(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is one in a series of articles about winter safety preparations.)
It may be funny in “Christmas Vacation” when Clark Griswold falls off a ladder, shorts out the neighborhood, or gets his tree on fire — but that is just a movie, believe it or not.
In real life, any of the above would be a tragedy, and according to the experts at the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, these sorts or disasters are simple to avoid — and are certainly worth the effort.
Holiday product safety tips begin with the center of most decorating schemes, the tree:
• When purchasing an artificial tree, look for the label “Fire Resistant.” Although this label does not mean the tree won’t catch fire, it does indicate the tree is more resistant to burning.
• When purchasing a live tree, check for freshness. A fresh tree is green, needles are hard to pull from branches and do not break when bent between your fingers. The trunk butt of a fresh tree is sticky with resin, and when tapped on the ground, the tree should not lose many needles.
• When setting up a tree at home, place it away from fireplaces and radiators. Because heated rooms dry live trees out rapidly, be sure to keep the stand filled with water. Place the tree out of the way of traffic and do not block doorways.
• Indoors or outside — use only lights that have been tested for safety by a recognized testing laboratory, such as UL or ETL. This indicates conformance with safety standards.
• Use only lights that have plugs containing fuses.
• Check each set of lights, new or old, for broken or cracked sockets, frayed or bare wires, or loose connections. Throw out damaged sets. Always replace burned-out bulbs promptly with the same wattage bulbs.
• If using an extension cord, make sure it is rated for the intended use.
• Never use electric lights on a metallic tree. The tree can become charged with electricity from faulty lights, and a person touching a branch could be electrocuted.
• Before using lights outdoors, check labels to be sure they have been certified for outdoor use.
• Stay away from power or feeder lines leading from utility poles into older homes.
• Fasten outdoor lights securely to trees, house walls, or other firm supports to protect the lights from wind damage. Use only insulated staples (not nails or tacks) to hold strings in place. Or, run strings of lights through hooks (available at hardware stores).
• Turn off all holiday lights when you go to bed or leave the house. The lights could short out and start a fire.
• Use caution when removing outdoor holiday lights. Never pull or tug on lights — this could cause stress on the connections that could create a fire hazard.
• Outdoor electric lights and decorations should be plugged into circuits protected by ground-fault circuit interrupters to protect against electric shock.
• Portable outdoor GFCIs can be purchased where electrical supplies are sold. GFCIs can also be installed permanently to household circuits by a qualified electrician.