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How to have a safe Texas-sized holiday season

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By Terri Williams December 13th, 2019
4 min read
For business

It's important to follow safety guidelines this holiday season.

Everything is bigger in Texas – and that includes holiday decorations. But sometimes, being bigger can increase risks and safety hazards. There’s nothing like a trip to the ER or a visit from the local fire department to dampen your holiday spirits. We spoke with Brandon Stephens, president of The Decor Group, which provides professional holiday and event decorating services, about some of the ways to stay safe and avoid burning down your home during this festive season.

Avoid overloading electrical circuits

According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), electrical distribution or lighting equipment was involved in 44 percent of Christmas tree fires.

“A lot of fires are caused by disrupting electricity,” Stephens explained. “The probability for a fire diminishes when the circuits are not overloaded and fuses or circuit breaker panels are checked to find out what the home can handle.”

He recommends that you use no more than three standard-size sets of lights per extension cord and says you should never plug more than two extension cords together. “If your decorations are connected by a tangled web of extension cords and power strips, you may be overloading the circuits.”

Also, check your electrical cords to be sure they aren’t defective. “This includes frayed or cracked wires or broken sockets,” Stephens said. He advises against trying to repair a worn light set and recommends just throwing it away and purchasing a replacement.

“It’s also best to tape down any ground-level extension cords and keep them tucked away and untangled to avoid any hazards,” he said.  “Keep in mind that running cords through doorways or under rugs can damage the insulation on the cords. If the door closes on the cord, or if people step on it under the rug, this can cause a potential fire and/or shock hazard.”

Understanding proper circuit protectors

The NFPA also reports that U.S. fire departments respond to an average of 780 home structure fires caused by decorations (excluding Christmas trees). “Always use extension cords with a three-prong plug that are approved for outdoor use by an organization such as Underwriters Laboratory,” Stephens warned.  It’s also a good idea to use lights with the UL label, which ensures they have been verified for safe use by the independent testing company.

It’s best not to place cords near water, but if so, Stephens says they should be wrapped with plastic electrical tape, which will make them watertight and protect against potential electrocutions. “Make sure to waterproof all electrical connections and keep them elevated, this way rain water won’t drain into the connection and possibly cause a shock or short.”

Stephens also recommends making sure that individual bulb socks point downward, since this prevents moisture buildup. “For added electric shock protection, plug outdoor electric lights and decorations into circuits protected by ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs),” he said.

This type of outlet provides extra protection by shutting down the circuit in the event of overcurrent. “Portable outdoor GFCIs can be purchased where electrical supplies are sold and can be installed permanently to household circuits by a qualified electrician.”

Using indoor vs. outdoor lights

For safety reasons, don’t use your indoor and outdoor lights interchangeably. “Lights that are certified for outdoor use are specifically made to withstand cold and wet conditions, and lights that are certified for indoor use have been safety tested to make sure that they are not a fire hazard for trees,” Stephens explained.

Some lights are designed to be used both indoors and outdoors. They will have a red holographic mark. On the other hand, Stephens says indoor lights will have a green holographic UL mark that reads, “indoors only, please” to designate usage.

Another important consideration: Stephens says you should never allow bulbs to touch plastic, grass and leaves, pine needles, and other combustible materials. “Shut off electrical power when replacing bulbs and keep it off while putting up outdoor lighting,” he advised.

Make sure to use the proper climbing equipment

According to the American Ladder Institute, the top five most common causes of ladder accidents include missing the last step of the ladder when climbing down, overreaching while on the ladder, using the wrong size ladder, failing to put the ladder on level ground, and being off balance when climbing it.

“Ladders should be on level, firm ground, with leg levelers added if you’re on an incline,” Stephens said. To avoid balance issues, he recommends staying in the center of the ladder and always holding the side rails with both hands. “Leaning too far to one side while working can cause you to fall.”

Clean off any mud or liquids from the rungsand use a ladder with slip-resistant feet. “Inspect the ladder before using and check for any loose screws, hinges, or rungs that may need adjusting or replacing,” Stephens said. “It’s also best to use a dry, wooden ladder when hanging holiday lights, to reduce the chance of an electrical shock.”

Lastly, to hang decorations on your house, Stephens says you should extend the ladder at least three feet beyond the roof’s edge.

With a bit of caution and a few easy safety tips, the only fire at your house this holiday season will be the one in your fireplace.

Terri Williams is a freelance journalist with bylines at The Economist, USA Today, Yahoo, the Houston Chronicle, and U.S. News & World Report. Connect with her on Twitter or LinkedIn.