It’s the holiday season, so, for many, that means it’s time to get out the Christmas lights and start making spirits bright around the house.
We decided to get some tips on Christmas lighting and safety from John DeCosmo, the president of the Ulta-Lit Tree Company, which makes devices to repair your broken lights. Holiday decoration is part of DeCosmo’s heritage: His father even made artificial Christmas trees for a living.
Since things really start to light up following Thanksgiving, here are DeCosmo’s tips from a life in the business:
1. Make a plan: Think things through before you start hanging lights, so you don’t end up with, say, two prongs that won’t connect instead of a plug and socket. So start with your outlet and work backward. Another part of planning? If you’re going to the store to buy 10 light sets, buy 11. Just do it. It will save aggravation later.
2. Be selective with electrics: If you touch an electrical cord and it’s warm, beware. That’s a sign that you have too many things plugged into it and could lead to a fire. If you keep blowing fuses on your circuit breaker, you have too many lights on that circuit. So don’t just reset it. Unplug some lights and plug them into a cord attached to a different circuit in your house. Many circuits are 15 amps, so take 5 amps off and plug in elsewhere.
3. Check your connections: If your lights seem to randomly blink out and then back on when they’re not supposed to, you have a loose connection somewhere. Look for a burned-out bulb and replace it.
4. Ponder the matter of ladders: So many injuries occur when people are on ladders trying to hang lights. Here’s the most important thing to remember: Don’t overreach. Yes, most of us think if you just lean over a little bit you can hang a little more, but you’re literally risking your neck or arm or shoulder. Just move the ladder.
5. Replace burned-out bulbs: If you have a prelit Christmas tree with incandescent bulbs, make sure you replace any that are burned out. Otherwise, the other bulbs absorb more voltage and it will cause them to burn out faster.
6. Consider energy efficiency: One idea is to use LED lights outside for the energy savings and longevity, and then use incandescent bulbs indoors for the traditional warm look. On average, running a tree with incandescent lights will cost around $10 over the season versus $1.50 for LED lights.
7. Have a lightbulb moment: If you have an artificial tree that’s not prelit, consider whether you can just leave the lights on it when you take it down, saving time and energy. Tangled Christmas lights rank right up there with burned-out bulbs as the most annoying thing about lighting, according to surveys.
8. Think ahead: Don’t wait until the day after Christmas this year to buy next year’s lights, because they may not be available due to supply chain issues. Lights and trees are being shipped right now that will probably never make it in time for Christmas. All legitimate lighting merchants sell UL-listed sets. GE and Sylvania are two companies known for making reliable light sets. If you can afford it, commercial-grade sets will last longer, especially if you plan to leave them up–in your backyard for example.
9. Make enlightened choices: If you want to leave your lights up all year long, use LED lights because you’ll get an average of 8,760 hours out of each set, versus 2000 hours for incandescent lights. The insulation on commercial grade sets is designed to last longer than the cheaper ones.
10. Keep this New Year’s resolution: Don’t plug in the lights on your real Christmas tree after Jan. 1 or when it’s become dried out. According to a 2020 report from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), nearly one-third of U.S. home fires caused by a Christmas tree igniting happen in January.
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