Holiday Lights, Christmas Trees, and Safety

December and the Holiday season means extensive lights, Christmas trees, and other decorations being hung inside and outside the house. These decorations can be beautiful and really bring the festivities to your home, but they can come with a lot of safety hazards, both during the installation process and after. Falls, electrocution, and fires are common risks associated with holiday decorations. However, taking the proper safety precautions can prevent anyone from being seriously injured or killed. The following are some possible situations to look out for when decorating:

  1. Missing or Broken Bulbs in a String of Lights: Examine you string lights for missing or broken bulbs before hanging them up. These can lead to electrocution and electrical fires. If you spot broken lights, you can always use the replacement bulbs which usually come with them, or get a pack for around $3.
  2. Use a Ladder: It is important to use a ladder when decorating your house’s exterior and do not attempt to scale your house without one. The type of ladder you use is also important and The Electrical Safety Foundation International recommends using a wooden or fiberglass ladder when hanging up lights. Metal ladders conduct electricity and cause electric shocks
  3. Use the Right Kind of Lights: Indoor and Outdoor Lights can look very similar and serve similar functions, but they cannot be used interchangeably. Indoor and Outdoor lights should only be used in their designated place; ensure both have been tested so they are not a fire hazard in their respective environments. Additionally, outdoor lights have been tested to withstand the elements. Using outside lights indoor can cause overheating resulting in an indoor fire.
  4. Look for the “UL” seal on the box of lights: The UL seal on the box means that the lights meet the industry standards set by the American National Standards Institute. Lights with these seals can withstand the outdoor elements and are not at a high risk of being a fire hazard when used properly.
  5. Choose the right cord: Like string lights, extension cords are made specifically for indoor or outdoor environments. Using the proper one can mitigate risk of fire/injuries.
  6. Keep the Cords Dry: When putting up outdoor lights, ensure that the area where the light cord and the extension cord meets, stays out of puddles, damp soil, snow, ice or other wet areas. If possible, avoid that this area sits on the ground at all. This can cause damages, which in turn can result in injury or death from electrocution, fire, or even carbon monoxide poisoning. If you live in a place that receives a lot of snow during the winter months (like Northern Nevada), consider using a cord protector to keep the cord dry and safe. You should also plan the light display ahead of time so it is suspended off the ground instead of being in contact with it.
  7. Prevent Tripping Hazards: Keeping light strands off the ground not only prevents it from getting wet, but it also prevents a tripping hazard or from it being stepped on and breaking, which can pose a risk of broken shards of glass. Some possible tools to prevent lights from sitting on the ground is using light stakes, anchoring pins, ground staples which can reduce tripping risk and also create a better light display
  8. Don’t Leave lights up for too long: As beautiful as lights may be, do not leave them up for too long as many lights are not meant for long-term use. If you plan on using lights for the long-term, check the instructions/information on the box for safety precautions and suggested time for leaving the lights up.
  9. Don’t Overload you Outlets: DO NOT plug-in all your lights into one outlet as this is a primary cause for house fires. Instead plug your lights into a ground fault circuit interrupter outlet; this will prevent fires by shutting the circuit down if there is too much current flowing through it.
  10. Don’t Connect Too Many Strands of Light Together: The Electrical Safety Foundation International suggests that no more than three strings of lights should be strung together if using incandescent lights. If you decide to use UL lights or LED lights, check the package to see how many strings can be safely strung together.

How Christmas Trees Can Impact Home Air Quality

In addition to Christmas lights, Christmas trees are another staple to the Holiday spirit. However, Experts suggest that Christmas trees, whether plastic or real, can impact your home’s air quality.

Dustin Poppendieck, an environmental engineer at the National Institute of Standards and technology explained the impacts real and artificial trees can have on an environment, and it can be interesting to learn how decorations are impacting your home.

Real Christmas trees emit a pine scent, which is the result of the tree releasing organic compounds known as pinenes. These pinenes are the same compounds found in pine-scented cleaners and are also the smell that can trigger some’s outdoor allergies. The EPA says common symptoms of allergy to pinenes include minor respiratory irritation, as well as irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat, as well as headaches. Poppendieck says that the release of organic compounds and pinenes by real Christmas trees is not too concerning to the public’s health, but he does warn that those with asthma or outdoor allergies may feel extra irritation.

Poppendieck also says that in addition to the pinenes, a real tree can also bring microbial organisms such as mold and pollen into the house, which can further trigger asthma and allergies. In addition, he suggests that a real Christmas tree is thoroughly dried and cleaned (free from mud or other debris), so that additional mold does not grow, and more irritants do not permeate into the air.

Those who suffer from outdoor allergies and asthma often turn to artificial trees as an alternative Christmas decor. Poppendieck states that these trees contain plastics and PVS (polyvinyl chloride), phthalates, and flame retardants. Poppendieck warns that certain flame retardants contain neurotoxins and carcinogens when there is long-term exposure. Additionally, phthalates, are considered endocrine disruptors and can interfere with body hormones. It is also considered a “forever chemical”, which takes years to break down— longer than the human life span. These chemicals are not only being released into your home’s air but are also sticking onto your hands and other products as you move the tree, store it or decorate it.

Despite this, Poppendieck notes that these chemicals exist in many other common household products, and a Christmas tree which is used for the short-term should not be a cause of panic. However, he said if there is one product to completely avoid this holiday season, it is the scented products with terpenes, which significantly reduce the home’s air quality and release more dangerous levels of toxins into the air and are far more noxious than any Christmas tree. [1]


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