House with holiday lights

Three Considerations for Electrical Professionals to Help Educate Consumers about Outdoor Decorative Holiday Lighting Safety

Normally, I would not be so excited to acknowledge the fact that the year is coming to a close. But this year is not a normal year. I think I speak for all of us when I say I am glad to be closing out all these months of craziness. With that being said, the end of the year can only mean one thing, it’s the holiday season. I can’t think of a better way to take my mind off what’s happening than to spend time celebrating the things we can be thankful for. There’s nothing like friends and family to put all of this into perspective and remind myself about how blessed I really am, even if the gatherings are taking place via video conferencing platforms.

However, there are a few things to keep in mind during this season of celebration to ensure that it runs smoothly. One of the often-overlooked areas that present possible fire, life safety, and electrical hazards is decorative holiday lighting. It never fails that every year we hear about fires or injuries caused by misused or misapplied lighting. And it stands to reason that this is because consumers and users of temporary decorative lighting products are under informed of the dangers these products present. The good news is that the world has professionals like all of us to spread the word about properly using strands of temporary lighting.

The NEC is a good place to start regarding what is required for these systems.

One of the major points is the time frame in which we use this equipment. The NEC restricts these decorative holiday lighting displays to 90 days. And for good reason. Often this lighting is installed outdoors, on bushes, and on trees and is exposed to the elements and many factors that can lead to damage or deterioration of the insulation on the conductors. This presents many shock and fire scenarios that can simply be avoided if the lighting displays are limited in how long they are up. So it is very important that this rule gets followed.

However, safety related codes and standards like the NEC only work when they are followed and often, they are only followed if they are enforced. So, how are we to feel safe knowing that each year millions of people put these light displays up and have no idea what the requirements are or even that there are requirements? Does the average homeowner know that these lighting strands need to be listed and labeled? Do they know the time constraints? How about the special conditions they must follow if they put lights in vegetation? The fact is, they don’t know about them and there is nobody to enforce these rules most of the time. And to be clear, I am not advocating that local jurisdictions add these types of installations to their list of inspectable installations, but I am advocating for us as electrical professionals to help educate the public on why these rules are so important.

Just like the mechanic that helps walk you through how your car works, we as electrical professionals need to educate our customers on how the rules apply and why it is important for them to follow the rules. Often the public knows little more than how to turn the switch on, the light comes on, and that’s it. By helping them understand how to safeguard their installations from the dangers that electricity presents, we ultimately help make the world a safer place. It’s a big world, let’s protect it together!

Find tips, information, and free downloadable resources to share with homeowners by visiting NFPA’s winter holiday safety webpage

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