The Ultimate Holiday Lighting Safety List

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The holiday season is upon us, and that means homeowner and renters around Indianapolis will soon dress their homes, inside and out, with lights. Light strands have grown safer over the years, but the inherent risk of fire and electrocution from these decorations still exist.

As Christmas approaches and you plug in electric decorations, keep in mind the hazards of these products. The U.S. Fire Administration reported between 2009 and 2013 that decorations alone caused an average of $13.4 million in property damage each year. In order to help you stay safe during the holidays, we at White’s Electrical have put together the ultimate holiday lighting safety list.

Do You Need New Lights?

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  1. If you’re still using lights with incandescent bulbs, consider upgrading to lights with LED bulbs. LED bulbs pose many advantages over incandescent ones. In terms of safety, they do not produce as much heat, and therefore are far less likely to cause fires for this reason. LEDs also last up to 20 times longer than incandescent bulbs, so you’re less likely to experience problems with burnt out bulbs. The bulbs on LEDs are also less likely to break than those on incandescent bulbs because LED bulbs are made with an epoxy, while incandescent bulbs use glass. This means that if you keep your cords in good shape, your LED light strands will last you much longer than an incandescent light strand. Last, LED bulbs are also brighter than incandescent ones, so people can enjoy your holiday spirit all the more.
  2. Before buying light strands or other electric decorations, check for the safety compliance labels. Products should be marked with a symbol from Underwriter’s Laboratories (UL), Interlink (ETL), or the Canadian Standards Association (CSA). These organizations make sure products comply with safety standards. Their seal means they have inspected and tested the product and approved it in terms of safety.

Before You String Up the Lights

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  1. First, look over the light strands and check for broken or cracked sockets, loose connections, or frayed wires. If you come across damaged strands, throw them out. Frayed wires can easily transmit heat and electrical current and therefore cause fires or electrocution. Loose connection and cracked sockets are dangerous because they can easily deteriorate and expose live elements (parts with an electrical current) like wires.
  2. Read the manufacturer’s instructions and warnings before stringing up the lights. The manufacturer will include information about amperage and wattage, and it will provide information on how to properly use the lights. Make sure you follow these instructions to remain as safe as possible.

Striking a Cord with Safety

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Courtesy State Farm, “Holiday fire safety – Power strip overload”

Cords require their own section in this safety list, as misuse of these devices abound. Safety tips for electrical cords during the holidays include:

  • Plug outdoor lights and decorations into circuits protected by ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs). These interrupters disrupt electricity if a short occurs in the line (with your body possibly being the cause of the short). Portable outdoor GFCIs are available if your circuits aren’t protected with GFCIs.
  • Make sure the amperage of outdoor lighting meets the amperage of the cords you’re using. In other words, only use cords that can handle the load you’re putting on them.
  • Do not ever overload multiple plug outlets. Overloading an outlet produces considerable heat and can cause fires.
  • Similarly, never string multiple plug outlets together. Only ever plug these devices into an electrical receptacle in the wall.
  • Keep cords out of standing water and snow.
  • Only use extension cords outside that are approved for outdoor use.
  • Keep cords out of high-traffic areas so they don’t become frayed or worn. If they cross a walkway, make sure to protect them with a cord cover.
  • Likewise, do not place cords under rugs, carpets, through doors, or through windows. Do not place them in any place where they will be pinched and worn.
  • Remove leaves that collect on top of cords. When leaves dry out, they can easily catch fire.

While You String Up the Lights

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Safety first: Don’t stand on metal ladders when handling live electrical wires.

  1. String up your lights before you plug them into an electrical outlet. This will help ensure you do not accidentally electrocute yourself if the light strand becomes damaged. If you have to replace bulbs at some point, make sure you unplug the cord again before doing so.
  2. Do not hang the lights in a way that damages the wires’ insulation. Don’t, for example, use push pins to hold up the wires.
  3. Stand on a wooden or fiberglass ladder while hanging lights. Metal ladders conduct electricity, so you are more at risk of electrocution while on one.
  4. Stay at least 10 feet away from power lines at all times.

Where to Safely Place Christmas Lights

Don’t let light bulbs rest on tree needles or branches, especially if you’re using incandescent lights and a natural tree. The heat from the bulbs may light the tree on fire. The National Fire Protection Association reports that between 2010-14 that Christmas tree fires caused $16.2 million in property damage every year, and the U.S. Fire Administration states that electrical problems caused a third of these fires.

Besides making sure bulbs don’t rest on the branches, make sure you keep the trees away from sources of heat, such as multiprong plugs, heat registers, and fires.

Once You’re Finished with the Lights

Christmas Holiday Electrical Safety - White's Electrical Indianapolis Indiana LED LightsBefore going to bed at the end of the night, make sure to unplug your Christmas lights. Practically, few people will see the lights through the night, so you will be wasting money. In terms of safety, turning off the lights will allow them and their surroundings time to cool after producing heat for several hours. You also want to be away in case a fire did begin in order to combat it or leave the premises.

Likewise, if you’re leaving your house, turn off your lights to eliminate the risk of a fire. If you still want your lights to turn on at night, hook them up to a timer.

How to Safely Dispose Broken LED Bulbs

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LED bulbs are on track to replace CFLs as the lighting method of choice. They’re more energy efficient than CFLs, they last longer, and they don’t contain mercury — a poisonous heavy metal used to create CFL lightbulbs. However, although LEDs don’t contain mercury, they do contain other toxic substances, of which consumers are largely unaware. Because LEDs so have toxic substances, it’s important to know how to safely dispose of LED bulbs.

LEDs are a Good, Energy-Efficient Choice for Lighting

First, it’s important to note that LEDs are excellent choices for lighting. They’re 90 percent more efficient than incandescent light bulbs. That efficiency means homeowners who replace incandescent lights with LED bulbs will save on average $4 per year per bulb per year, which over the lifespan of a LED bulb amounts to $163 saved. And that’s with an estimated LED bulb price of $8.

But LEDs are much less expensive than they were even in recent years. 60-watt equivalent bulbs currently average between $1.50 and $2.50 per bulb on Amazon, making them very affordable.

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LEDs also outshine their CFL cousins, literally. CFL bulbs, though still much more efficient than incandescent bulbs, consume more energy than LEDs. And they’re notorious for not shining at full brightness for several seconds after being switch on. Plus, homeowners cannot control these bulbs with dimmer switches, something they can do with LED lights.

Besides all this, although LEDs do contain toxins, aren’t by considered toxic by law, which means you can dispose of them at the landfill (although we encourage recycling).

LED bulbs are simply the best choice on the market for residential and commercial lighting needs, and no home- or business owner should shy away from installing them. Quite the opposite — they should be looking to retrofit their residence if they haven’t already.

Toxins in LED Lights

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Going with LED lights for their benefits doesn’t mean ignoring safety. It’s well known that LEDs contain lead, arsenic, and other potentially harmful substances. A study published in 2010 in Environmental Science and Technology specifically identified low-intensity, red LEDs as most often containing the highest amount of toxic materials. The study identified white LEDs as having the last amount of lead but still containing nickel, another heavy metal.

Disposing of Broken LEDs

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The study therefore suggests that people treat broken LEDs as hazardous materials. If an LED lightbulb breaks in your home or workplace:

  • Put on protective gloves and sweep up the LED pieces into a plastic bag using a stiff piece of cardboard (if you use a broom, consider disposing of the broom after using it).
  • Next, use sticky tape to pick up any small fragments left over. Put the tape with the fragments into the plastic bag.
  • When all the pieces are picked up, place the bag in a sealable container.

Because LEDs aren’t considered toxic by law, you can dispose of the fragments with other landfill materials. If you want to dispose of them in a more environmentally manner, contact your local municipal agency for instructions.

Municipal agencies in central Indiana include:

If your LED bulb has simply dimmed out (LEDs don’t burn out; they emit less light over time), you can either throw it away or recycle it at a local recycling center, via an online recycler, or with a local retailer who accepts LEDs.

If you’re looking to retrofit your business or otherwise want LED lighting, contact White’s Electrical to learn how we can meet your needs.

Safe Electrical Outlets for Your Home or Business

GFCI Tamper-Resistant outlet Indiana White's ElectricalElectrical safety is something we bring up often in our blogs, and for good reason! Being smart – and safe – when it comes to working with electricity is critical for any homeowner, business owner, or DIYer. Ensure safe electrical outlets are installed in your home or business.

Since 2008, the National Electrical Code has required all outlets at new installations be tamper proof. Sadly, each year 2,400 children in the United States are electrocuted, burned, or even killed by sticking items in electrical sockets.

To prevent accidental electrocution, several improvements have been made to make outlets safer for children and adults alike.

Ground-Fault Circuit Interrupter

One improvement, invented in 1961, is the ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI). You’ve likely seen a GFCI before — they’re the wall sockets with reset buttons on them. The National Electric Code requires they be installed in all new bathrooms, crawl spaces, kitchens, most outdoor receptacles, and unfinished basements.

GFCIs work by monitoring the difference between the current going into and out of an appliance. If that difference is greater than 5 milliamps, the GFCI shuts off the electrical flow. This difference in flow indicates a possible ground fault, meaning electricity is being directed through a source other than the wiring – that other source possibly being your body.

Tamper-Proof Wall Outlet

Another improvement is the tamper-resistant wall outlet. These are the outlets with spring-loaded shutters inside them that must be compressed at the same time to gain access to the electrical system. The National Electric Code not only requires these outlets at new and renovated homes but at other properties where children are likely present.

If you have children, are remodeling, or simply want to make your home or business safer, you should consider replacing any existing outlets, especially old, two-prong versions, with safer GFCI and tamper-proof versions.

There’s no reason your house’s electrical system should pose a hazard. If you’re concerned about your current wall outlets or electrical system in general, contact your local electrician to schedule an inspection.

Broken Appliances Can Cause Electrical Damage

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When an appliance starts dying, you might have to replace more than the appliance itself — if you ignore the problem. This is because broken appliances can send power surges through your home’s electrical system that will damage other appliances and, at worst, start a fire.

Signs of a Broken Appliance

It’s fairly easy to determine when an appliance is broken. Signs that you either need to repair or replace an appliance include:

Tripped Circuit Breakers

One of the first signs that you have an appliance that’s nearing the end of its life is that it trips the circuit breaker when running. If an appliance that has worked in the past suddenly trips the circuit breaker (and you’re not overtaxing the circuit with other appliances), don’t simply flip back on the circuit breaker and continue to run the appliance. The appliance might have sent a surge through the wiring, and it might do so again. Inspect the appliance for evidence of a malfunction.

Bad Switches

When outlets and switches suddenly stop working, it is a sign that a surge might have passed through your electrical system. Telltale signs of a large surge include scorch marks and melted plastic. If you find these signs, hire a licensed electrician to repair the damage.

Smoke

If you smell or see smoke (or burning smells) from your appliance, you need to call a repairman. Smoke and indicates that some internal components are burning and might have even caught fire. If the smoke doesn’t go away after turning off the appliance, use a fire extinguisher to quell the fire or call 911.

Heat

Unless your appliance is a toaster oven or other device that is supposed to quickly heat up, it should not produce excessive, external heat. Heat is an indication that something is wrong, and it can lead to a fire. Stop using the appliance if it is getting hot.

Noise

Loud or awkward noises are another indication that something might be broken in your appliance. If your appliance once ran quietly, take noise as an indication that something needs fixed.

Decreased Performance

An obvious sign that your appliance is on its last leg is that it stops performing well. When your refrigerator sweats, produces too much frost, or no longer keeps food cold enough, you know it needs replaced. Similarly, when other appliances stop doing their job, replace them as soon as possible.

Lights Out

When electrical components such as buttons, pads, and screens stop working, it’s a sign that there might be something wrong with the appliance’s circuitry. If the appliance is new, you might be able to return it to the manufacturer or store from which you bought it for a replacement. If not, consider hiring a repairman.

Types of Damage

Old appliances - Broken Appliance - White's Electrical - Indianapolis Indiana ElectricianIt’s important not to ignore broken appliances because they can damage not only your electrical system but other appliances in the same circuit. Small power surges within a circuit happen often, such as when a refrigerator or AC unit switches between its on-off cycle. But when something malfunctions, it can send larger surges that cause damage. There are three types of damage broken appliances can cause: surge, physical, and fire.

Surge Damage

Surges occur when an appliance sends a large push of electricity through a circuit. These surges hurt other appliances in circuit by damaging microprocessors and other sensitive computer components. Large surges will, of course, fry electrical equipment. But small surges will damage equipment, too. Small surges produce cumulative damage that ultimately decreases appliance lifespan and performance.

Physical Damage

Larger surges can also hurt things like light switches and outlets. As said, if a surge damages these components, you will have to contact an electrician to repair them.

Fire Damage

Appliances that have degraded can start fires two ways. The first is when an electrical short within the appliances sparks a fire. Tiny fires that flare up can ignite wallpaper, insulation, trash, curtains, and anything nearby that can burn. The second way they start fires is through surges. Surges increase the heat wires produce. Wires might catch insulation or other material on fire. And surges can cause fires in outlets and light switches.

If you think there might be a problem with an appliance you own, don’t ignore the issue. You will eventually have to replace it, so it is better to deal with the problem now and prevent further damage than to put off the chore and expense. If you put it off, you risk having to replace more appliances. Replace the appliance or call a repair professional to fix the underlying problem. If an appliance has damaged your home’s electrical system, call a licensed professional to help repair the damage and make sure your home is safe.