Around our house, Thanksgiving marks the traditional start of holiday decorating. After the time-consuming chore of untangling and deciding which strings of lights goes where, my adventuresome daughter and "should know better" husband all too eagerly climb a ladder. They crawl onto the roof, strands of lights draped over their arms, and head to the highest peaks. Carefully, they attach lights along the edges of the roofline.
Weather has rarely kept this annual ritual from taking place. In fact, the colder the day, the greater the challenge to them. My job is to stand on the frozen ground being the "official worrier." In the end, I must admit that our outdoor holiday lights look decorative and festive.
If you decorate your home and yard with lights for the holiday, remember these 10 safety tips:
l Use quality lights and ones that are labeled for outdoor use. Inspect your current strings of lights for frayed and broken wires, brown or blackened spots that indicate previous overheating and cracked insulation. Plug them in beforehand. Feel along the length of wire for heat. The bulb should feel warm, not hot. The wire should not heat up. Do not use the light strand if it is damaged. Throw it out and replace with a better set.
l Follow the manufacturer's guidelines for the number of light strands that can be daisy chained together, usually, three.
l When hanging lights on an outdoor tree, make sure they are fastened securely so they don't become tangled in the branches as the wind blows. The lights can become damaged or dislodged from their connections if they are whipped about by wind and bare tree branches.
l If you must use extension cords, only use heavy duty ones that are rated for outdoor use. The wire gauge in inexpensive indoor extension cords is too small to handle the job and will overheat.
l Keep electrical connectors protected from the wet snow or rain. Moisture can cause a short. If a bulb has burned out, keep it in its socket until a replacement can be made.
l Plug the lights into a ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) receptacle. These devices trip the circuit within a split second with the tiniest amount of leakage.
l Don't overload a circuit with too many lights. Outdoor lights draw on a circuit just like indoor ones. Spread the load if you put up a big display.
l Attach the light strands with plastic hooks that are clips made for the job. It might seem faster to staple them in place, but avoid that temptation. The sharp edges of the staples can easily damage the insulation and short out the wire.
l Ladder safety is a must. When using an extension ladder, position it so that its distance from the house at the base is about one fourth its extended height. If using a stepladder, check its condition. Do not use it if you find split or broken steps or side rails. Securely lock the braces into position before stepping on to it. Don't go any higher than the one step below the top and never on the tray. Keep your hips between the center of the rails. Leaning over too far may cause the ladder to slip and you to fall. It is much safer to climb down and move the ladder to a new position as needed. Avoid using ladders on windy days.
l Roofs are slippery when wet or icy. So, if you must walk along the roof, do so only if it is dry and you are wearing shoes that have non-skid soles.
Well, now I can breathe a sigh of relief. My family is off the roof, back on the ground. We are ready to admire their hard work. Unlike many of our neighbors who decorate with miniature, single colored bulbs of white or blue, our Christmas lights are big and fat and colorful. Cleveland lights, my children call them, in reference to what they have seen on their grandparents' home. I give a drum roll as the switch is flipped. Instantly, the large, rounded red, green, blue, yellow and orange lights glimmer in the darkening winter sky.
:quot; Carol Boncella is education coordinator at Lawrence Memorial Hospital and home and garden writer for the Journal-World.