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Originally published Friday, December 6, 2013 at 8:02 PM

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HomeWork | The safe way to light up your home for the holidays

Holiday lights and other decorative lighting with line voltage are involved in an average of 160 home-structure fires each year. Here are some things you can do to minimize the risks.

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Q: Can you offer some holiday-light safety tips?

A: Holiday lighting makes long winter nights seem brighter and more festive. No wonder we love it!

A recent Electrical Safety Foundation consumer survey found that more than 86 percent of Americans decorate their homes as part of their winter holiday celebrations. Almost two-thirds use electrical lights in their indoor decorating, and more than half use lighted decorations outside their homes. More than 60 percent use at least one extension cord.

According to estimates by the National Fire Protection Association, holiday lights and other decorative lighting with line voltage are involved in an average of 160 home-structure fires each year. Those incidents cause an average of nine deaths, 13 injuries and $9 million in property damage annually. Electrical failures or malfunctions are factors in two-thirds of those fires.

Following a few safety guidelines will minimize the risks so your holiday season is both bright and safe.

Each year, inspect all electrical decorations before using them. Cracked or damaged sockets, bare wires and loose connections can cause a serious shock or start a fire.

Candles start almost half of all home fires related to decorations, so it’s important to minimize the risk.

Consider using battery-operated candles in place of traditional candles. If you do use a real candle, never leave an open flame unattended, and keep burning candles within sight at all times. Never use a lighted candle on a tree or near other greenery. Extinguish all candles before you go to sleep, leave a room or exit the house.

Along with battery-operated candles, choosing LED lights is a smart choice because LEDs use less energy and are made with epoxy lenses instead of glass, which makes them more durable.

When working with lights or lit decorations, be sure to match the power needs of electrical products with the amperage rating of your extension cords. Use only products and extension cords that are specifically approved for outdoor use.

Plug all outdoor lights and decorations into circuits protected by ground-fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs). If your circuits are not GFCI-protected, you can buy portable outdoor GFCIs at most electrical-supply stores. They require no special training or equipment to install, and they’re an important safety precaution.

If you are using incandescent lights inside or out, never connect more than three strands together.

As you decorate outside, keep in mind that it is important to keep extension cords and light strings clear of snow and standing water. Do not mount or support light strings in a way that might damage the cord’s insulation.

It is popular to leave holiday lights on all night, but experts urge us to turn off all indoor and outdoor electrical decorations before leaving home or going to sleep.

And keep in mind that holiday decorations are meant for temporary use. Leaving decorations up for extended periods leaves wires unnecessarily exposed to the elements, which can decrease the product’s shelf life and increase the risk of electrical hazards.

HomeWork is the weekly column by the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties’ Remodelers Council about home care, repair and improvements. If you have questions about home improvement, send them to


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