The Survival Guide To Christmas Decorations
Eight Major Hazards and How To Avoid Them
We know, it’s not even Thanksgiving yet, but our intrepid field team has been all abuzz about the amount of Christmas decorations they’ve already seen. Never ones to miss an opportunity, as part of our Survival Guide series, we’re here to present our top eight hazards for Christmas decorations and how to avoid them, as well as our top tips for a disaster-free holiday season. We even have a few tips that will save you a little money on that power bill.
8. Frayed/Cracked Cords
One of the most frequently seen electrical issues with Christmas decorations is the myriad of problems that can be caused by cracked and frayed wires. We are all guilty of using old lights and lighted decorations a few years more than is safe. The two most significant risks with frayed and cracked wires are shocks and fires. Shocks, of course, are caused by wiring, losing its insulating layer. Fire can originate from many sources: charged wiring heating up plastic or metal tree limbs, short-circuits causing overheated power strips and sockets, and arcing from exposed wiring causing decorations to catch fire.
7. Socket/Circuit/Panel Overloads
To safely hang electrical decorations, it’s crucial to understand how the electrical system in your house works. Power comes in through your main electrical service, which routes to your main electrical panel. This panel then distributes the energy throughout your home using circuits.
Attached to each circuit is a breaker, which will interrupt the power flow once it exceeds its limit. Any number of sockets, switches, or devices can be attached to a single circuit, but the average breaker is rated for 15-20amps of load.
To calculate how much strain an item puts on the circuit, you need to do a little math, multiplying the wattage of the device by the voltage of the socket it plugs into. For example, a 1200w microwave plugged into a standard 120v outlet places a load of 10amps. If you were to run two of those microwaves simultaneously on a 20amp circuit, you would likely trip the breaker, because most 20amp breakers will trip at 16amps for safety.
When plugging in decorations, it’s essential that you carefully consider how many items plug into any given circuit that will operate at the same time. Most decorations will list their power rating on the packaging, or a label attached to the cord. If your decorations exceed the rating, you will likely trip the breaker. Worst case scenario, though, the breaker is worn and can’t react quickly enough to protect the rest of the system from a surge; that’s how a surge becomes a fire.
It’s easy to think to yourself, “it’s fine; I’ll just make sure it’s plugged in inside.” Most of us have considered it at one time or another, but it is a firm NO! when it comes to switching indoor/outdoor devices.
The only real concern with using outdoor decorations indoor is that more massive decorations require 240v three-prong plugins that can overload a circuit.
There are many risks with using indoor decorations outdoors:
- Shock from water, snow, ice
- Fire from overheated power strips and sockets
- Shock and fire from worn cords
- Surge damage to other circuits and devices in the home
Outdoor decorations may cost a little more than their indoor variant, but the extra insulation and weather-tight construction are definitely worth the peace of mind they bring. The only question that matters is if you feel the risk of thousands of dollars in damaged appliances and devices is outweighed by the handful of dollars you save by using indoor lights outdoors.
It may sound a little obvious, but there are a great many people who will string Christmas light strands across screws and nails. While it will hold the strands, wind and rain will slowly wear away at the insulation in the wires as they rub against the bare metal, leaving them at risk of shock and surge through short-circuits. There are several very cheap clips, rubberized staples, and adhesive options available to make hanging lights a safe and straightforward affair.
4. LED Alternatives
Traditionally, Christmas lights use small incandescent bulbs because they are cheaper and more easily mass-produced. In recent years though, the price point of LED alternatives has decreased sharply, making them a much more affordable and practical option. Not only are LEDs less prone to overheating, but they will also continue to operate around blown bulbs, and they consume significantly less power, making them cheaper to run and less straining on your circuits and panel.
Our Service Detectives service experts always recommend LED versus the older incandescent bulbs because they last longer, are cheaper to run, are safer, and more reliable.
3. Smart Controls
The majority of Christmas decoration related fires occur when houses are unoccupied, or the occupants are asleep. It’s all too easy to forget to turn off those lights when you leave the house or lay down at night – a recipe for disaster.
Previously, complicated mechanical timers were the only practical option to allow you to turn decorations on or off automatically. In the Smart-Digital Age, dozens of new alternatives have risen. From smart plug sockets to smart switches, remotes, wifi-ready and Bluetooth enabled decorative choices, to whole-home smart systems controlled by Amazon’s Alexa, Google’s Assistant or Apple’s Siri – whatever your choice, it has never been easier to manage your Christmas decorations remotely and with any degree of intricacy.
Whatever your needs, our Service Detectives service experts are here to advise, guide, and assist you through whatever decorative decisions you make.
One of the smartest and most cost-effective ways to prevent your system overloading and surging through your circuits is to ensure that your decorations are all plugged into GFCI’s. Ground-Fault Circuit Interrupters are breakers built into sockets and power strips that provide an extra level of protection, ensuring that surges are caught before they can damage any other equipment. Many modern homes use GFCI’s in almost every socket, as do midrange power strips.
All Christmas decorations should be plugged into GFCI’s to ensure that no surges, particularly in poor weather, are able to take out your home’s power at a critical time.
1. Dedicated Circuits
Whatever your ambitions with Christmas decorations, whether they be modest strings of icicle lights, or a veritable festival of lights, animatronics, and dancing light shows, the very best top tip from our service experts is to use dedicated circuits for your decorations. Virtually all main electrical panels have a number of free breaker slots that can be used to provide dedicated power to new circuits. These dedicated circuits reduce the circuit load and increase the number of decorations that you can run, as well as reducing or eliminating risk to appliances, heating and cooling systems, and regular lights and sockets by providing another separation between these weather-exposed decorations and the main operating circuits. Dedicated circuits can be run to sub-panels and junction boxes that not only increase your safety by including GFCI’s into the mix, but also allows for far more convenient placement of power access without needing to run many long extension cords through the yard, windows, and doorways.
No matter what decisions you make concerning decorations in the holiday season, our team of dedicated service experts here at Service Detectives are here to ensure that our Southern Illinois families are safe, blessed, and comfortable. If you need any advice or are ready to get some work done to really have a blow-out Christmas, don’t hesitate to reach out to our friendly, professional office staff at 618.993.HELP , book online, or use our handy dandy contact form and one of our office elves will reach out and book an appointment with one of our service experts.
All of us here at Service Detectives want to wish our Southern Illinois families a happy and blessed holiday season and thank you for all that you do for us. We care more because your family is our family too!