ELECTRICAL SAFETY FOR THE HOLIDAYS – The winter season is when many homeowners and renters temporarily redecorate their dwellings inside and out to commemorate the holidays. Often the decorations require electricity for operation and extension cords are usually used to deliver power where it is needed. Sometimes the cords are run through windows or under doors and are plugged into electrical receptacle outlets that are the most convenient.
If installed correctly, extension cords and holiday decorations can bring some holiday excitement to your household. If done wrong, fire, electrical shocks, and even electrocution become possible.
Extension cords should be properly sized for the load that they will be carrying. Cords smaller than 14 gauge should not be used. If using an extension cord outside it should be rated for outdoor use. Outdoor extension cord wiring must be plugged into an electrical receptacle outlet that is GFCI protected to help reduce shock hazard and electrocution.
To reduce nuisance tripping of the GFCI from outdoor decorations, elevate the plugged connections between extension cords and tree lights and other decorations. Drape the plugged connections on top of a piece of wood or log. This will keep water from directly entering the plugs from rain or snow flooding. It will also allow the plugs to dry faster when the sun comes out. I do not think that it is a good idea to wrap plugged connections in plastic bags. Condensation can build up inside and cause arcing.
Extension cords that are used indoors should be AFCI and GFCI protected. Arc Fault Circuit Interrupters will help protect against arcing and sparks which can create fires. Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters will help protect against electrical shocks and electrocution.
Leviton manufactures a dual function AFCI/GFCI electrical receptacle that is designed to replace any ordinary electrical receptacle in your home. It also has the capability of providing protection for all electrical outlets downstream of this device. You can see a sample of a dual function receptacle at Amazon.
In addition to holiday decorations, the winter season also sees the use of portable heaters around the home for supplemental heat. Caution should be used when operating a portable electric heater in the home. Be sure that the wattage rating of the heater does not exceed the capacity of the circuit wiring that it will be connected to. I think that a good rule of thumb is to keep the heater size to 80% of the electrical circuit capacity. For instance, the average electrical circuit in a home is rated for 15 amps which at 120 volts can handle up to 1800 watts. 80% of this is 1440 watts. A 20 amp circuit that is normally used in kitchens and dining rooms can use 1920 watts (80% of 2400).
Electrical receptacle outlets that are not normally used during the year, but are used heavily during the holidays can create problems. Sometimes older electrical receptacle outlets have loose wire connections inside of the wall. Sometimes older electrical receptacle outlets have loose contact prongs where the inserted plug makes contact. Both of these situations can become hazardous as an electrical load is connected. The increased power draw on loose connections will generate heat and sparks which can lead to a fire. Arc Fault Circuit Breakers can reduce the fire hazard by shutting power off at the first sign of a spark.
Check to make sure that the electrical decorations that you buy as well as the needed accessories are laboratory tested for the use. They should have a UL tag on them or the mark of some other electrical testing laboratory. Having a testing laboratory label indicates that the manufacturer paid the testing laboratory to test their product for the use that it was intended and that it passed the tests. Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s directions for the use of their product.
Another hazard that becomes more apparent around the holidays are falls. When hanging decorations around the house, use a ladder to get up high. Do not stand on a chair, or a step stool, or a table, or a bucket, or anything not intended to elevate you safely. Use a properly sized ladder to get to where you need to. One bad fall can ruin your holiday now and forever.
Have a happy and safe holiday season,