With the holiday season upon us, many families are unboxing decorations and stringing lights outside and in. Here at Doctor Fix-It, we know that while the festivities are magical, they can also add a lot of usage to your home’s electrical load, potentially causing shorts or even fires. So before you add that holiday cheer to every room of the house (and the driveway…and the mailbox…), make sure that you’ve completed this electrical-use checklist; the only flames this season should be in the fireplace!
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Check Your Holiday Lights
The excitement of pulling decorations out of storage means that we’re often in too much of a hurry to examine everything before use – the extra time is worth it, though, to make sure that your holidays are filled with sparkle rather than sparks. Check light strands for any frays or broken bulbs. Also, take the time to check indoor/outdoor specifications on your decorations and extension cords. Items labeled “indoor only” are not water-resistant enough to be outside, so reserve those for use inside your home only. If you’re purchasing new items, consider LED lights rather than traditional incandescent; the electricity usage is much lower, and most strands can continue functioning safely even when some bulbs have burned out.
Inspect and Test Outlets
As you’re organizing your lighting displays, visually inspect the outlets and test any GFCI buttons to make sure they work (these are the “test” and “reset” buttons on outlets in areas near water like the bathroom and kitchen). Any signs of damage, rust, frayed wires, or a GFCI test button that doesn’t work, means that you should call a professional right away. Similarly, if your kitchen and bathrooms don’t have GFCI outlets, upgrading now will help keep your family safe year-round.
Locate and Examine Your Electrical (Fuse) Panel
If you don’t already know where your electrical panel is located, now is the perfect time to find it! Often in bedroom closets or the garage (although sometimes outside your home on an exterior wall), the electrical panel is key to safety during the season. Complete a visual inspection of the panel to make sure you don’t see signs of rust or excessive wear and tear – if you do, call a professional right away to help diagnose and fix the problem. Similarly, check that all the circuit breakers are in working order; they should all switch on and off easily and stay in the “on” position without trouble – if one keeps flipping back to “off,” there could be a problem with the fuse, and you should call an electrician.
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Know Your Capacity – and Invest in Timers!
Once you’re familiar with your electrical panel, you can check to make sure that all the extra holiday lighting won’t overload your capacity on any circuit. The idea is to make sure that all of your electrical inputs (appliances, lights, motorized decorations, etc.) don’t total more than the available amperage on any given circuit. The easiest way to avoid an overload is to plug holiday items into outlets on lower-usage circuits and stick to manufacturer recommendations for the maximum number of light strands you can connect together (they’ve done the math!). If you want to check for yourself, get out some paper and be a holiday math elf using this formula: Amps=watts/volts (and American homes run on 120 volts). You’ll quickly find that LED displays use much less electricity (lower wattage!) and allow for more decorating without overload worries. Similarly, investing in timers to make sure that your decorations turn off during the day when you’re at high-energy-usage is a smart way to conserve.
Plan Outdoor Displays Strategically
Decorating outdoors can be a festive way to spread holiday cheer for your whole neighborhood, and planning your displays strategically can help keep things safe. Locate your exterior outlets and plan your design with those as starting points; connecting too many extension cords together is a fire hazard and can overload the system! Also, check to see if your exterior outlets have bubble covers that can be closed while in use – these newer designs keep rain and snow off more effectively and can be purchased at most hardware stores. If your existing outlets don’t meet your needs, consider calling a professional to install new ones – the investment now will save you time and money in the future!
Adding lights and décor during the holidays are traditions that require a little safety-check upfront but are well worth the effort. At Doctor Fix-It, we can help ensure that there aren’t any electrical issues in your home during the holidays and year-round! If you need help making this season safe, memorable, and a little bit brighter for your family, give our professionals a call today.