IET: Top tips to avoid hidden dangers with your Christmas lights

As the festive season gets into full swing, the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) has a few simple tips to avoid some of the hidden dangers involved in putting up your Christmas lights.

Inspect Christmas lights before using them

After Christmas, we often throw our decorations into boxes to store them for next year. However, Christmas lights, like any other fragile electrical appliance, can be damaged if not properly looked after. This is particularly important where older Christmas lights are used.

So, when retrieving last year’s Christmas lights from storage, a few simple tips should be followed:

§  When lengths of Christmas lights become entangled never tug or pull them from the storage container as this could damage the lighting set and can expose dangerous live parts.

Once retrieved from storage, visually check:

§  The plug itself for any cracks or fractures

§  That the cable emerging from the plug shows no signs of stretching or damage and that no bare wire is visible

§  The entire length of the lighting set for signs of stretching or damage and that no bare wire is visible

§  Each bulb to ensure that there are no broken bulbs or bulb holders.

Do not plug in the lights if any of these problems are evident as there could be a danger of fire or electric shock.

Replace older Christmas tree lights with modern versions

According to 2011-2012 Fire Statistics Great Britain from the Department for Communities and Local Government, Christmas trees, decorations and cards were identified as contributors to 47 house fires across the UK. Christmas tree lights were directly identified as the cause of 20 house fires.

Mark Coles, Technical Regulations Manager from the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) said: “Each January we pack away our decorations and our Christmas tree lights are often coiled and boxed up. Boxes are then stacked on top of one another, which can crush the lighting set. In some cases, rodents find their way in – often drawn by sugary decorations that have been packed away too – and can gnaw their way through the cables of Christmas tree lights.

“It is advisable to replace older style Christmas lights with more modern extra-low voltage versions. Older style mains lights consist simply of the plug, the cabling and the bulbs/bulb holders. Modern extra-low voltage lighting sets are easily identifiable as they will include a transformer unit and/or a control unit at or very near to the plug.

“Thankfully, the trend is now for LED Christmas lights, which have major advantages in terms of fire safety and electrical efficiency, so it’s worth investing in these.

“LED lights are much cooler to the touch, unlike traditional mains-operated lighting sets, because LED lights are much more efficient at converting electricity into light, with less energy lost as heat.”

Always use a residual current device for outside Christmas lights

Festive householders should be careful with outside lights. When decorative lighting is installed outside, lighting sets should be protected by a residual current device (RCD). Socket-outlets of modern electrical installations will be protected by an RCD.

RCDs can be easily recognised as they will incorporate a test button which can be found at the consumer unit. It is important to test the RCD, i.e. press the test button and then reset the device, before the lights are plugged in. Where RCD protection is not installed, portable or plug-in RCDs should be utilised to supply the lighting set; plug-in RCDs are available from reputable hardware stores.

Take care this Christmas and ensure it’s a safe one!


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