MADISON (WKOW) -- A lot of us are getting into the holiday spirit and hanging lights, but before you do, think it through. Nearly 40% of house fires in the U.S. happen December through February. Christmas tree fires are five times more deadly than other fires.
Overloading electrical outlets and using worn light strands is an invitation for disaster. Angie Hicks, founder of Angie's List, says, "You need to check them before you put 'em up each year to make sure you don't have any broken light bulbs or any frayed cords because, if you do, you need to replace those items."
Even if you have new lights, check the label. Don't place indoor lights outside. All outside lights should plug into a ground fault circuit interrupter, or GFCI outlet, which can be identified by the "test" and "reset" buttons on the face. They help prevent electric shock and potential fires. Electrician Sammie Bracken says, "They determine how much load is on the hot wire and how much load is on the neutral wire. If those two things are balanced, it allows it to work. If there's too much on the black wire and not enough on the white wire, as in when someone is being shocked, there's an imbalance and it will actually shut off."
A lot of older homes don't have GFCI outlets, but an electrician can convert them for about $200. A less expensive option is to buy an adapter that plugs right into your standard outlet. "if you're thinking about new lights this year," Hicks says, "the LED lights are a good alternative. They stay cooler, last longer and use less energy."
Bracken adds, "Depending on what you're plugging in, non-grounded outlets with a non-grounded plug-in are actually as safe as they can be."
When it comes to connection light strands together, limit that to two or three, unless they are LED lights. Then you can do more. Angie recommends replacing your lights ever few years.
It's also a good idea to have a professional inspect your breaker panel if you have any concerns about overloading a circuit.