Christmas is upon us again and more than any other time of year, it’s the time of year where people put strain on their electrical system. The lights on your house and the beautiful decorations you’ve been storing in your attic finally are brought out and plugged in for your friends and neighbors to view and appreciate. And, of course, the vast majority of homes you visit have at least one Christmas tree. Since most of these things are electrical, it’s probably not a surprise to you that, as a top Dallas electrician, I start getting a lot of calls this time of year. Though it’s always nice to have the business with Christmas so close, I thought it’d be great to share with ways to avoid wiring problems with your Christmas decorations this year:
- Avoid a ho-ho-hoverload! When wiring Christmas lights, the natural thing to do is to plug all of them in, one after the other. We don’t stop to think about how much power the circuit can actually handle. A standard 20-amp home circuit runs at 120 volts, which means it can handle up to 2400W. How many strings of lights is this? It really depends on the type of lights you’re using; LED lights tend to use less power than incandescent lights. Always check the package the lights come in; the packaging is required to tell you how much power the lights use. Add up the wattage on all the lights you’re planning to plug into the outlet, and you’ll get an idea of how close you are to the overload point on the circuit, and whether you can add more lights to the circuit you have or need to find another circuit. But that’s not the only thing to think about, either. Many people plug their Christmas lights and decorations into the external outlet near their front doors; often, though, these outlets are on the same circuit as the outlets in your garage, meaning anything that draws power in your garage counts just as much as your lighting. If your home is old enough, that external outlet may even be on the same circuit as your bathrooms! I’ve answered more than one call from a customer who was getting ready to attend a Christmas party only to suddenly have the breaker trip, shutting off all the power in the bathroom! “But it’s never done that before!” they tell me. Of course not, you don’t normally have thousands of watts of lights plugged in at the same time as a hair dryer!
- Beware of rain and ice storms! December is in the middle of winter in Texas, and while we don’t get a lot of snow, we do generally get quite a bit of rain. Those yard lights with the big glass globes may be pretty, but they do tend to hold rain water pretty well. If they try to turn on, whether they’re on a timer or not, they’ll short out the circuit every time. When the weather gets colder, we sometimes get freezing rain; this just means that instead of holding the water, it’s holding it as ice, which still conducts current well enough to short circuit your lighting. Be sure to inspect your lighting after your home gets rain of any kind to make sure your light fixtures are dry and ready to be used safely.
- Older doesn’t always mean wiser! I get a lot of calls from homeowners this time of year complaining that the lights they’ve been using for years suddenly don’t work anymore. They assume the problem must be with the electrical system, since the lights haven’t ever had a problem before. But this really isn’t the case. Lighting and decorations degrade over time. Even when they aren’t in use, the lights are still adding wear and tear. Think about what those lights are doing the other eleven months out of the year. Some people leave external lights on their homes all the time, leaving them to fall prey to the elements. Even lighting that’s put in storage have to deal with radically shifting temperatures, especially the summer heat that tends to make your attic boiling hot. It’s not surprising that lighting breaks down under those circumstances. Be prepared every year to replace older, worn-out strings of lights.
In general, there are a few important tips that can help you avoid wiring problems. If your lights look frayed or dangerous, they should always be replaced or repaired before using them, frayed wiring are hazardous. You should take care that your electrical source is safe before you even begin the installation process. To avoid the potential for overloads, you should have dedicated circuits installed for your holiday decorations.
Most importantly, you should never try to supply power for your lights without contacting a top Dallas electrician to help you install the necessary equipment and make the necessary safety precautions. Short cuts are potentially dangerous. I can remember one example where a customer had supplied power to their lights by splicing an extension cord directly into their circuit breaker box! Even worse, they’d shut the breaker box door, pinching the cabling! Left unchecked, even if this hadn’t started a fire, damage from a power surge or overload could have easily destroyed their whole breaker, meaning they’d have to spend thousands to repair the damage at the absolute worst time of year!
For more information and other tips Electric Man to the rescue. We’re available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, so don’t ever hesitate to give us a call!