Thomas Edison is credited with creating the first Christmas light display in 1880 at his Menlo Park laboratory. In 1882, his friend and colleague Edward Johnson was the first to put lights on a Christmas tree with 80 blinking red, white and blue electric lights. He placed it on a revolving box that turned every ten seconds. The first president to decorate a tree with lights at the White House was Grover Cleveland in the year 1889.
Clark Griswold’s efforts seem puny in comparison with the Guinness Book of World Record winners, the Gay family in LaGrangeville, NY. They top the residential charts with 601,736 lights!
But Christmas lights and decorations aren’t always fun and games. They can be a serious hazard if you aren’t careful. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) says that last year, 13,000 people were treated in emergency rooms across America for injuries from holiday lights, Christmas trees, ornaments, and other holiday decorations.
The CPSC also estimates that between 2009 and 2011, fire departments responded to an average of 200 fires each year where the Christmas tree had been the first thing to ignite. This resulted in 10 deaths, 20 injuries and $16 million in property damage.
We’ve gathered 10 simple tips to dramatically reduce your risk of injury or fire when it comes to lighting up your holiday.
- Do not interchange indoor and outdoor lights. If lights are not labeled specifically for the outdoors, they have not been properly sealed to keep out moisture and should never be used outdoors. Be sure to look for the “Indoor/Outdoor” label before choosing outdoor lights.
- Use LED instead of incandescent. Although LED lights are more expensive, they are safer since they produce less heat. They last 25 times longer and use 75% of the electricity. LED holiday lights get better every year, with options for warmer color tones that aren’t so harsh to look at and resemble the softer glow of incandescents.
- Only 3 light strands per outlet. Check the information on the product box to know how many strands can be connected end-to-end safely. Follow these guidelines to reduce fire risk. If you don’t have the boxes anymore, a good rule of thumb is “3 strands per outlet”. Use a power strip with a built-in circuit breaker instead of plugging directly into an outlet for added protection.
- Secure outdoor light strings. Winter storms and wind can shift your lights and cause them to rest on vulnerable areas. Use light clips or hooks to secure them firmly in place.
- Use extension cords wisely. Keep cords dry and use surge protectors. Avoid connecting multiple extension cords end-to-end and read the instructions on the product packaging for more information.
- Get rid of old lights. Throw out those heirloom lights and purchase newer, safer ones. Discarded lights are sent to Shijiao, China, the Christmas tree light recycling capital of the world where they take in approximately 20 million pounds a year!
- Don’t leave lights on unattended. The simplest way to do this is to connect lights to a timer for the hours when you will be home. Remote controls are another option that will allow you to switch them on and off with a touch of a button.
- Do not use electric lights on metallic trees. This will cause your metal tree to become electrically charged and create a shock hazard.
- Use candles with caution. Everyone loves the wonderful scent of holiday candles. But keep them out of the reach of children and pets and keep away from flammables such as curtains and gift wrap. Flameless candles are becoming a great alternative and some even come with a remote control!
- Keep your tree from becoming a hazard. Christmas trees are the leading cause of house fires during the holidays. Artificial trees are manufactured with fire-resistant materials, but real trees have not lost their popularity. When choosing a real tree, be sure to buy it fresh and keep it well-watered. Once it dries out it is no longer safe and should be removed from your home.
The holidays are a magical and happy time of the year. With some forethought and attention to these details, the holidays can also be safer! Happy holidays to you and your family.