December 1, 2022
Once upon a time, decorating a Christmas tree meant balancing candles on branches. But in 1882, holiday lights went electric, with the first string of hand-wired lights placed on a tree. While that practice was a big improvement, electricity still poses dangers of its own.
Today is National Christmas Lights Day, and Omaha Public Power District has some guidance to help keep your holidays merry, bright and, most importantly, safe.
Avoiding shock hazards
- When hanging outdoor lights on your home or outdoor trees, stay away from power lines. That includes any ladders you may be using.
- Check labels on lights you plan to hang outside to be sure they have been certified for outdoor use. Only plug them into ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) protected receptacles.
- While outdoor lights are rated to handle moisture, such as snow, be sure to keep water away from indoor lights.
- Do not drive nails, staples or tacks through wiring insulation.
- Never use electric lights on a metallic tree. The tree can become charged with electricity from faulty lights, and a person touching a branch could be shocked or electrocuted.
- Do NOT place them under rugs, furniture or other appliances. If covered, cords can overheat or become frayed and can cause a fire.
Avoiding falls & trips
- Inspect ladders before using them. Falls are typically the highest emergency room-related injuries during the holidays. Set your ladder up so it’s stable and not too steep. Get someone to hold it, if possible. Don’t reach too far; get down and move your ladder as needed.
- Route cords inside your home so they won’t trip anyone.
Avoiding fire dangers
- Inspect holiday lights each year prior to hanging them. Look for frayed wires, bare spots, gaps in the insulation, broken or cracked sockets, and excessive kinking or wear. Replace any lights that are old or damaged.
- Use only newer lights with thicker wiring that are required to have safety fuses to prevent overheating. Ensure they are approved by a testing laboratory like UL or ETL/ITSNA.
- If you have not already, consider making a switch to LEDs. They run cooler to the touch to reduce fire risks, but they also use less electricity, helping to lower your electric bill. They also last longer, saving you money in the long run.
- Unplug cords when you string lights. Do not link more than three light strands, unless the directions indicate it is safe.
- Connect strings of lights to an extension cord before plugging the cord into the outlet. Make sure extension cords are rated for your intended use.
- Do not overload electrical outlets.
- Keep paper and tinsel away from lights.
- Do not leave lights on unattended. Unplug lights before going to sleep or set timer to automatically shut them off.
- Check the wires regularly to ensure they are not warm to the touch.