Holiday safety tips for home decorating, cooking and lighting

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Energy Education Council

 This week rings in a season of spending time with friends and family, shopping, gift-giving, decorating, baking, and cooking. Safe Electricity offers tips to help ensure that this busy and festive time remains a safe one.

"As you prepare for holiday and family celebrations, look for and eliminate potential threats that could mar holiday entertaining, decorating, and lighting," advises Molly Hall, executive director of the Energy Education Council and its Safe Electricity program. "Taking simple safety steps can help ensure a safe and bright holiday season."

Holiday entertaining often involves cooking for family and friends. According to the National Fire Protection Association, Thanksgiving is the peak day for home cooking fires, followed by Christmas Day and Christmas Eve. From 2007-2011, cooking equipment was the leading cause of home structure fires, and unattended cooking was by far the leading factor in these fires. So Safe Electricity urges you to:

  • Stay focused and attentive to baking, brewing, and simmering foods.
  • Keep cooking areas clean and clear of grease.
  • Never plug more than one high-wattage appliance into a single outlet.
  • Make sure outlets near sinks are equipped with properly tested ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs). GFCIs cut off power instantly if there is an electrical problem, saving you from a dangerous shock.
  • Always have a working fire extinguisher on hand, and know how to operate it.

Your home may see increased traffic-including children and pets-over the holidays. Make sure all electric cords are out of high-traffic pathways and areas. Do not run cords through doorways; staple, nail, or tack them to the wall; or hide them under rugs or carpets. Do not let children or pets play with light strands or electrical decorations.

One way that many kick off the holiday season is with decorating the home. When decorating indoors Safe Electricity reminds you to:

  • Inspect all the lights you plan on using before you start decorating. Make sure the wires are in good condition-not cracked, brittle, or frayed. The sockets should not be damaged, and no light bulbs should be missing.
  • Replace damaged strings, and be sure to unplug the lights before replacing a bulb.
  • Use only holiday lights that have been safety tested and certified by an approved laboratory.
  • Do not overload extension cords or outlets. Electric overloads can cause shocks and start fires.
  • Always turn off or unplug lights before going to bed or leaving your home. A timer can help you make sure this happens.

When decorating outside, make sure to look up and look out for overhead power lines. Shawn Miller from Indiana was seriously injured in when lights that he tossed into a tree made contact with overhead lines. He lost his left hand and suffered numerous other injuries in the tragic accident. "Please take note of your surroundings before decorating outside," says Miller, "especially power lines and the service connection to your home. Make sure to keep yourself, ladders, and lights far away from them."

For your safety follow these additional precautions:

  • Do not hang lights when it is windy, raining, or snowing.
  • Use properly tested GFCI outlets or extension cords to prevent shocks.
  • Use only lights that are certified by an approved laboratory and rated for outdoor use.

Stay safe this holiday season, and visit SafeElectricity.org to see a video of Shawn's story and learn more about electrical safety.