Nailing it Down — Make your house merry and bright — not hot!

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas! Outdoor lights and other holiday decorations are popping up throughout the Twin Harbors.

If you decorate for the holidays, we want to make sure you do so safely. Residential fire danger is high during the winter holidays.

Today we will talk about holiday lights. We’ll save next week to talk about candles and Christmas tree safety with the exception that we’ll encourage you now to wait at least a week before buying a fresh tree. Dry trees are a fire hazard.


According to data from the National Fire Protection Association and the U.S. Fire Administration, an estimated 240 home fires each year in the United States involve Christmas trees and another 150 home fires involve holiday lights and other decorative lighting. Together these fires result in 21 deaths and $25.2 million in direct property damage.

“When it comes to decorating, Clark W. Griswold from “Christmas Vacation” is not a good role model,” said Aberdeen Fire Chief Tom Hubbard. “He is the primary example of what not to do!

“One of the big keys to safety is to pay close attention to how many strings of lights you can string together. The box will tell you. Some kinds are three strings and others can be 10,” he said.

We agree that attention to details can make your house safer! So, thanks to Chief Hubbard we’re providing some holiday decorating safety tips for you.


• Use only outdoor lights outside your home. Also, use only lights evaluated by a recognized testing laboratory, such as Underwriters’ Laboratories (UL).

• Check each set of lights, new or old, for broken or cracked sockets, frayed or bare wires, or loose connections. Dispose of any set with damage.

• Shut off electrical power when replacing bulbs and keep it off while putting up outdoor lighting.

• Before putting up lights, check each light set by setting it on a nonflammable surface and plugging it in for 10-15 minutes to see that the lights don’t melt or smoke.

• Use no more than three standard-size sets of lights per single extension cord unless the box indicates that it is okay to use more.

• Always use extension cords with a three-prong plug that are approved for outdoor use. Never use indoor extension cords outside.

• Don’t stand in water while handling electrical wiring or using power tools.

• Use a dry, wooden or fiberglass ladder when hanging holiday lights, to reduce the chance of an electrical shock. Be sure to stay clear of overhead electrical wires!

• Waterproof all electrical connections and keep them elevated so that rain water won’t drain into the connection and possibly cause a shock or short circuit.

• For added electric shock protection, plug outdoor electric lights and decorations into circuits protected by ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs). Portable outdoor GFCIs can be purchased where electrical supplies are sold.

• Fasten outdoor lights securely to trees, walls, or other firm supports to protect the lights from wind damage. To hold in place, use only insulated staples (not nails or tacks) that are hammered in. Using a staple gun increases the chance of electrical shock. Or, run strings of lights through hooks.

• Never allow bulbs to touch combustible material, such as plastics, pine needles or leaves and grass.

• Turn off all lights when you go to bed or leave the house. The lights could short out and start a fire.


• When replacing miniature bulbs, use bulbs with the same voltage rating (for instance, a 3-volt bulb to replace a 3-volt bulb, a 12-volt bulb to replace a 12-volt bulb) to prevent dangerous overheating.

• Bulbs are not marked individually with a voltage rating, so save the voltage information on the bulb packaging.

• Promptly replace burned out bulbs because the remaining bulbs burn brighter and hotter for each burned out bulb. Light sets with bulbs that burn out rapidly or sets that show signs of melting around bulbs are early indications of defective or incorrect lamps. These sets should not be used.

• People often tightly wrap or bunch miniature lights together into a cup or pot for special effects. The heat generated by bunching the lights together may result in melting, which could expose live parts. Christmas lights are designed for decorating trees and objects where bulbs are separated and their heat is not concentrated.

That’s it for this week. Be smart and cautious when decorating inside and out. Next week we’ll bring more safety tips.

Dave Murnen and Pat Beaty are construction specialists at NeighborWorks® of Grays Harbor County, where Murnen is the executive director. This is a non-profit organization committed to creating safe and affordable housing opportunities for all residents of Grays Harbor County.

Do you have questions about home repair, renting, remodeling or becoming a homeowner? Call us at 533-7828, write us or visit us at 710 E. Market St. in Aberdeen.