Holiday Lights Still Up? Take Them Down Now for Safety

The first week of January is a good time to remove lights to eliminate the shock and fire dangers that come with keeping them up too long.

January 05, 2015 | By Paul Netter

Holiday decorations are simply wonderful in December.

So what about in January and beyond? Not so much, says the Electric Safety Foundation International, which recommends that decorations be removed the first week of January.

It’s not because they aren’t still pretty. The main reason is the not-so-pretty electrical dangers holiday lights can produce, especially outdoors, since the longer they’re unnecessarily exposed to the elements, the shorter their potential shelf life and the greater the risk of hazards.

“The sun’s UV rays and temperature changes can increase the wear and tear on lights’ wire insulation,” said Don Neal, Southern California Edison’s (SCE) director of Corporate Environmental, Health and Safety. “Leaving them up too long can lead to worn insulation and broken bulbs, ruining them for next year and creating unnecessary fire and shock dangers.”

Increased needle droppings are a sure sign that it’s time to get rid of a drying-out tree. When disposing of them, never keep them in a garage or placed outside against the home. Instead, find a recycling program where you can safely dispose of them.

Christmas tree fires are more likely after Christmas (none of the 10 dates with the most home Christmas tree fires are before Dec. 25) than before, according to the National Fire Protection Association. Christmas trees (15 percent), wire or cable insulation (13 percent) and decorations (11 percent) are the leading items first ignited in holiday home fires.

“A dry Christmas tree is quite combustible,” said Neal. “Anything with heat, like lights, could ignite it. The risk only increases with them being in direct contact with an electrical source.”

When removing decorations outside, be just as careful taking them down as you were installing them. That means staying at least 10 feet away from power lines and using only undamaged fiberglass or wooden ladders. Metal ladders conduct electricity.

Each year about 5,800 people are treated in hospital emergency rooms for falls associated with holiday decorations between Nov. 1 and Jan. 31, with more than half of them coming from ladders or roofs, the fire association said.

Before storing holiday lights, inspect the wiring and get rid of any that are cracked, frayed or appear to have damaged insulation. When storing them, separate and label indoor and outdoor lights, placing each set in individual plastic bags or wrapping them around a piece of cardboard. Then, store them in a dry place — away from children and pets — where they can’t be damaged by water or dampness.

“Carefully and smartly removing decorations lowers the risk of shocks and holiday light fires,” said Neal. “It also keeps your lighting in good condition for next year and helps eliminate the same risks when you use them for the holidays again.”

Topics: Safety