Inspecting Holiday Lights

Whether you’ve been coupon trimming, dethawing, cleaning, or just salivating, I’m willing to bet your sights are on the turkey. But what about the day after? It’s a likely bet that the half of you who aren’t braving the Black Friday crowds will be home pulling out the garland, the stockings, the creepy singing figurine, and most of all the lights.

Holidays lights certainly make the season brighter, but these romantic little twinkles are actually responsible for one-fifth of the injuries from holiday decorating treated in hospital ER’s (according to US Consumer Product Safety Commission–CPSC–reports). If electric shock and fire is not on the menu this season, then I recommend continuing through some basic safety precautions with us. All it takes to examine light sets for possible defects is a few extra moments.

For All Types of Christmas Lights

After ensuring they’re unplugged, check the string of lights for frayed insulation, loose connections, and exposed bare wires. Repair (if possible) or discard sets displaying these potential trouble spots.

Check all light sockets and make sure that none of them are broken or cracked. If sockets are damaged, throw the light set away. After examining each set, place it on a non-flammable surface and plug it in for 10-15 minutes before decorating. If the set is not working properly, or if bulbs don’t light, repair or discard it. Be sure to unplug the set when decorating.

Do not cover bulbs with decorations not supplied with the set. It may not be designed to handle the increased heating and could melt (potentially exposing live parts).

For Miniature Christmas Lights

When it comes to miniature bulbs, be sure to use bulbs with the same voltage rating (e.g. a 3 volt bulb to replace a 3 volt bulb) to prevent overheating, melting and possible fire. Bulbs are not marked individually with a voltage rating, so save the voltage information on the bulb packaging. It’s worth it to prevent the danger resulting from using a bulb the incorrect voltage.

Quickly replace burned out bulbs; the remaining bulbs burn brighter and hotter for each burned out bulb. Light sets with bulbs that burn out rapidly or sets that show signs of melting around bulbs are early indications of defective or incorrect lamps. Do not use these sets.

It’s common to tightly wrap or bunch miniature lights together in a cup or pot for special effects. Unless the set is designed or recommended for this use, the heat generated by bunching the lights together may result in melting, which could expose live parts. Christmas lights are created to decorate trees and objects where bulbs are separated and their heat is not concentrated.

For Christmas Light Sets with Standard-Size Bulbs

Examine each light bulb for improper assembly. If the glass readily separates from the bulb’s base, the bulb should not be used. Check each bulb for protruding wires from the solder tip at the bulb’s base or at the side of the bulb where the glass meets the base. If you find wire protrusions, repair the defect by cutting as much of the protruding wire off as possible. Check each bulb for excessive or irregular solder at the bottom and side of each bulb base, which may prevent complete insertion of the bulb into the socket. Bulbs in this condition should not be used.

Inspect carefully the interior of each light socket. Light sets with standard-size bulbs often have bulb-holders with two metal tabs inside each socket. With the set unplugged, check to see if tabs are used. If they are, there should be a side tab and a center contact at the bottom. If these two metal parts come together when a bulb is inserted, or if these two parts are both upright, a short circuit will occur when the set is used. If you are not sure that the tabs in the socket are correctly located, have a knowledgeable repair person check the set before you use it.

In short, be observant while you get your lights out this year and be sure to test before using them.

Sandy Hayden

Content Credit: Texas.gov
Photo Credit: Christmas Lights Close Up, LED Christmas Light Sets, and Getty Images.

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