Electric holiday lights and displays sparkle and wow children and adults alike. But because too many homeowners don't know how to perform safety checks on light strings and ornaments, they're also potentially dangerous. In fact, each year it is estimated that about 12,500 people go to hospital emergency rooms for falls, cuts, shocks and burns related to holiday decorating, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).
Typical injuries like electric shock or burns result from too many light strings strung end to end, low-wattage ornaments burning high-wattage bulbs or overloaded extension cords. The CPSC and the National Fire Protection Association have composed a safety-watch list for the holiday season. Key points include:
Before stringing lights, inspect for cracked sockets, frayed, loose or bare wires or loose connections. Unplug light strings before replacing bulbs or fuses.
Replace damaged ornament parts with manufacturer-specified items. Bulbs with too-high wattage are a fire hazard.
Check light strings to see how many strings can be safely joined end to end. As a rule of thumb, don't string together more than three midgets (push-in bulbs); strings with screw-in bulbs (C7s and C9s) should have a maximum of 50 bulbs total.
Never run extension cords through water, even those labeled for outdoor use.
Always turn off electric decorations before leaving home or going to bed, and be sure all smoke detectors are in working order.
Brown or brittle needles are prone to fire, so always buy a fresh wreath or tree. Place the tree in a no-tip stand, and keep it watered. With an artificial tree, make sure it's flame-retardant. Place your tree at least 3 ft. from the fireplace or any other heat source.