It’s that time of year again when many homeowners are preparing to decorate their homes for Christmas before the weather gets too cold. The first thing that a homeowner should do when hanging Christmas lights outside their home is to ensure that the lighting is approved for exterior use. Interior-only rated lighting is not meant to get wet or be exposed to ultra-violet (UV) energy and, of course, should not be run underground. Any of these situations can damage the wiring and present a fire or electrocution hazard. The light manufacturer’s tag and/or the box that the lighting came in will indicate if it is approved for exterior use.
If extension cords are needed, they should first be carefully inspected for any damage. If the extension cord’s outer protective insulation or its plug is damaged, throw it away and buy a new exterior-rated extension cord. Keep in mind that even exterior-rated extension cords are only meant for temporary use. Where lighting needs to be plugged into an extension cord, it is wise to ensure that the connection is secure and water-tight. Placing the plug-in connection inside a plastic baggie (like a large sandwich bag) and then properly sealing it shut with something like a zip tie is suggested. The plug-in connection should ideally be off the ground with the baggie’s closed opening facing down to help prevent any possible rain or snow from getting into the bag. Multiple extension cords should not be strung together in a series. Also Christmas lights should not be left on when nobody is home.
When installing any string lighting indoors or outdoors, always use a type of clip or other fastener designed for hanging lighting. Do not insert nails, pins, tacks or anything else into the string light’s wiring. It should be common sense, but this damages the string lighting’s wiring and can easily lead to a fire or shock hazard. Who wants to have family over on Christmas Day for dinner only to have a small arc occur in the wiring on the fireplace mantel and the house burns down? Not a recipe for a holiday gatherings if you ask me.
Matthew Steger, ACI, WIN Home Inspection
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