Energy Adviser: Don’t forget safety this season



During the busy winter holidays, lighting trees, shopping, visiting friends, and enjoying family time can cause many to sidestep safety precautions. This year avoid unsafe electrical mishaps by following these holiday safety tips.

Switch to LED (light-emitting diode) lights for decorating. Ninety percent efficient, LEDs generate very little heat so they’re far less likely than incandescent lights to start a tree fire.

LEDs also require very little energy. A string of classic incandescent C9s burning 300 hours will cost about $11, while the same size LED string will cost about 15 cents. For the most festive homes with dozens of strings, the savings can add up fast.

LED holiday lights come in the traditional C9, C7 and mini-bulb sizes, as well as many other shapes including cascading tubes, nets and runners woven into garlands. It’s easy to find LED lights fashioned into snowflakes, icicles or candy canes at local stores; inexpensive LED projectors can light up homes with animated scenes for pennies.

When buying outside lights, make sure they are rated for outdoor use. If you connect them to an extension cord, check that the cord is UL approved for outdoor use, too–and use an outside socket.

“Never run the cord from an inside socket through a door or window,” said Gene Morris, safety manager for Clark Public Utilities. “It may present a tripping or shock hazard. Plus, open windows can be a security risk.”

Look for the Energy Star label, when shopping for outdoor or holiday lights. It guarantees the lights are independently tested to meet electrical requirements, have passed a 1,000-hour continuous test, and carry a three-year warranty. LED strings or bulbs labeled “for outdoor use” are tested under harsher outdoor conditions.

Make sure the plugs for lights and extension cords fit indoor and outdoor sockets. “Never cut a ground plug off an extension cord, or any cord for that matter, to make it fit a socket,” said Morris. “And, make sure the extension cord is rated for your electrical needs.”

Around the holidays, Clark County can be very rainy and wet. Water and electricity don’t mix, so before plugging in outdoor lights, inspect all cords and connections for cracks and breaks.

Northwest dampness increases the importance of spotting and replacing frayed insulation on extension cords. Cracked cords lying in wet grass pose a potential shock hazard because they can short out. Also, keep outside electrical connectors off the ground and cords clear of drainpipes, railings and the electrical wiring entering your home.

For the best protection, use ground-fault circuit interrupters on outdoor sockets. An interrupter will shut off your lights if there’s an electrical short caused by moisture.

Climbing ladders is potentially dangerous, especially on uneven or soggy ground so make sure yours is planted firmly before heading up. For an extension ladder, set its angle at a one to four ratio with the house, and stay at least four rungs down from the roof edge. With a step ladder, stay below the next to last top step. On any ladder, keep your body centered between the side rails and don’t reach too far to one side or the other because the ladder might topple.

Never staple electrical cords to your house. Outdoor cords, plugs, and sockets must be weatherproof and stapling can crimp and crack the insulation, exposing the wires and causing a short.

Last, take care not to overload circuits. LED strings use so little energy it’s less of a concern, but for those hooked on incandescent lights, it’s important not to string too many together.

Above all, make sure to stay aware of surroundings while decorating and out on the town. Look down to avoid trips and falls and make sure to look up when working outside. Stay far away from power lines when using ladders or tools this holiday season.

Energy Adviser is written by Clark Public Utilities. Send questions to or to Energy Adviser, c/o Clark Public Utilities, P.O. Box 8900, Vancouver, WA 98668.