more concerned with the final look above all else, but safety experts warn that overloading electrical outlets and using worn light strands is an invitation for disaster.

“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,” Angie Hicks said.

Even if you’re using new lights, check for the U-L label and use them only as approved. Don’t place indoor lights outside, and all outside lights should plug into a ground fault circuit interrupter or G-F-C-I outlet, which can be identified by the “test” and “reset” buttons on the face. They 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,” electrician Sammie Bracken said. “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.”

Lots of older homes don’t have G-F-C-I outlets, but an electrician can convert them for about 200 dollars. 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, the L-E-D lights are a good alternative. They stay cooler, last longer and use less energy,” Hicks said. “Also, they work with any extension cord, even the ones you can find at the drug store.”

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

When it comes to connecting light strands together, experts say you should limit that to two or three unless they are L-E-D lights, then several can be linked together. Angie recommends replacing your lights every few years if they are showing signs of wear and that it’s a good idea to have a professional inspect your breaker panel if you have any concerns about overloading a circuit.