About this time of the year we start getting the holiday lighting calls. They range from simple questions about installs to the “I think I blew something up”. Here is a top 10 list to help keep those holiday lighting projects safe, fun, and frustration fee.
1) STANDARD INCANDESCENT LIGHTS – Not all ornamental lights are created equal. If you are using the old standby 120 volt ac powered strands with replaceable lamps look for ones that are of a feed thru design – that means they still work even if a lamp is out (this will be indicated on the box). Nothing is more frustrating than a whole strand that goes out because of one bad lamp. Also be careful how many you link together; in many cases the manufacture only allows for 2 or 3 strands to be plugged into each other – exceeding that limit can be dangerous and will cause them to burn out much more quickly (many companies now install in-line fuses in the cord end to prevent this).
2) LED LIGHTS – these are becoming more popular and do offer some significant benefits. Because of the lower power consumption you can link A LOT more of these together. The high end products have replaceable lamps, but most are of a sealed variety that does not allow for individual lamps to be replaced. The better LED lights come with a separate “driver” that connects the first strand to the outlet (see picture). Also keep in mind that LED light colors can vary a lot from company to company and will typically look different than the standard lights – check the color in the store before you buy.
3) CONNECTIONS – Look for strands that have weatherproof connection points – typically some kind of 2 pin / 2 piece connector with a gasket (see picture). If you use the standard 2 prong plug together type lights try to wrap the connections with good electrical tape or put them in a sandwich bag and seal the bag with tape or a twist tie.
4) EXTENSION CORDS – use good quality cords with 14 gauge wire (or larger) that are rated for outdoor applications. Be careful were you route the cords (smashing them in windows or doors is always bad) and how you install them – nails and extension cords don’t mix well J
5) GFCI PROTECTION – the NEC code states that any temporary power or lighting of this type installed out of doors should be GFCI protected. A GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupter) is a specialty outlet that shuts off in the event of a fault to ground… basically when ever you use electrical cords and lighting that has the potential to get wet they are a must (see picture).
6) LIVE WIRES and METAL SIDING – if you your home has aluminum siding or you are hanging lights from metal surfaces (like gutters) take EXTRA CARE. These surfaces are very conductive, just like a wire, but often have no effective path to ground. Just this week we had a call were a defect in a wire caused 120 volts to be flowing in the aluminum siding of a home. This is a very bad situation that can cause a sever shock under the right conditions.
7) OVERLOADED CIRCUITS – We see this one a lot… couple of 50 foot extension cords that have undersized conductors (like 16 or 18 gauge), with several hundred feet of lighting strands plugged into them, running back to a garage light that someone (of course not you) has taken the lamp out of and screwed in one of those “plug in adapters”. Remember that all that conductor length and all those lights are adding significant load and resistance to a circuit. As resistance goes up, so does AMPERAGE. It is really easy to overload an existing circuit with that plug in Santa you want out by the road. Overloaded circuits get hot, when things get hot enough they burn.
8) LADDERS – be cautious of using metal ladders around electricity – do I need to say more about that, really! Also remember that more people get hurt from falls from ladders than any other single workplace / home accident – most fatal falls are form short distance under 12’. Try to refrain from putting up lights on an icy afternoon after too much of your “special” eggnog and leftover turkey sandwiches – running outside without your coat on while shivering too much to actually focus on what you are doing.
9) STORAGE – still looking for a good way to store your lights so that they are ready to use next year and don’t become a tangled up mess. Old wire spools work great for this; best part is you can get these for free from about any electrical supplier or electrical contractor. They really do help make install and take down painless. Here is how we do it >>> leave all the strands connected together, put the spool on a pipe and a set of jack stands and you can roll / unroll easy as pie (see picture).
10) TESTING and ORIENTATION – test your lights before you put them up, and make sure you have the correct end of the light strand at the right location before you spend the day covering the house, only to find out that that you are trying to plug in 2 of the same cord ends together
This topic dedicated to all the Clark Griswolds everywhere – you know who you are!